Meet Sephora Ford, TASS Stars Most Committed Athlete 2021

Sephora Ford triumphed in the face of adversity during a pandemic-affected 12 months to excel as an athlete and a student. The 18-year-old Birkdale School pupil achieved A grades in three A-Levels and a diploma in Sporting Excellence as she kept her diving dream alive. We caught up with the winner of the 2021 TASS Stars Most Committed athlete award.

TASS: How much does it mean to you to win a TASS Stars award:

Sephora Ford: It’s a real honour to be recognised by TASS for my commitment. Making the shortlist was an achievement so I was surprised and delighted to be named as winner! Given the disruption to both education and training over the year it’s been hard to maintain motivation but I tried my best and this award recognises that.

TASS: How challenging has the last 12 months been?

SF: The past 12 months have been very challenging for everyone. As a dual career athlete I’d say the pandemic has affected every aspect of my life. At one stage my home pool, Ponds Forge, wasn’t going to reopen at all which would have meant the end of diving in Sheffield. This added more stress and uncertainty to an already difficult situation. Before lockdown I’d had a very successful year and I was looking forward to the sporting challenges, competitions and opportunities that lay ahead. But this didn’t happen. We were only back at training for a few weeks before the November lockdown. We had to do training at home via Zoom and try to stay motivated without the support of team-mates. Sheffield Diving and the England Y team put together some great workouts — there was lots of S&C, Yoga and ballet! School work was similarly affected as we were doing online lessons and didn’t have access to facilities such as the art studios and chemistry labs.

TASS: What have been your proudest achievements during this time?

SF: All of the competitions I intended to compete in were cancelled so the opportunities for sporting achievement were limited. But I was pleased to be selected for the England Y team. Academically I was proud of my A-level results — A* A* A and DiSE.

TASS: What are you hoping to achieve in the next 12 months?

SF: I’m taking a gap year before I go to university but I’ll be keeping busy! As well as concentrating on my own training, I coach young divers in the talent squad which I enjoy very much. I want to work on my dive list to be in the best possible position when competitions return and I aim to compete at the highest level I can. I want to keep studying in my gap year and I’m doing another A-level in maths.

TASS: Why is it important to follow a dual career pathway?

SF: I enjoy learning and I love diving. I’ve been diving for 10 years since I was selected for a talent ID programme. I want to continue as a dual career athlete and I believe that the discipline, focus and time management skills that come from diving actually help me with my academic studies.

TASS: Can you describe how being a TASS supported student athlete helps you?

SF: TASS has provided specialist support such as the weight training at Sheffield Hallam University — this was extremely beneficial. There was also a screening check where I was given some useful exercises to do. And I was able to join a number of online group calls covering various topics including mental health. That proved particularly valuable in the pandemic. TASS provides an extra level of support and it’s reassuring to know it’s there and I can access it when I need to.

TASS: Do you have a message for dual career athletes working hard to achieve their goals — both sporting and educational?

SF: Always try your hardest and never give up even when things get tough. And always take any support that’s offered.

Sephora’s nomination in the Most Committed category at the 2021 TASS Stars awards reflected an ongoing dedication to the dual career pathway. Since returning to the pool, the teenager trains six days a week — during lockdown she trained at home and via Zoom in order to ensure she remained in peak condition prior to diving’s return at Sheffield’s Ponds Forge. At the same time, the talented sixth former excelled academically and played a full part in school life during a difficult period for students across the country. Independence and ambition underpin the positive approach of this committed TASS athlete.