News & Updates

20 April 2021 • Track and Field

Q and A with Isabel Neal

After winning a national 400m silver medal at the Jennian Homes New Zealand Track and Field Championships last month, Isabel Neal is firmly established as one of the country’s brightest one-lap talents. Here we find out more about the Auckland-based but Tasman-raised 19-year-old as she answers our 20 questions.

Why did you start athletics? 

As a child, I was always running. I loved the feeling and, even as a youngster, I had a competitive streak in me. So, at 8-years-old, my dad took me along to a local athletics club. From there, I was hooked!

What was the last piece of athletics advice you received? 

Do not dwell or focus on the uncontrollable. Focus on the things you can control, things that will benefit your training and performances. My mum taught me this and it is a piece of advice that has stuck with me since I first started competing.

What has been your career highlight? 

Am I allowed two? I can’t decide between winning the New Zealand Track and Field U-20 400m title in 2020 or running 53.94, and finishing with the fastest 400m open women’s ranked time by a New Zealander in 2021.

What has been your athletics low? 

I spent a couple of my high school years struggling with injury. This was hard due to all the hard work I put into the sport. Not being able to compete or string a couple of seasons together without breaking down was a difficult reality to swallow. But it taught me many lessons and I believe I am a better athlete because of it.

Where do you see your athletics career ten years from now? 

I would love to be competing on the international stage, repping the Kiwi fern! I would also love to have achieved the goals I have set for myself and be healthy, happy and proud of my athletics journey.

What is your greatest mistake in athletics? 

My greatest mistake, which I am still working on to overcome, is overthinking. I need to not think and just run! 

Which athlete is the most interesting to follow on social media? 

Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bahamian 200/400m sprinter) is so amazing! I love her attitude and the focus she places on the journey rather the outcome. She also gives insight into the reality of training which I think is awesome and she reinforces the importance of not comparing yourself and your journey to your competitors as everybody’s process is different.

Do you have a favourite athletics social media post? 

It would have to be one of the many videos of Usain Bolt. He is insane!

If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be and why?

I believe it is so important that we continue to promote community and ‘grass-roots level’ participation as well as to support high performance athletes. For New Zealand to continue to produce talented athletes in the future, we need to place great emphasis on the up-and-coming athletes, to support them in their journey and provide them with the opportunity to succeed. 

Which athlete do you most admire from your event? 

There are so many talented 400m sprinters! I feel very fortunate to be able to compete alongside such a talented group of female sprinters within New Zealand but I think Allyson Felix (US 200/400m athlete) would have to be one of my biggest inspirations. Her amazing talent and longevity really stands out to me. I also love her fighting equality for women in sport.

Isabel Neal, left in blue, on her way to winning silver at the 2021 Jennian Homes New Zealand Track and Field Championships (Photo: Alisha Lovrich) 

Outside of athletics what is your greatest accomplishment this year?

I am in my second year at AUT University, completing a double major in Sport and Exercise Science and Exercise Science and Nutrition. So my greatest achievement aside from athletics would be being able to juggle the student athlete workload and gaining top grades through my studies.

What was your most embarrassing moment in high school? 

There are too many to choose from! Probably when I spoke in school assemblies and mucked up my words.

If you were an animal, what would you be and why? 

I’m going to be a typical sprinter here and say a cheetah – they are fast and have such cool markings. Or my dog Coco, she is living her best life! Walks, food and cuddles!

Do you have a nickname? 

Yes, ‘Izzy’ or ‘Iz’ are the most common but the weirdest name I’ve been called is from my coach, whose phone would autocorrect my name to Irby. Somehow that stuck!

If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why? 

Super-speed or the ability to be invisible!  

What is the funniest joke you know? 

What did the left eye say to the right eye? Between you and me, something smells.

Where do you see yourself when you are 50? 

Happy and healthy! With a family, a successful career, travelling the world in my spare time and I would love to still be involved in athletics. I think I am going to be busy!

What is the most ridiculous fact you know? 

It is impossible to hum while holding your nose. Go ahead, try it!

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and why? 

I would change people’s attitudes around believing they can’t do something to “I cannot do it yet”! Anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

If you could host a talk show, what three guests would you invite and why? 

Jennifer Aniston because she starred in the TV show ‘Friends’ and I am obsessed! Sir David Attenborough because he is cool as and just why not? My mum because she would have everyone in fits of laughter.

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