Iryna Zhuk is a Pole Vaulter from Belarus and a 9 times National Champion and National record holder. She is also an Olympian, who has competed at the Rio 2016 Olympics. In addition, she won the Gold medal at the 2017 Summer Universiade in Taiwan and competed at the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore. In 2012 she competed at the World Junior Championships in Spain and then in 2015 in the European U23 Championships in Estonia. In 2016 she competed at the European Championships in the Netherlands. The following year, after that first Olympics, she contested the European Indoor Championships in Serbia before her last competition to date, the World Championships that took place in London, England.
Iryna told us that she had been involved in sports from a very early age and from the age of 6 to the age of 13 years old was involved in Gymnastics at the highest levels. At 14 though, she made the switch to Pole vaulting, after being captivated by watching many of the World’s best athletes on Tv.
Iryna reflected, that since she was 7 years old, she never really had the kind of childhood you would expect someone to have. Her life was completely focused on improving her skills to the point where outside of her studies, there was no time to do all the normal things that most children do. Irnya told us “I studied twice a day. I did not have a normal childhood. There were no friends because I did not have time for them. In my life there were only workouts. Now I understand that this is good but then it was hard but I always asked God for help in the difficult moments and always knew that he was around.”
Iryna said when it came to Pole vaulting, it wasn’t really that anyone guided her or told her that she could be good at it but as she put it “It was a choice of the soul”. She simply wanted to do it because God had placed the passion in her heart and once she tried it she fell in love with every spect of the sport. Often when you are younger you can feel like everyone else knows better than you. there’s nothing wrong with taking advice fro people who are older and sometimes a lot more experienced. but ultimately nobody can ever know the dream God has placed inside of you better than you and him. Iryna realised that very quickly and she realised that many of the strengths that had made her an amazing gymnast also gave her the perfect platform to excel as a Pole vaulter. She quickly rose through the ranks far faster than anyone could ever have expected her to, so that by the age of just 17 she was already competing at the Youth Olympic Games.
Later in her career after sacrificing so much, Iryna would face another challenge and would need complete faith in God and herself to overcome it. For 3 years, she told us she would train everyday giving everything she had and doing all the right things and yet she was no longer improving. Stuck jumping the same height and a long way from the qualifying standards, it seemed like she would never make the Olympics. It was a very difficult period but having been brought up as a Catholic all her life, it was her faith in God, Jesus and herself, that kept her fighting and determined to not to quit. Eventually she broke through all the barriers and with that, she fulfilled a dream and was on her way to the Rio Olympics. Iryna summed that memory up by saying “I did not ever lose faith in myself and in the fact that God would help me. I have always believed in God and I believe now.”
Iryna wanted you to know that you should always believe in yourself and never give up. She believes that it is important not to be a winner and the best in sport but to realise that you are being the very best version of yourself that you can be if you are always prepared to give life everything you’ve got. Iryna said “If you imagine the way to your goal as a series of small steps you’ll soon discover that each step is relatively simple. Just try and make sure each day is a little bit better than the last one. We can’t control what other people say about us and what other people think or how they choose to believe in us. But I do know one thing we choose how we react to it.” Thats probably the most perfect lesson you could take from her journey and the perfect way to end her amazing story.
Iryna will now prepare for the World Campionships next year with her heart also set on the next Olympics in Tokyo and in that, we’ll be hoping that she achieves everything she has in her heart to do and we’ll all with your support be cheering her on to succeed.