SportsAid’s Athlete of the Month – Shannon Hylton, 20, from Mottingham

Shannon Hylton sent her twin sister Cheriece and close friend Dina Asher-Smith (and probably many more!) into tears after she stormed to the 200m title at the British Athletics Team Trials earlier this month. The stunning victory, in which she equalled her lifetime best of 22.94 seconds, saw her guarantee her place on the start line at the forthcoming London 2017 IAAF World Championships as she was crowned British champion.
27 July, 2017

Shannon Hylton sent her twin sister Cheriece and close friend Dina Asher-Smith (and probably many more!) into tears after she stormed to the 200m title at the British Athletics Team Trials in Birmingham earlier this month. The stunning victory, in which she equalled her lifetime best of 22.94 seconds, saw her guarantee her place on the start line at the forthcoming London 2017 IAAF World Championships as she edged out Olympians Bianca Williams and Desiree Henry to be crowned British champion.

The result was all the more satisfying for the 20-year-old, coached by Ryan Freckleton, as she had to handle the frustration of an injury-ridden season in 2016. She now has a home World Championships to look forward to, where she will compete in her inaugural senior competition for Great Britain in an individual event, and her first visit back to the Olympic Stadium since she attended the London 2012 Paralympic Games with her class-mates at Bullers Wood School for Girls in Chislehurst.

Shannon, who received a SportsAid award from the Royal Bank of Canada earlier this year, has also been selected for the 4x100m relay squad at the World Championships. She is currently studying for a Biomedical Science degree at the University of East London (UEL) where she regularly participates in debating groups focusing on female empowerment and equal opportunities for women. Shannon admits that she enjoys the chaotic balance of managing her sporting endeavours with her education!

Here, Shannon reflects on her success at the Team Trials, looks ahead to London 2017, reveals her long-term sporting ambitions and praises her core support system....

You started this month by winning the 200m at the British Athletics Team Trials and you looked understandably ecstatic at the end of the race! What was your first thoughts after crossing the line? Did London 2017 qualification instantly pop into your head?

“My first thoughts were ‘I’ve done it!!! I’ve really done it!!!’ Qualifying for the World Championships in London has been a target of mine since 2015! I look at the major forthcoming Championships a couple of years in advance and target them, and for 2017, London was my aim so I was so happy to qualify for my first senior individual at a home Championships. I would say that 2016 was my motivation for 2017 - I really just wanted to do myself justice more than anything! Last year was very tough for me - with several injuries back-to-back, my preparation for the 2016 outdoor season was less than ideal. My body wasn’t in shape at all; I’d want it to do one thing, and it would break down. 2016 was probably my worst season to date in terms of performances simply due to injury; but if there was one thing I’d thank it for, it’s that it was also a massive learning experience. I learnt a lot about my body and the things I needed to put in place going forwards to keep my body healthy and minimise the risk of injury.”

Were you confident of winning the race beforehand? Did you feel nervous or were you going through your usual processes prior to a race? Had watching Cheriece setting a personal best and putting in an excellent performance in the 400m focused you even more?

“I felt nervous yet excited at the Trials. Every race I do, I run to win. I knew I had some very strong competition - Olympic and Commonwealth medallists - but I love competing, running alongside Britain’s top sprinters was an honour for me so I was very excited to test myself against the best. I approach every race the same - I visualise my race model and how I’m going to execute the race, then do it, or try to anyway! At the Trials, I was on the inside lane to the majority of my competitors. I guess this can be advantageous in some respects because you can target your competitors; but it can also be easy to run someone else’s race when you’re in that situation. I just had to keep focused and run my own race. Cheriece competed the day before me and ran a PB which I was super ecstatic about! It was such an inspiring run to watch and it gave me motivation for my 200m the following day.”

How excited are you about the prospect of lining up to race at the Olympic Stadium next month in front of a sell-out crowd? Have you ever been to the Stadium previously? Will you have family and friends coming to watch?

