Somto Eruchie is a 400m sprinter and also works as a phlebotomist at Birmingham’s City Hospital. He is due to compete at the end of the month in the UK Championships, at the second city’s Alexander Stadium. Here he talks about his background, his goals in athletics, and his support for the HIV awareness campaign, Saving Lives.
Q: You’ve had quite a full career in athletics already, haven’t you?
Somto Eruchie: You could say that! I started late for an athlete, at the age of 17 – although straight away my coaches were telling me I could be world class, which is quite a thing for a boy that age to hear! I didn’t pay much attention to them, though, and insisted on doing the 100m instead of the 400m they told me to! At my first championship, I came fifth, so quickly made the move to 200m! I started to see results, coming first at the national championships in 2003, winning the junior championships and coming second at the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2005. But in 2006, I suffered the first of a string of injuries – the next struck just after I was pre-selected for the World Championships relay team, and no amount of getting back in the saddle helped: in the end, I ripped my hamstring three times!
Ouch! But now you’re back, and hoping to get back on track?
SE: Yes, definitely. I had another small injury this year, but that was first in three and a half years. So my focus is still very much on impressing at events like this month’s UK Championships, so that I can make it to the London 2012 Olympics. As every British athlete will tell you, the opportunity to compete at a home Olympics is really precious.
Amid all this, you’re also a medic: how do you balance the two?
SE: With great difficulty! From very early on, my athletics coaches have emphasised how all-consuming sport can be. Ultimately, that’s why I went down the medical science route at university rather than aiming for a doctor’s medical degree – not that it was exactly the easy route! I love working with patients, though, and I’m really excited to have recently moved from laboratory work to a very hands-on role in clinical trials at City Hospital. It’s a real privilege to be involved in great clinical research so close to the frontline.
And very admirable, too – presumably your medical experiences inform your choice of charities?
SE: Definitely – I’ve done work with Macmillan before now, and currently I’m acting as an advocate for Saving Lives, an HIV awareness charity. I’ve seen first-hand the difficulties around HIV testing: even where doctors offer the test, many patients are too scared by the stigma around HIV to take it. They just don’t want to know. My parents are Nigerian, and there’s a huge cultural issue in Africa around HIV – and even in one of the most ‘developed’ nations in the world, our own, you can see it at work. It’s a real tragedy, since if you catch HIV early – just as if you catch diabetes early – it can be treated and managed very successfully. Even infectiousness can be controlled! Saving Lives is all about educating people and breaking down those barriers, and that can only be a good thing: in the UK, one in four of those with HIV don’t they have it. I’m just happy to lend whatever help I can to getting more of those people diagnosed, and onto treatment.