TASS Stars Awards – Most Committed Athlete

Tia McGarry successfully combined a Biomedical Science degree with life as an elite diver at Sheffield Hallam University The 21-year-old takes the dual career approach in her stride and is a worthy winner of this year’s TASS Stars award for the Most Committed Athlete.

TASS: How would you describe 2020 so far?

Tia McGarry: It’s been an incredibly challenging year for everyone. Due to the global pandemic we’ve been prevented from training in what every elite athlete refers to as our ‘second home’. It’s been tough to come to terms with. But 2020 started so positively for me: the national championships – leading into the Tokyo Olympics – took place in February and I finished seventh at the same time as I was undertaking a full-time placement at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital. It was a very rewarding time for me and I was over the moon.  But then the year took a turn for the worse. COVID-19 meant I couldn’t attend my placement and I couldn’t train in the pool at Ponds Forge. Training became tedious and demotivating due to the fact that sessions were held on Zoom calls and I lost face-to-face contact with my team-mates – they’re like a second family to me. Diving is a very visualised sport and the most important and fundamental work is done on the boards. That all came to an abrupt end. Athletes always focus on their goals, which often include national and international events. There have been none in 2020 since March and it’s been both disappointing and demotivating.

TASS: What were the highlights of your sporting season prior to lockdown?

TM: The highlights have to be the 2019 British Diving Senior National Championships and the 2019 Ukrainian National Championships. After a hard few months at Sheffield I started working with a new coach called Dale White towards the end of 2018. The 2019 British Championships was our first time working together – I was nervous and studying hard to complete my second year at Sheffield Hallam. But I was keen to compete and managed to finish fourth in the women’s 10m platform event. It was my highest ranking and qualified me for multiple international competitions including the Ukrainian nationals. That was my first senior international event and my first representing Great Britain. It was an exciting time as I travelled with two of my closest friends – Yasmin Harper (3m springboard diver) and Lucy Hawkins (10m training partner) – and it was a fantastic achievement for all three of us to take part. As it was my first senior international competition I travelled to Ukraine with low expectations but I somehow managed to finish first. And I’m still the reigning champion of the Ukrainian nationals!

Tia with training partner Lucy at the 2019 Ukrainian National Championships

TASS: What have you missed out on as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?

TM: I’ve missed out on the opportunity to improve the technicality of my current dive list, many competitions and training in the pool. But most importantly, I’ve missed out on seeing my diving family six days a week. Although diving is an individually competitive sport, as a team we all work together to motivate each other while we’re up on the boards training and competing. During lockdown this has become almost become impossible. Restrictions mean individual workouts have become the norm.

TASS: How do you feel you’ve coped with the unprecedented challenge posed by Covid-19 and have you encountered any specific problems?

TM: It’s been extremely difficult as a dual career athlete. I wasn’t been able to progress as much as I’d hoped as a diver or complete my placement at Sheffield Children’s Hospital on time. Luckily, I have the best support network around me including my friends, family, work colleagues, team-mates and my coach. As a group they’ve supported me through this challenging time – allowing me to regain my motivation and encouraging me to get back into the gym and do park and Zoom workouts. They’ve also helped me to return to my placement full time and I’m in a position where I can finish all outstanding work.

TASS: What are you able to do at the moment and will you be able to compete again before 2021?

TM: Unfortunately, I can’t get back to normal for now as the pool at Pond’s Forge is still closed. At the moment I train on my own three to four times a week in a gym to ease myself back into things. I’m working with my coach by sending him workout routines and videos for technical support when lifting weights and performing dive related workouts. I’m also sending pictures of stretches to show how I’m progressing. But 2021 still remains a mystery for everyone involved in diving at Sheffield. Once we’re all able to return to the pool then the competitions set in place for 2021 will become a lot clearer. I have faith that we’ll be able to come together as a family – as we have done over the past few months – to motivate each other and get everyone within the team back to being as close to normal very quickly.

TASS: What are your targets for 2021?

TM: I don’t have any clear targets due to British swimming still being unsure about the competition schedule and venues still not being open for meets. However, I hope to attend Olympic trials early next year. It would be my first Olympic trials since becoming a full- time women’s 10m diver and would be one of the many highlights in my career.

TASS: What does it mean to you to be part of the TASS family?

TM: I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been supported by TASS from sixth form all the way through to the end of my degree so being part of the TASS family means a great deal to me.

TASS helps the people around you understand the hard work that goes into day to day life and highlights the dedication and determination required to combine top level sport with education. TASS shares its work on social media and supports you behind the scenes whenever and wherever you need it. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work closely with TASS on various different projects to showcase talent across the different disciplines.

TASS: What does it mean to be recognised at the TASS Stars Awards?

TM: It means so much to me and my family. For the last few years my sporting career has peaked massively but during that period I’ve been in full-time education or working as a coach or full-time outside of diving. It’s been a real whirlwind and a challenging time for me and the people around me. I get very little spare time but that’s normal for an elite athlete and my friends and family accept that. Having my commitment recognised by TASS makes all of the training and hard work worthwhile. It also recognises the value of my support network – especially my mum and dad. Without them I would never have been able to do what I do today and I wouldn’t be getting amazing and prestigious awards like this. I’m so grateful to my parents John McGarry and Zoe Ward and to my little sister Ella McGarry for supporting me throughout my career.

TASS: Following a year of intense disruption do you think TASS will have an even more important role to play in the next few months and years and, if so, why?

TM: TASS will have a huge role to play as this disruption in our sporting season will affect athletes physically and mentally. Many athletes will never have experienced such a long break from their sport, making it a very frustrating time. From my own experience of being sidelined, through injuries and the pandemic, I’d suggest a lot of elite athletes will find this time mentally and physically challenging. Greater support from TASS will be essential and very, very welcome.

Tia McGarry was nominated in the Most Committed Athlete category of the TASS Stars awards in recognition of her ability to juggle an elite diving career with a full-time university education. Securing a top seven finish at the 2020 British Diving Championships at the same time as undertaking a placement at Sheffield Children’s Hospital revealed a dual career athlete rising to the challenge and excelling under pressure. Tia was forced to reassess her time management in order to fulfil a range of commitments and trained after work – and often late into the evening – to maintain her consistency in the pool. Faced with an unforgiving schedule she was still able to increase the degree of difficulty in her diving list prior to lockdown.