RIO 2016: Katy Sealy on belonging with Belize, shifting her focus from heptahlon to hurdles and her love of Ipswich Town
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Harriers athlete Katy Sealy arrived in Brazil this week ready to represent Belize at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. STUART WATSON spoke to the 25-year-old about how here unlikely tale unfolded.
“I’m certainly... different,” says Katy Sealy with a smile.
That’s an understatement. This is the white girl from the small village of Bawdsey in east Suffolk who will be representing the Central American nation of Belize at the Olympic games in Rio later this month in the 100m hurdles.
Belize is bordered by Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south. Cuba is just over 1,000km off the coast and there is a distinct Caribbean vibe to the undeveloped nation whose population is less than that of Manchester.
Sealy, 25, qualifies to represent them due to the fact her grandparents lived out there in the 1960s – Gordon an Anglican priest in the churches and Joyce a nurse. Sealy’s father, David, was born in Belize before the whole family moved back to England at the end of that decade. Katy was born in Portsmouth in 1990 and her family moved to Suffolk in 1998.
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“I was always interested in the fact that dad was from this other country,” says Sealy.
“When I was about 18, it was my granddad’s idea, we were visiting him and he said ‘would it be possible for you to represent Belize?’” explains Sealy. “We got on the internet, searched what we could and tried to find who to get in touch with.
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“I had to get a Belize passport and then wrote to the athletics association and told them I’d like to compete and they picked me for the team.”
The Ipswich Harriers athlete is currently 25th in the UK rankings for her specialist discipline of heptathlon and she has now broken several Belize national records. Since making her international debut in 2010, she has become the three-times Central American champion and competed at the likes of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Canada and India.
It’s a story which has made her something of a mini celebrity in her adopted homeland.
“That recognition is starting to build up slowly,” she says. “When I was there a few weeks ago I did a number of interviews and was on their main breakfast show so that was good. I had people inviting me out for dinner and on boat trips and things like that. It’s really exciting. I love having the Belizeans behind me.
“The messages and support I get is brilliant.
“I can’t deny that, for some people, it’s quite difficult for them because I am so different, but most people quite like the fact that I’ve got a link to the country. Once they find out the link and learn what I’ve been doing and why I’ve been doing it then they are fully supportive.
“Some people are too quick to jump to conclusions, but I guess you get that in all walks of life.”
There is no doubting that Sealy feels a strong bond with Belize. There are tears when talk turns to her grandfather, who passed away at the age of 87 last year.
“He’d be really proud,” she says after composing herself. “He was really excited that I was representing Belize. He managed to see a bit of me at the Commonwealths on TV and saw me carrying the flag. It’s a shame he never got to see my compete.
“I’ll be doing it for him in Rio.”
She continued: “It’s a beautiful country – I love it there.
“It’s very Caribbean like. It’s got beautiful islands, beautiful beaches and I love snorkelling out there. It’s absolutely incredible to see the sharks, the turtles and the exotic fish. It’s quite well known for its jungle too and you can do zip-wiring and activities like that. It’s a really cool place.
“It’s not very well developed. There is one athletics track in the whole of the country and that’s not even kitted out with all the equipment you would expect, so in terms of developing athletes it’s really difficult for them.
“But the people are so friendly, the typical Caribbean attitude. They speak a bit of Spanish and have a few of their own languages, but it’s mainly English.
“I have made so many friends and I could quite happily go and live over there in the future.”
“In the middle,” is Katy Sealy’s diplomatic answer when asked where hurdles ranks in her heptathlon strengths.
That is the discipline she will be make her Olympics debut in a week on Tuesday though.
The Ipswich Harriers athlete, who first discovered her talent at the age of 14 during a sports day at Farlingaye High School, started out as a high jumper, added a bit of long jump and then got into a bit of javelin. The switch to multi-disciplines was therefore a natural one.
Belize did not have a single athlete make the qualifying standard for Rio 2016, so instead they picked two wild cards for the Games. Sealy was one of them. And with wild cards not permitted for the heptathlon, she has been entered for the 100m hurdles instead.
Australia’s Sally Pearson won that race at London 2012 in a time of 12.35, while the qualifying standard is 13.0.
To put that into context, Sealy’s personal best in that event is a wind-assisted 15.2 at Northgate Sports Centre, Ipswich, in the East Anglian League last summer. That time would put her 78th in the English women’s rankings for this year.
The heats will, almost certainly, be where her Olympics begin and end. However, Sealy sees her unlikely route into the Games as a golden opportunity to improve as a multi-discipline athlete.
