Callum back loving life as an athlete after quitting u-turn

STRIDING ON: Callum Wilkinson (pictured competing at the Commonwealth Games) quit the sport five months ago but is now enjoying it more than ever. Picture: Mark Easton
STRIDING ON: Callum Wilkinson (pictured competing at the Commonwealth Games) quit the sport five months ago but is now enjoying it more than ever. Picture: Mark Easton

Six months ago Callum Wilkinson took the decision to quit race walking.

Fuelled by a desire to be a ‘normal person and a normal student’, the Moulton-raised 21-year-old had grown disillusioned with life as an athlete and the demands that it places on an individual.

But, 24 hours after telling those close to him that he was walking away from the sport, Wilkinson was named in the Team England squad for the Commonwealth Games.

He refocused, rediscovered his love for the discipline and set about training for his first ever multi-sport event.

And it all came together for the World Under-20 champion at the weekend in a sun-drenched Gold Coast, where he finished ahead of numerous experienced championship athletes to cross the line in seventh place.

His time of one hour, 22 minutes and 35 seconds was just 20 seconds shy of his personal best over 20km, all of which vindicated Wilkinson back-tracking on his plans to quit. Speaking to The Journal from Australia, he said: “I had just started to struggle with the day in, day out training schedule and I was not really looking forward to racing.

“On the Monday I told my coach and team-mates I was quitting indefinitely, and I had been so caught up in it I had forgotten that the press release for the Commonwealth team selection was actually the next day.

“I had enjoyed being a normal person and a normal student and I found it tough to give that up and start the hard work again.

“I got a lot of amazing responses from fellow athletes for staying true to myself and just being real and out there, including from Dane Bird Smith (Commonwealth champion).

“Being an athlete is great but the huge internal and external pressures from all corners is often overlooked.

“I am lucky that I have surrounded myself from day one with amazing people that helped me see a way back to training and achieve the big sporting goals I still have.

“I am now enjoying my athletics more than ever before and that is a testament to these people I work with — it showed in my performance at the weekend.”

Wilkinson, who will remain in Australia to train for the next couple of weeks before heading to China and the Race Walking Team Championships on May 6, has also been humbled by the support he has received from back home.

He may study and train in Leeds, but his connection to where he was raised remains strong.

“I want to thank the people of Newmarket and Suffolk — I was really proud to represent them at the Games.

“There are so many people in the area that have helped me on my journey so far and I would love for that to continue going forward to the Olympic Games in Tokyo and beyond.

“The more supporters and sponsors I have the better and to have a team of local backers helping me on the world stage would be amazing.”