FEATURE: Stowmarket's Harry Hughes on his early success, injury lay off and future goals
At 21, Harry Hughes is one of the most exciting prospects in British Athletics. Competing in javelin from the age of nine, his persistence in overcoming adversity has led him to achieve multiple accolades and a Team GB call-up at the age of 17, writes Callum Crabtree.
The Stowmarket athlete’s road to achieving a personal best of 78.89m at Loughborough Winter Open trials in February has not been plain sailing.
Personal battles with the mind and serious injuries has made Hughes’ journey a constant battle to reach the summit of junior javelin.
“It began with my brother being a triple jumper and I used to watch him train and I wanted to do something on the track. I tried lots of different events but weirdly I was always drawn towards to javelin,” he explained.
After sticking to javelin, Hughes realised his potential when junior records and titles were all beginning to read his name.
“I was 11 when I broke the British age record and I thought ‘well this is going well, things are going ok’ so I started to focus a bit more. Then when I got to 14, I won the gold at the English Schools Championship, which is the biggest achievement you can get at that age,” he said.
A Team GB call-up was inevitable, and at 17, a dream was achieved.
Despite this, there’s no preparation for dealing with major injury setbacks which have unfortunately hindered Hughes’ career. Going from the highs of the Team GB selection to a hospital bed with a looming two-year long rehab, the world can really feel like an empty place.
“When you’re in the limelight and you’re throwing well, everyone wants to know who you are. When you’re injured and the limelight isn’t there you feel as if you drop off the face of the earth,” he admitted.
Hughes spoke of his long injury lay offs and why he wished he started throwing later in life.
“I had two stress fractures in my back which took two to three years to heal. Then my elbow started causing me pain when I was 17 and I threw through the pain for a few years then it got to the point last year I was in agony, I couldn’t lift my arm and I could barely do anything,” he revealed.
“I got it scanned numerous times before, then finally they realised from where I’d been throwing and continuing the throw, you have growth plates in different joints and the growth plate in your elbow through puberty and teenage years fuse into your bone and an adult has a fully fused body by the time your 21.
“But my elbow still hadn’t fused so what they decided was to actually screw the growth plate into the bone to press it and make it fuse which luckily did work as I got it scanned six months after and it had fully fused which was really good.”
His rehab was on a knife edge due to the type of surgery he had.
“It was really intense trying to recover from it because as soon as I came out of surgery I had to try and move it because as soon as you stop it from moving it could fuse in the wrong place,” he added.
Hughes is also fortunate to have been surrounded by elite coaching throughout his career, with England coach Michael McNeill and two-time British javelin champion Mark Roberson developing his ability.
“McNeill was my coach from the age of 15 to the age of 20 and was a massive help to the start of my career, he got me to the World Junior Championships and helped me break quite a lot of records,” he said.
“I now work with Mark Roberson and we work one on one. We get on really well which is absolutely vital.
“What’s good about Mark is that because he was so elite himself, he knows how every session feels like, every throwing position and has helped me beat a lot of personal bests in throwing and in the gym.”
That personal best was achieved this February, and Hughes states how much it meant to him after such a long time on the sidelines.
“I just wanted to prove to everyone that I could come back from something like this as I think there was a lot of doubt,” he reflected.
“In the first round I managed to smash out a 78, which it technically wasn’t very good, but it was just a pure emotional throw with all my frustrations and anger from being injured and it all came out. It was massive elation and more so a relief thinking ‘I’m better than I ever was, and I can get to where I think I can.’
“I went over and hugged my coach and obviously he was really pleased, and it sounds ridiculous, but I was almost in tears over it because it was such a long journey to get back and when I went to throw again I was so flat because all my emotions completely went into my first throw.”
Once again though, his ambitions became much greater.
“I want to get to the finals of the European U23’s Championships in July and hopefully get a gold there. Also, to beat Mark’s record at his age which was just over 80m. Then my bigger aspirations are to qualify for Tokyo next year, they’ve made it harder to qualify so it’s quite difficult to reach and I’m not currently looking above that. But of course, Paris 2024 that will be the next goal.”
Hughes underlined his status as one of the rising stars at the weekend, breaking a university games record. He broke the BUCS Outdoors record twice on his way to victory, winning with a throw of 78.63m.
The 2018-19 BUCS Outdoor Athletic Championships was hosted over the May Day Bank Holiday Weekend at Bedford Stadium. Read more at www.bucs.org.uk or follow us at @BUCSsport