Birmingham 2022: Abbie Wood on working as a waste collector and why she almost quit swimming

ITV Central Reporter Mark Kielesz-Levine hears from 23-year old British swimmer, Abbie Wood

It isn't often that you hear of an Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimmer wanting to quit before reaching their prime, but swimmer Abbie Wood was on the brink only a few years ago.

Wood, from Buxton, has toyed with the idea of giving up the sport she loves a few times in the past after struggling when making the transition to the senior ranks.

She confesses it felt like being "out of her depth" in the pool and it was actually the pandemic and the first lockdown that really brought those feelings to the forefront of her mind.

Wood, who competes in the individual medley, as well as freestyle, breaststroke, and relay, had not had a personal best for four years .Unable to train due to pools being closed, she wanted to do something to be active and take her mind off of her sport.

It was after speaking to her Dad Darren that she decided to work at his waste collection yard in Staffordshire.

'This will be the first time that I'll get to swim at home and it's just the motivation I need'

So Wood donned the overalls and walked the routes with men on the truck, collecting bins and being a key worker allowed out to work.

The weather was great, but it was a million miles away from being an elite athlete.

And yet it was what Wood needed.

She told ITV News Central that it was perfect for her to reassess her goals and what she wanted to get from swimming.

Her parents too were proud of her for taking on what is a tough job when other aspects of her life weren't particularly going well. 

Her mum told how since the age of 13, Wood has been funded and so to do the hard physical shifts of working the bins opened her up to something she hasn't experienced before.

In fact, it made her realise how lucky she was to be in the position of a funded athlete and gave her the impetus to push forward in her career.

By this point, Wood was already a Commonwealth Games athlete, having represented Team England on the Gold Coast in 2018.

Still in her late teens, Wood finished 6th and 7th in her two individual medley finals, but the thoughts of quitting were still lingering by the time of that first lockdown in 2020. 

The Olympics, which had been postponed, seemed a long way off. But with the work came a new determination to achieve all she could in the sport.

Ironically, it was the delay to the games that helped Wood.

She says she was fortunate to not have suffered from the same doubts and mental struggles of other older athletes, who had given everything to perform one last time and saw their hard work put back by another year when their body may not be in the same peak condition.

In her early 20s, time was and still is on Wood's side.

By the time the Tokyo Olympics did finally take place, she felt ready and was agonisingly short of medalling. Just 11-hundredths of a second was the difference between her going home empty handed and getting on the podium.

But after so many thoughts about quitting, Wood was proud of her achievement at the Olympics.

Wood says the lack of a crowd probably did her a favour in the pressure cooker climate of the biggest sporting event in the world, and helped her to focus better on the task at hand.

But times have now changed because of her strong showing in Tokyo.

Wood will be going into the Games very much a medal favourite. 

She admits that it's hard to keep that focus strong in between Olympics.

But she says having her family there in a home crowd will make all the difference. 

"A home Games is the motivation I need."

Abbie Wood's parents Darren and Julie Wood speaking to ITV Central

For her parents, Darren and Julie, they are very proud of their daughter and describe her journey from working in her Dad's waste business to becoming an Olympian as a real 'rags to riches' story.

Both describe Wood as unbelievably driven and motivated and 70 mile round trips to train and moving away has meant she's had to grow up fast.

The difficult parts have also made her success even sweeter.

They also describe her as full of life and always on the go. Whenever Wood comes home, she's always got three or four things lined up and family means family.

Her parents say when she gets home and closes the door, the goggles are hung up and there's no talk or swimming, no medals or certificates on the wall and no boasting about achievements.

Her time back in Buxton is about family, friends and forgetting about life in the pool.

It's clearly a balance that suits Wood and with the uncertain days behind her and with the experience of the Olympics, it could well be a special summer in Birmingham for the former refuse worker.

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