“I used to specialise in the trapeze and the adrenaline rush you feel from flying through the air was incredible - similar to speeding down the ice at 130km’s an hour!”
Images courtesy of VIESTURS LACIS.
Tabby Stoecker never planned to be an athlete and even a few years ago the idea she could become an international skeleton slider, let alone one of the sport’s rising stars, would have been “crazy and laughable.”
By her own admission the now two-time World junior silver medallist was “awful… no, terrible!” – she corrects herself – during her first assessment days.
“I was always sporty, but I went to a school in inner city London where the facilities were kind of bleak and we didn’t have grass fields, but we did have a small dance studio,” she reveals.
That allowed her to develop a “real passion” for gymnastics and outside of school she followed her elder sister’s lead by joining the National Centre for Circus Arts.
“I did that from when I was 11-17 and it was 25 hours a week of totally creative, immersive circus disciplines and arts training which I loved,” Tabby tells the WSA.
“Honestly, I truly adored that and I specialised in the flying trapeze, so it gives you all of the skills you need to go on into something like Cirque du Soleil, but I kind of got to the age of 17 and thought, ‘I don't know if this is what to do as a career.’”
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No longer soaring in sequins, now sliding in a skin-suit
A few months on the teenager was attracted to an advert she saw on Instagram, which was for in UK Sport’s Talent Identification ‘Discover your Gold’ programme.
“I applied with just some basic information about myself and my background and was asked to attend a trial where they tested you jumping, on the watt bikes and lots of other things,” she recalls.
“Again, people in the team laugh about it with me now because I was just terrible! I couldn’t run, I had absolutely no strength, I'd never set foot in a gym before.
“I didn't know what weights training was and didn't own a pair of spikes.”
Image courtesy of VIESTURS LACIS.
An “incredible” journey to life as a professional athlete
Now reflecting on those early days Tabby understands that despite struggling with physical challenges - compared to some of her Talent ID ‘rivals’ - assessors clearly saw something ‘different’ in her make-up which they felt could be applied to skeleton.
“Looking back, having the confidence to throw yourself in the air and be caught by someone gave me lots of transferable skills and experience,” she says.
“It gave me really good spatial awareness and it was a very holistic approach with athletic training too which together has probably helped me learn skeleton skills quickly.
“What I will say though is that with trapeze you start on a harness and someone who knows what they’re doing speaks you through it and you’re on pulleys, so if you mess up they’ll catch you. In skeleton, there’s no like baby step, there's no stopping!
“So it’s probably a more extreme leap of faith running off and leaping on the sled at the start of the ice track!”
A stunning start to her skeleton career
Her early successes endorsed the view that British Skeleton – a winner of six Olympic medals since the sport returned to the Games programme in 2002 – had unearthed another special talent.
Just over a month after her senior competitive debut, at the Europa Cup in Innsbruck where she finished seventh, Tabby securing a stunning silver at the 2022 World Junior Championships.
It was the first British medal in the event since a certain Lizzy Yarnold won the title ten years earlier.
She would of course go onto win gold medals at the Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Games, becoming the first Team GB athlete in history to win two Winter Olympic titles.
“I think it always sounds silly when someone says to you ‘did it just feel right?’ on the ice, but for me, it really did,” Tabby says with a smile.
“It felt like I'd kind of been searching for something and it always been kind of out of my grasp and I got to do this really wacky incredible sport that no one really knows about and something just clicked.
“Relaxing while going so fast is so alien, but for me it came so naturally.”
Stoecker on ‘overanalysing and imposter syndrome’
That said, her World Junior podium finish, followed by maiden Europa Cup medals this season did take her by surprise and she admits experiencing “total imposter syndrome.”
“I was like ‘surely that was a fluke? Surely I haven't just beaten these people who I've watched and studied on YouTube?’ So I probably overanalysed and it was quite a tough time for me personally,” says the Londoner.
“This season I’ve got more medals under my belt and more experience so I’ve realised that I am a good athlete, that the results are actually reflective of the work and not just luck!”
‘I dream of becoming an Olympic Champion’
Heading into the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics British athletes had claimed at least one medal in skeleton events at each of the previous five Games.
That winning record-run would end in China though as equipment struggles saw the squad secure a best result of 15th.
It was a “devastating” shock according to team members, but they have subsequently enjoyed stunning successes this season with 10 major medals.
“It just makes you think, ‘what a time to be part of the sport!’ and to have the same coaches and training experiences as Matt (Weston), who’s just won World gold, gives me so much confidence for my own future,” she says.
Tabby, who also competed at the recent senior World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, says her debut was another “surreal” moment in her career path.
Image courtesy of VIESTURS LACIS.
The 22-year-old has BIG ambitions for the years ahead.
“My dream, of course, is the 2026 Winter Olympics, I want to be that on the podium, hopefully with a gold medal and a big grin on my face knowing I've done everything I can and it's all come together at the right time,” she tells the WSA.
“For the next three years leading up to that, it's about like making me the best athlete I can possibly be.”