“I’m extremely excited to race in the Olympic Stadium. I have previously been to the Stadium to watch the 2012 Paralympics with my secondary school….being in the crowd and cheering for the GB athletes - I can’t believe that I’m going to be one of those athletes soon. I think this atmosphere will be one I’ve not experienced before because I’ve never competed in an individual event a senior level - it’s always been at youth and junior events - all of which have been abroad. The biggest crowd I competed against was probably at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon which I thought was amazing! So now I’m at a senior competition in front of a home crowd, I just think the atmosphere will be unreal. My family and friends are coming to support and my favourite lecturer and his wife will be coming to watch my heat too which I’m really excited about!”

What are your plans and preparations between now and the Championships?

“My plan between now and the Championships is to keep training and piece everything together I’ve been doing since winter. I’ll also be heading off to a Holding Camp in Paris before the Championships are due to start where I’ll be doing relay practice with the 4x100m team as well as my personal training sessions.”

What are your overall ambitions in sport? Have you always dreamt of competing at the Olympics? We assume Tokyo would most certainly be a goal of yours?

“My overall ambition in sport is to be an Olympic champion and an inspiration. I’ve dreamt of competing in the Olympics since London 2012. I really hoped that Rio 2016 would be the year that I’d be able to call myself an Olympian, but now, I’m going to have wait that little bit longer and work that bit harder and focus on Tokyo 2020.”

Nutrition is so important in modern-day sport. How do you and Cheriece work around being allergic to eggs, nuts and white fish?!

“Yes! Nutrition is key in sport nowadays. Cheriece and I have allergies to eggs, nuts and white fish which are great sources of protein and being a sprinter, protein is a massive portion of our diet. We work around this by eating high-protein foods such as tuna, steaks, and quinoa to try and increase our protein intake.”

How are you finding your studies? What was the reason behind choosing Biomedical Science?

“I’m really enjoying my studies at the moment- it is difficult to balance training and studying- especially during competition season- but the chaos keeps me sane! I chose Biomedical Science because I’ve had a vested interest in Biology and Chemistry for as long as I can remember. I think both training and studying Biomedical Science complement each other massively because I can relate what I learn on paper into training and what I do in training, I can relate back to my studies. The World of Science is also a fast-paced and dynamic environment- a bit like sprinting- so it’s a course that’s well-suited to my character too.”

What other interests do you have outside of sport? Do you find it challenging creating the right balance between sport, education and other commitments?

“I believe that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. I love hanging out with my friends whether it be just a movie night at home or going out into central London on shopping sprees. I love to travel and experience new cultures and different lifestyles. However, I can only do this during certain times of the year due to my strict training programme and competition schedule. I am passionate about equal opportunities for women and female empowerment - at my university, I participate in debating groups encouraging this.”

You’re being supported by SportsAid and RBC this year – how much of a difference does the financial support make? Do you gain greater motivation from having this type of recognition and backing?

“SportsAid support this year has been incredible. I’ve made a lot changes this year in terms of training environment and SportsAid support has greatly helped to cover additional costs for things like physiotherapy and transport. It’s an honour to be recognised by such a prestigious charity like SportsAid - they’ve supported many successful athletes over a variety of different sports, and I hope to follow and emulate their successes even more.”

Lastly, how important has the support of your family been since you started the sport? Have they had to make a lot of sacrifices? Do they come to watch most of your competitions?

“My family have been my core support system because without them, I genuinely don’t think that I would have been able to achieve what I have done without them. They’ve had to sacrifice a lot of time and money for me for the sport. I only passed my driving test last year, so there’s been many times where they’ve spent their ‘relaxing’ Sundays driving miles to competitions for Cheriece and I - a recent example being the British Athletics Team Trials in Birmingham. The time that they’ve invested into me is something that cannot be bought back - and for that, I’m eternally grateful and want to return the favour in successes.”

What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Shannon can continue receiving the backing they rely on. Show your support for #SportsAidWeek 2017 by signing up to get involved today.