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Reading Jessica Ennis’s Biography “Unbelievable” as an Ex Schoolboy Athlete

24.01.17

 

I promised myself a treat today. I gave myself two hours to read Jessica Ennis’s biography. I managed the feat with fifteen minutes to spare, devouring the book quickly in one sitting.

I have been interested in athletics since I was young. My grandfather was the great athlete of the family. He had been his college’s best athlete in India. He had tried teaching us how to throw the javelin as children with a tree branch, one of my favourite memories of him. He regaled us with stories of his athletic achievements. His favourite events had been the javelin and the 400 metres.

I tried quite seriously to become an athlete myself and follow in the steps of my grandfather. When I was bigger and in school, they ran a scheme called the triple A. You got a series of badges for the decathlon, heptathlon and three events. I wanted the top badges for the scheme. There were the orange and gold ones for the decathlon and heptathlon. The top one for the three events was a black badge, if I remember correctly. I used to turn up at school early in the morning after catching the very early train in for practices. I used to stay after school for practices and come home very late in the evening. I tried my best. I got the top badges for the heptathlon and the decathlon. However, I was a few points off for the three events. I got the purple badge instead. I had not been able to get into the top flight because I wasn’t a very good athlete. I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t good at jumping or throwing. It took me ages to learn the proper technique and even then, I couldn’t transfer my strength properly. I just tried hard. My will was greater than my strength. That year, I only got a B in P.E. for my achievement in athletics. However, I wore the badges I had won proudly on my blazer.

When I was in the sixth form, I was also very proud to represent my house at the school in the cross country and the 400 metres final on sports day. I actually scored points for the house in the cross country. I was also involved in a 100 metres relay on sports day. This was because I still kept up practice and used to run at home in the path in the woods near my house. My proudest personal achievement at that time in my life is a time trial by myself. I timed myself in the field by myself at the 400 metres. The 60 second mark was something that seemed unobtainable to me. I sprinted the whole way around the circuit. At the end, I stopped my watch and looked at the time. I had broken the 60 second mark by a margin. I had managed to do it in 58 seconds. This was from someone who could only run the 100 metres in a very average and unremarkable time of just under 13.5 seconds. I had mastered my will to achieve something which I thought I could not achieve. There was nobody around to watch. I didn’t boast about my achievement. I don’t believe in showing off. Yet I had joined the ranks of the athletes under 60 seconds. I had done it without any natural talent. It was all the product of hard work and dedication. It was a proud moment for me.

Naturally, I am still a huge fan of athletics. Jessica Ennis is one of my role models. This is not because she is a winner. This is because she won the World Championships within a year of having a baby. It is a remarkable achievement. However, I have been too preoccupied with other things to have had a look at her biography. I had waited a long time to give myself this treat.

My motivation for reading Jess’s biography was to get to know her as a person. I follow her on Instagram, which gives me a little bit of insight into her life. Instagram makes a fan feel close to their role models, even if there is no actual closeness. The biography was the treat that it promised to be. I found out that there were strange similarities between myself and Jess. She had worked at Pizza Hut like I had. She had had medical problems like I had suffered, which had set her back.

I found out facts about Jess that I had never known. I didn’t have any idea that she had been bullied at school for being small, for example. I didn’t know that she had come from a poor background or that she had got a 2:2 in Psychology at university. It was interesting to note the details. She liked eating burgers and chips and ate them when she felt like celebrating. She had a dog which she took on walks in the morning. I got an insight into how she felt about her body and how she hadn’t wanted big muscles as a teenager because she thought they were not feminine.

The biography was a great insight into Jess’s life, even though it is clear that Jess guards her privacy. It was also a good insight into her mind. She admires people that are kind to others. She mentions the kindness of Paula Radcliffe, for example. Jess doesn’t like people that try to demean others. She objects to a nickname that Kelly Sotherton gave her, “the tadpole”. Jess describes herself as sensitive. She is a very loving person. She fainted when she found out about the procedure to correct her fiancée’s football injuries.

Other things in the biography were to be expected. Jess is a very competitive person. She is very dedicated and made a lot of sacrifices to get where she is today. For example, she didn’t meet her childhood idol, Will Smith, because she had to train instead. I already knew about her love-hate relationship with her coach and was familiar with her sporting history and achievements.

The biography was a great read, though. It is an inspiring story of how an ordinary person has achieved extraordinary things. The story that sticks in my head the most is Jess’s first sporting success. She won a pair of trainers that she could not otherwise have afforded at a competition when she was very young. It is from such humble beginnings that the greatest all-round female champion in British athletics emerged. It is a wonderfully inspiring book.

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