Zoo keeping is a tough job. It’s physical, it’s messy and it means you have to be out and about in pouring rain and freezing temperatures.

By day, Kate Jenner is a keeper at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in Devon. But her secret life couldn’t be more different. Kate is a top national baton twirler.

In fact Kate, who works with Paignton Zoo’s primates and meerkats, has just won three national titles at the British Baton Twirling Federation championships - Strut Champion and Twirl Champion (for which she had to compete in three events each) and Athlete of the Year.

The sport is challenging both mentally and physically. Athletes train regularly and require considerable concentration and the ability to stay calm when competing. Basic hand-eye coordination and a sense of rhythm help – as well as the ability to rise above the ribbing of your colleagues…

Kate, from Paignton, has been twirling for 20 years. “I was not a girly girl. My mother made me do ballet and I hated it. Then I tried baton twirling.” What appealed about the sport? “It’s different to the normal sports you see and it combines a lot of other disciplines such as dance and gymnastics. It is also quite team orientated, which makes it good fun as well as hard work.”

Baton twirling, with its sparkling leotards and elegant choreography, seems a world away from zoo keeping. How does she fit her demanding schedule in around a job like zoo keeping? “I finish work at 5.15 and start training at 5.30 - it makes for a very long day, as I start at the Zoo at around 8.00am. I train Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and - when I have a weekend off from the Zoo - Saturday mornings, too.”

In addition, she coaches the Paignton Sapphires baton twirling team, training team and solo athletes, both male and female, between the ages of 5 and 40. She joined the Sapphires 6 years ago. “My teacher encouraged me to pursue my coaching interests. I started helping teach the Sapphires before successfully passing the International Baton Twirling Association teachers exams and becoming their full-time coach. I have also guest taught for other teams and athletes.”

Kate will compete in the Twirl Mania International Championships at the Walt Disney World Resort in February next year. “I will be training at least 3 times a week for Twirl Mania. At the moment the pressure of competing is a while away, but when I get on that ‘plane I’m sure that will change and I will need to focus on my performance rather than everything going on around me!”

Quotes It's got to be said, Paignton Zoo is hard to beat! Quotes