This article was originally published in The Belfast Telegraph on August 24, 2010.
The Commonwealth Games gets underway in Delhi in October and in a series of features, Local Heroes will be looking at the athletes representing Team NI. First up is 400m starlet Joanna Mills.
Ballyclare-born Joanna Mills is just one of the athletes from Northern Ireland hoping to make their mark in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi this October.
Placing third in last years’ European Youth Olympics in the 4x100m relay, and currently the Irish Schools’ 400m and long jump champion, Mills has shown she is one to watch for the future.
Currently in training for the Games, Mills admits she can’t wait to fly out for the trip of a lifetime: “I was really excited to find out I was going to Delhi. I’ve never been to India or anywhere like that before. A part of me is slightly nervous – I think it will be a culture shock.”
The 17-year-old, who is a member of Ballymena and Antrim Athletic Club, will be joined in Delhi by fellow clubmates Christine McMahon and Jo Patterson, and she believes it is a great advantage to have.
“It helps calm the nerves. I train with Christine and because we train together, we know each other really well and are good friends. Jo has also been great. Because she is slightly older, she has the experience we hope to gain, so it’s great to be able to learn from her.”
Mills made the move from 300m to 400m events at the start of the season and she is enjoying the challenges and rewards it brings.
“Setting a personal best in the 300m last year was great, but 400m is a completely different race,” she says. “It was hard at the start of the season as I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s taken slightly longer for me to learn, but I’m always improving. It’s very encouraging.”
Joanna already has a number of major achievements to her name. She was UK Schools’ 300m Champion in 2008 and 2009, and was chosen to represent Northern Ireland in last year’s European Youth Olympics.
As she goes from strength to strength, she has high expectations for Delhi.
“I’m bringing my time down every time I run, so I’m definitely hoping for a personal best in the 400m,” Mills continues. “Our relay team is very young so we will be looking to learn. I’d love the team to break the Northern Ireland record and bring a medal or two home.”
Equally as optimistic of Mills’ chances at the Commonwealth Games, is her coach, Melanie Browning.
“She had international experience with the European Youth Olympics last year, but this is the next step up for her,” says Melanie. “She’s only 17, and to be selected at this level at her age, is fantastic. It’s a learning curve, but she will be able to take a lot away from the Games.”
The teenager has had to extend her athletic season due to the Games and in a matter of weeks she’ll be juggling her school work alongside her running. Despite this, Joanna remains positive about the upcoming months. “Melanie, my coach, has been fantastic. She’s done a great job with my training this season.
“Going back to school in September will make training slightly more difficult, but because it’ll be the start of a school year, it shouldn’t be too busy or stressful. Hopefully anyway,” she laughs.
Speaking of the experience she will gain from going to Delhi, it is clear that Joanna is using the Games as a springboard to other major events.
“This is a stepping stone to other major international competitions,” admits the teenager. “Hopefully I can gain experience which will be useful in future years.”
As for her future plans, Mills continues: “The ultimate goal is to push for the Games in Glasgow in 2014. I’ll be older and hopefully more experience with competing at this level. It won’t be easy and I have a lot of work to do to get to there. I’m looking forward to it though and seeing the rewards it will bring.”