Lois Toulson World Champs 2019

Different times but same motivation for Lois

22 Dec 2020

Christmas time can bring out the competitive side in some people on social media, as they look to outdo each other's images of brightly-lit, colourfully-decorated trees. 

But for three-time European champion Lois Toulson, her Instagram and Twitter feeds will be providing motivation of a very different kind over the festive period and heading into 2021. 

In alternate circumstances, Toulson may have whiled away the final few days of this year reflecting on memories from her second Olympic Games appearance.

Instead, following the wide-reaching impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the City of Leeds diver has spent much of 2020 in virtual training sessions over Zoom, with attentions firmly fixed on the rescheduled Games in Tokyo next summer. 

The confirmation of February's British Diving Championships in Sheffield - an invite-only event on this occasion due to the wide-ranging impacts COVID-19 has had on training and access to pools - brings the Olympic reality a little closer for Lois and her colleagues, both in the British Diving ranks and among the sport's international elite. 

So how is the 21-year-old feeling as she prepares to say goodbye to a year of disruptions and builds up to that competition, subject to ongoing government guidelines? 

"As I just flick through social media and see everyone else from around the world, all my competitors, back into it all, it's actually really motivating," says Toulson, who finished fifth in the Women's 10m Synchro at Rio 2016, alongside Tonia Couch.

"Seeing how far everyone has come from when we couldn't do anything for so long at the start of lockdown one to now, that's really inspiring and it gears me up, making me feel like, 'yeah, I'm ready to go now!'

"When the national Championships happen, it'll be around a year since I last competed, which is crazy. The competition I did in March, the FINA Diving World Series leg in Montreal, went really well, so I was really looking forward to the year to see what would happen.

Lois Toulson dive European Champs 2018
Lois Toulson hasn't competed since March's FINA Diving World Series leg in Montreal

"But I'm just going to have to start all over again in 2021 - hopefully I can start on a similar footing as I did this year. 

"It's going to be a different type of British Championships, it's going to be different but we're all in the same boat. I'm definitely looking forward to it, though." 

That brand of positivity has been crucial to Toulson through 2020 during a period of lockdowns, virtual training sessions and no real competition. 

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the City of Leeds athlete says maintaining that feel-good emotion is top of her list for the New Year. 

"I haven't really thought about resolutions yet! Obviously I have my goals in general, but I wouldn't say I have any resolutions," she adds.

"I think it's just about trying to stay as positive as possible, which can be quite challenging at times. If I had to think of anything, it'd probably be that - to go into the new year as positive and as happy as I can. 

"It's definitely been a really, really strange year. But coming towards the end of it and looking back, I can definitely still take positives away.

"Even throughout two lockdowns and the online Zoom training, which at the time seemed really hard, and at points you felt like 'why are we even doing this?' But looking back, it's a huge blessing that we carried on, because it's definitely led us down the right path for now, when we're able to be back in the pool.

"I think it'll be the same for everyone, looking back - a really strange time, but one I can still take some positives away from."

One big part of Lois' reflections has been the support of her fellow athletes, coaches and support staff at the City of Leeds Diving Club. 

The physical and mental impact of virtual connectivity has been felt across the British Diving ranks this year, both in terms of training and conditioning and from a more social viewpoint, allowing friends and colleagues to stay in touch and check in on each other.

It is no direct replacement, though, for the feeling of real-life interaction back in the gym and on poolside. 

Lois Toulson Eden Cheng underwater Worlds 2019
Britain's elite divers have spent long periods out of the water in 2020

"We have a really tight unit in Leeds at the moment," adds Toulson, who helped secure one of Team GB's diving spots for Tokyo when she recorded a top-12 finish in the Women's 10m Platform at last year's World Championships in Gwangju.

"There aren't that many of us, there are only six senior athletes at the moment, as well as the support staff. It means that, because there's not many of us, we're really close, with Jack [Laugher], my boyfriend, being part of the group as well. 

"I can go up to anyone if I'm having a bad day - I never feel like I'm on my own. 

"Even though diving is such an individual sport, and sometimes you put a lot of pressure on yourself, having those people around you really helps - and I've definitely noticed that this year and won't take that for granted again.

"I'm definitely a person that likes structure and sticking to a routine, so that was challenging for me, especially at the start of all this. But after getting back into the swing of things with online training and doing what we could there, I got my own little routine within that.

"Now we're back into training, of course, I've certainly enjoyed going back into that pool environment with the other divers and coaches. It feels a bit more normal and like I'm back into my normal routine, which is good. I'm just happy we're all back and safe."

Extended breaks from the platform provide more than disruptions to routine, though. That becomes clear when Lois - an Olympian with world, European, Commonwealth and Diving World series medals to her name - opens up about those first few trips back up to 10 metres.

"Whenever you start going through your optional dives again after time off, it's definitely going to hurt and you're going to feel it!" she says. 

Divers National Lottery crossed fingers
Lois and her fellow City of Leeds divers

"But from carrying on training throughout the lockdowns, I think it definitely put us in a good position - and physically, it's probably just been the same as having one month out the pool compared to however many months we had out the pool.

"It was definitely more mental for me. Going back up, 10 metres is quite high, trying to do the dives you haven't done for so long, mentally that was the hardest part. But now I've done them all, I definitely feel calmer again when I'm on the 10m." 

Toulson will be back to fine-tuning her list from the platform in the new year. First, though, is hers and Jack's first Christmas in their new home. 

"Since September, when we moved in, we've been doing jobs around the house, and that's certainly kept us busy," she adds.

"I've never lived away from home, so that has taken some getting used to as well. I feel like all I do is cook and clean at the moment! But it's good, I'm enjoying it!

"Hopefully I'll be seeing my parents and Jack's parents, that's our bubble on Christmas Day, so I'm really looking forward to it."