News & Updates

26 March 2024 • Track and Field

Phoebe’s return brings surprising long jump success

Phoebe’s parents watched their daughter claim senior long jump gold in Wellington. Credit: (Chris Holloman)

Phoebe Edwards produced the performance of her life to secure the senior women’s long jump title at the 2024 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships. Read more on how her stunning victory was achieved after only returning to the sport two months earlier following a four-year break from athletics.

For any athlete contemplating returning to athletics after a lengthy break should be inspired by the story of recently minted senior women’s long jump champion Phoebe Edwards.

Earlier this month in Wellington, the 26-year-old athlete leapt out to a new PB of 6.28m to take her maiden national senior title having only returned to track and field two months earlier following a four-year hiatus from the sport.

Phoebe has surprised herself with how well her re-engagement with athletics has gone and she hopes it can act as a spur to other to make a similar move.

“For me, having the break took me back to that feeling I had when I was a 13 or 14-year-old athlete,” she says. “Before I stopped in 2020, I was burnt out and training became a chore rather than something to enjoy. I took a step back and since re-starting I have adopted a different mindset. I’ve put much less pressure on myself, and that it is fun to do long jump in the sun and hang out with friends.”

Phoebe took up the sport of athletics at the age of nine under the encouragement of her neighbour Kelsey Forman – who would later win a national senior steeplechase title and who like Phoebe would go on to represent her country at the 2015 World U18 Championships – and joined Wellington Harriers.

Phoebe developed into a talented all-round athlete and went on to claim national U18 titles in heptathlon, long jump, high jump and 100m hurdles before in 2016 nabbing New Zealand U20 gold medals in heptathlon, long jump and 100m hurdles.

Later that year she took up a scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 2020. However, feeling “burnt out” from her US experiences on her return to New Zealand she quit athletics to focus on other sports.

“I had a great time in the US, it was an awesome, but it was maybe not the best experience for my athletics progression,” she said.

Opting to take up other sports in 2021 she tore her ACL playing football and was forced to undergo surgery the following year. Last year she took up rugby playing as a number 13 for Poneke in Wellington with little motivation to return to athletics.

However, in mid-December that desire returned in a very spontaneous fashion.

“I just suddenly had this thought, should I do long jump again for fun,” explains Phoebe.

“Long jump was always the event I thought I had the most potential in. I used to be a good high jumper. but my left ankle can no longer handle the stress of high jumping and as I’m not that tall for high jump, long jump was an event I thought I could excel.”

Also motivated to compete at the 2024 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in her home city of Wellington, Phoebe contacted her old coach Mike Ritchie to see if she could return to training and after he agreed she officially re-started athletics training on 8 January.

Training two or three times a week, Phoebe was delighted to jump a 4cm lifetime best on her competitive return just three weeks later, breaking the sand at 5.89m to win at the Pak’N Save Cooks Classic in Whanganui.

“I just wanted to have fun and jump 5.50m, so to jump 5.89m I was really happy,” said Phoebe who since 2022 has worked for the police in Wellington. “I had jumped around that distance in training, so I wasn’t super surprised, but it is one thing to jump that far in training and another to do it in a competition, so I was super stoked.”

Aiming for a six-metre jump in her next competition, she delivered on her ambitions with a 6.10m (2.0) leap on her 26th birthday to triumph at the Wellington Championships at Newtown Park – a performance which further underlined her rising confidence.

“It made me feel good about my decision to return to long jump and that I was tracking in the right direction,” said Phoebe. “To jump six metres is something I’ve wanted to do since I was aged 14. It was cool to finally make that mark.”

Proving this was no fluke by registering 6.07m (0.3) at a Twilight Meet in the capital on 8 March, she approached the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track & Field Championships on her home track in a positive frame of mind.

Instead of feeling any pressure going into the women’s long jump as New Zealand number one she adopted a more relaxed approach of simply relishing the challenge ahead – a mentality that proved the perfect recipe for a highly competitive event.

“I wanted to compete well and win a medal,” she says. “But I knew as a competitive person having all the top long jumpers in one competition would be good for me, because I’m quite a competitor.”

After “messing up” her run up in round one, she went out to 6.08m with her second round leap only for three times former champion Kelsey Berryman to soar out to 6.14m to “lay down the gauntlet” to Phoebe and the rest of the field.

Sat second at the halfway stage, the Wellingtonian said: “I felt I had a big jump in me, but I was getting quite impatient ahead of the fourth round because that’s when the order switched around, so I had a long wait as I was the second last jumper to go in round four.”

However, remaining composed and using her local knowledge of the swirling wind in round four she flew out to a formidable 6.28m to seize the lead and set an 18cm PB. Berryman responded with a 6.19m leap but completing an impressive series with 6.14m and 6.13m jumps – three of her longest ever leaps came in this one competition – Phoebe put the seal on a perfect day.

“It was really cool because I have never won a national senior medal before, so to win gold was unexpected,” she said. “I am so happy with how it has gone, and I’m excited for the future. To have only been back training two months and to have improved my PB my 40cm, I’m excited to see what I can do with more training under my belt.”

Intending to step up her training from currently two to three times a week to re-introduce more plyometric work and believing there is a lot of scope to increase her leg speed, Phoebe is optimistic what lies ahead.

She next hopes to compete at the Oceania Championships in Fiji in June and believes that after then she will re-evaluate her future goals.

But given how successful her return to the sport has been, does she have any regrets she did not re-engage a little earlier with the long jump?

“I loved being a heptathlete and I don’t regret going to the US or playing rugby. I am aged 26, so not super young, but still feel if I put my energy and focus into long jump over the next few years, I’m still at an age where I can keep on improving. So no, I have no regrets.”