There was no doubt in Reuben Arthur’s mind that Team England would return from the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games with a gold medal in the men's 4x100m relay. Yet not in his wildest dreams could he imagine standing at the top of the podium himself having run the opening leg for his country in the final. In fact, he didn’t even expect to be stepping foot in Australia until he received a late call-up less than a fortnight before the start of the Games.
The 21-year-old, who is supported by the Royal Bank of Canada through SportsAid, was soon to be crowned a Commonwealth champion alongside Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, Richard Kilty and Zharnel Hughes as they ran a time of 38.13 seconds to storm the final. The last month has been a bit of a whirlwind for Reuben, a beneficiary of the charity’s support since 2014, and he has learnt a huge amount from his first experience of competing at a senior championships.
Here, Reuben talks about his success on the Gold Coast, completing his university degree, his increasingly popular blog, and the influence of his mum....
You’ve just returned from the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. How did you find the whole experience?
“The whole Commonwealth Games experience was nuts for me. Very informative and very out of the blue! About a month before I got the call, I was told that due to the increasing number of athletes dropping out for various reasons, England Athletics wanted my details on file but that I “probably wasn’t going to go anywhere”. Then at about half six on a Friday morning, I got a call with the location ‘Australia’ with some good news for me. I came off the phone and ran straight into my mum’s room, laughing my head off. She was still half asleep but when I told her I was going out to the Games, she instantly perked up! The rest of my family were getting ready to go to school but I told them in passing and they were the same blend of confused and excited that I was.”
Winning gold must have been a special feeling! Did you feel like it was achievable building up to the race?
“I 100% knew we were going to leave Gold Coast with a gold medal, from before it was even “we” – as a spectator I was fully backing England to win (although I had a feeling the South Africans would be close). Even when I was part of the team, initially I wasn’t meant to run in the final, so I was just prepared to put the rest of the men in the best possible position to do what they had to do. Unfortunately, further injuries led to me running both rounds and I’m honestly grateful for the experience. I think you could see what it meant to the team – it was a first Commonwealth gold for all four of us and it definitely showed. Harry and Richard were chest bumping in the air (I told Harry I was way too small to try that with him), and after the whole 200m debacle, Zharnel didn’t deserve to leave Australia with anything less than a gold. For me personally, to get my first international gold medal at my first senior championships, it’s a Cinderella story type feeling. Now I just want to keep the momentum going!”
Had you run with any of the guys before in a relay?
“I had never - not once - run in a team with Harry, Richard or Zharnel. Not once. In fact, the closest I’ve come to those guys and relay is Loughborough International running against them. But from the minute I landed out there, all the men – Adam Gemili included – did a great job of making me feel included. It might not have been the layout they originally intended, but we were still one team with one job to do – for our country, for ourselves and for each other. They were all very experienced with running at that level, so I just acted as if I belonged there and made sure I brought my best to the table.”
What were the most important learnings you’ve taken away from the Games?
“I learned a lot from the Games – I put the top lessons in a blog I wrote on the plane home (you can find it on my Twitter or Instagram). Probably the most important lessons were those more about the people around me than specifically about athletics. I think it’s important to remember that even your favourite athletes are humans; as someone used to say to me, “they don’t have two heads”. They have their up days, their down days, they have amazing performances and they make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. Once you get to the level where you’re rubbing shoulders with other individuals who can do what you can just as well as you, you realise that the limiting factor isn’t ability anymore – it’s about the other things around that. Are you looking after your body? Are you mentally preparing correctly? Are you putting yourself in the position to do what you do best? The multi-sport environment was so cool to be around. I particularly enjoyed the mix between able-bodied and Paralympic disciplines. For me, the Games showed that both disciplines can occur simultaneously, so I hope there are more integrated events going forward. I think my hunger in the sport has steadily been growing since I began, but being in that environment definitely gave me huge motivation to remain at that level going forward.”
What’s it been like since you returned home? We noticed a tweet where you were doing your dissertation on the flight out to Australia!
“Reality has hit me extremely hard since I got back! It’s been a week and my sleep pattern is still terrible, but I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things. The staff at my university, Goldsmiths’ University of London, have been extremely supportive of me since I arrived three years ago, but never more so than now – when I need it the most. I’m at the end of my Psychology with Management degree so yes, I was doing my dissertation out in Australia – myself, Cheriece [Hylton], Corinne [Humphreys] and Finette [Agyapong] all had university work to do so we’d go to the team lounge with our laptops, put in our headphones and crack on. It was nice to know you weren’t going through it alone! Honestly though, I took that picture solely for the tweet – after I posted it I flipped my laptop down and went back to sleep!”
You run your own blog and it seems to be very popular! What made you decide to start jotting down your thoughts?
“I started my blog in January after I went to an England Athletics competition in Vienna. In the hotel the night after, we as a team had a great talk about many facets of athletics, and my friend Fabby made excellent points about ways for athletes to engage with their followers. I’m not too keen on Instagram because I feel my talents lie more in literary content than visual content, so I thought the best way for me to show that would be to start a blog. It’s kind of like a monthly diary for me, and the theme is generally a phrase that I hear often – I take it and dissect it or approach it from a different angle. I try and make the blog sound like me talking to people, rather than a squeaky-clean version of me (there’s no profanity though!); I want it to be real and relatable. It’s been getting a good reception so far so hopefully I’m doing something right.”
You are currently receiving SportsAid support from Royal Bank of Canada but have been a beneficiary of the charity’s support for a number of years. How much of a difference does the support make?
“SportsAid have been instrumental in allowing me to become what I am now and what I aim to be in the future. There are so many costs in this sport that a 16 year old could never anticipate – training, kit, venues, travel, supplements, you name it. The higher up you want to go in the sport, the more you feel you should invest into it. The support from organisations from RBC through SportsAid helps take some of the financial pressure off me and my family, which allows me to step on the start line with a smile; when I feel good, I run good!”
What do you find is your biggest challenge as an athlete?
“The biggest challenge for me as an athlete is enjoying the sport to the fullest. There are so many positives about athletics that you sometimes don’t allow yourself to enjoy because you’re either focused on people other than yourself, or too focused on competing. The truth is, you spend more time preparing for competition than actually competing, so you should take confidence in your preparation and allow yourself to be fully immersed in the experience. There is no way I could fathom myself in Australia in my lifetime, and I just spent three weeks there with some of history’s greatest athletes. You have to enjoy those moments!”
Who has been the most influential person in your career so far?
“Easily the most influential person in my life is my mum. That’s probably cliché, but it’s accurate. Not only has she shown me first-hand how to rise out of hardships and persevere, but she reminds me that I’m a human being before I’m an athlete. That sounds odd, but it makes me less hard on myself, which means I enjoy everything more and thus compete better – it’s a positive cycle. That’s why when I get the opportunity at competitions, I wave and say hi to her – like I did on the podium at the Commonwealth Games.”
Lastly, do you have any particular passions outside of sport?
“I think the only other passion I have outside of sport is writing. Passion is a very strong word! There are certainly things I enjoy, like music, anime and video games, but writing for leisure is my only other passion. Hopefully at some point I can combine my two passions and get into some form of sports journalism. I might even be writing for SportsAid one day – watch this space!”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Reuben can continue receiving the backing they rely on. You can make a regular donation to the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future.