“It’s a little bit scary, but it’s exciting as well,” she says. “The 100 hurdles is one of the events I’ve been doing for years, it’s just not the one I would consider my favourite! That’s because I enjoy the jumps.
“It’s going to be very difficult, I know that, but I’m just going out there to run my best and get a PB. If I run well I might get close to the Belize national record – that’s in my sights.
“Hurdles is one of the events I do, I’ve always trained for it, I’ve just got to train a little bit more for it now! I’ve been working with a specialist coach in London, Judy Vernon, who is a previous Commonwealth gold medallist for the hurdles and have made some big technical improvements.
“I probably haven’t ever concentrated on hurdles as much as I could have, but that means I can take a lot of time off my best and that’s going to mean a whole lot more points in the heptathlon in the long run. I’m looking at it positively like that.”
As soon as Sealy returns from Rio her focus will be back on heptathlon.
“People always get excited about the Olympics – and it’s a huge deal for me – but I still have plenty of longer-term goals,” she says.
“Winning the Central American Championships for a third time recently kind of got overshadowed a little bit by the Rio announcement, which was a shame because El Salavdor was a really big achievement for me.
“Next year is Central American Games and the Central American Championships, so I’m kind of hoping to go out and win both of those and break both records.
“I’m aiming towards the Commonwealths in Australia too and believe I could finish in the top six for the heptathlon, at least.”
Sealy, who works part-time at Spirit Health Club in Ipswich as a gym instructor and personal trainer, gets some of her expenses covered by the Belize Olympic Committee but has to find a lot of money required for travel, coaching, kit, physiotherapy and nutrition herself.
“Source One have been a big supporter of mine and I have to give big thanks to them,” she said.
“On the days I work I have to get up at 10 to five, I train, then work for eight hours and then try and train again in the evening. It’s hard work and by the end of the day I’m exhausted, but it’s got to be done.
“There have been days where I have got in from work and just crashed on the sofa because I haven’t got the energy to train, which is a shame because I’m missing out on sessions I should be doing.
“Any extra support would really help me going forwards.”
– If you would like to support Katy Sealy, contact Derek Thornton on: 07887 441144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two words elicit the biggest smile from Katy Sealy during our lengthy chat – no, not ‘Olympic Games’, but rather ‘Ipswich Town’.
Her love for the boys in Blue is every bit as strong as her passion for athletics and once you get onto the subject of football it’s hard to get the conversation back on course.
Her Twitter timeline backs that up. It’s not dominated by pictures of her jumping over hurdles, but instead various images of her standing, Town scarf aloft, outside the front of various football stadiums.
“I’m trying to do the 92 thing,” she explains. “I’ve got a little photo album of pictures of me at the grounds I’ve visited along with the ticket. I think I’m at 20-something. I’ve been to a lot, but that’s the number since I officially started logging it.”
Football provides a girls’ day out for the Sealy family, as she explains: “We moved here in 1998 and me and mum (Wendy) got into watching Ipswich. Mum and I soon became massive Ipswich fans, but dad’s a Leicester fan – so he was happy last season!
“The first game I remember is the Bolton play-off home game in 2000, that incredible 5-3 win. I know that wasn’t my first game, but that’s the one I remember. We then went to Wembley and I remember that like yesterday.”
When asked who her favourite ever player was the question has barely tailed off before she quickly interjects: “Marcus Stewart – Stewy was my number one.”
She continues: “I’ve got a big collection of all the shirts. There’s the old Greene King one with Gary Croft on the back, a Stewart one somewhere too.
“I went on a CBBC show when I was about 12/13 when they did a feature on Ipswich versus Portsmouth. They had me and one of their young fans do a live chant off on a phone-in. That was fun.
“Mum and I were season ticket holders in the upper North Stand for about 10 years before I went to uni in Cardiff. I actually kept it for the first year because I was convinced I would come back for all the games, but that didn’t happen! Now I just go when I can because it often clashes with competing.”
Sealy actually met her agent, Derek Thornton, when watching Ipswich Town at Blackburn Rovers. Mother and daughter stopped Thornton, who was representing Town player Noel Hunt at the time, to ask him to take one of their stadium snaps ahead of kick-off and then ended up sitting next to him in the directors’ box that day.
“I’ve ended up meeting a few of the players in recent years as the club have invited me to things, but I try not to be a fan with them now,” she says. “I kind of see them as a fellow athlete now. I know how committed they are so it’s good to speak to them about training and nutrition and things like that.”
Sealy adds: “The Ipswich fans have been great with all the support they sent me and all their good luck messages ahead of the Olympics have meant a lot.”