UK Champion Charlotte Payne has Olympic sized dreams
On a cold, wet and windy morning in Manchester at the end of June, hammer thrower Charlotte Payne, who is profoundly deaf, became just the third British woman to throw more than 70 metres, becoming the UK Athletics Champion and breaking her own deaf world record in the process.
The throw moved Payne, who lives in Cold Ash, to third in the all-time UK hammer throw rankings, behind Rio 2016 medallist Sophie Hitchon and Commonwealth Games rival Anna Purchase.
It was a "magic moment" for Payne, who overcame difficult conditions that impacted her balance to throw 70.59 metres on her final throw of the competition.
She said: "It was a brilliant moment, and it was even better to do it at the British Championships.
"The conditions weren't great and I was nervous, but I knew I was in good form.
"When the score came up all I could do was scream, I saw my mum and dad bouncing up and down in the stands, my coach was in tears.
"I didn't sleep for three days after that, I was so excited, it was more than I could have ever imagined."
Payne, now 20, first got into athletics as the self-described "annoying little sister", following her older brother to training, competitions and events.
"One of the first things I started out doing was Quadkids and I remember vividly running at the back of the 600 metres, crying my eyes out because I hated it so much, so I knew I wasn't a runner," she said.
"My brother started doing the throws, so I naturally followed him over and, even though he was talented and quite a good thrower, I started throwing further than him.
"I entered the Under-13 County Championships for some competitive experience and I went and won it and broke the championship record so I thought, I can actually do this."
Since then, Payne has represented Great Britain at the European Under 20 Athletics Championships in Boras, Sweden, in 2019 and Tallinn, Estonia, in 2021 and has competed in Portugal, Germany and France.
When she was first selected for the international squads, Payne found it difficult to discuss her deafness with fellow athletes.
She said: "When I first started doing the internationals, the whole experience, it was crazy, I couldn't even believe I was wearing the same kit as them.
"The nerves and pressure of travelling with the team was more than the pressure of competition.
"My hearing made me even more nervous, I had to be really independent, I have to focus and concentrate more to hear things which makes it a little bit harder for me, I don't want to miss instructions.
Nowadays, Payne embraces her deafness – "I'm so proud to hold the deaf world record, it's my USP, it's my brand!" – but admits she's still faced with a plethora of challenges both in and out of the cage.
"The GB team hasn't had any deaf athletes come through, so there aren't those accessibility provisions in place," she said.
"For example, to sleep I have to take my hearing aids out, so I wouldn't be able to hear any fire alarms, so there needs to be processes in place.
"Before competitions I tell the officials I'm deaf, so I might not hear them.
"I'm reliant on lip reading sometimes, so during the pandemic, when officials had masks on, it was impossible.
"When it's windy, I sometimes can't hear at all and that makes it really hard to balance, which is hard when I'm spinning around to throw."
Despite the fact that Payne has twice thrown more than 70 metres in 2022 – in Manchester on June 26 and the following week, in Bournemouth on July 2 – she was not selected for Team England's Commonwealth Games squad.
Team England opted to include one thrower, Anna Purchase, who is based in the US, for the Games, which begin in Birmingham on July 28.
"It was frustrating because I was so close, I was counting down to it for a long, long time," Payne said.
"I was always prepared that it might not happen, there was nothing to choose between three of us."
Now, though, Payne is targetting an Olympics, be that in Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2028 – the last deaf athlete to win an Olympic gold medal, Jeffrey Float, did so at the 1984 Olympics, also in Los Angeles.
She said: "The Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport, I've got a couple more metres to make to reach the standard and a couple more years in which to do it."
The thrower is always on the lookout for sponsorship – one day, that might help make her Olympic dream a reality.
When Payne was three, she was diagnosed with hearing loss and her parents were told she would never be able to balance properly; when she was 11, she won her first ever competition, the Berkshire Championships; in 2021, she captained Team GB at the European Under 20 Championships; last month, she was crowned British Champion – and the best is still to come.