My 5 role models… with Jenny Meadows
We’re celebrating the release of our Role Models Poster Series; posters of awesome role model girls doing the sports that they love. We’ve sent these out to over 355,000 children, including every primary school in West and South Yorkshire, and every school who’s signed up to our Girls and Sport Pledge. We’re passionate about putting more awesome female sporting role models in front of girls (and boys!) and to celebrate we’ve interviewed some awesome grown up role models about the 5 people who inspired them.
In this week’s article Totally Runable’s Natalie Jackson spoke to Olympian, World and European Medallist, 800m runner (and her Totally Runable and #SeeSportyBeSporty Co-Director) Jenny Meadows about those who inspired her to reach her potential as an athlete and in business.
“Talk about an inspiration! Seeing Kelly become a double Olympic gold medallist in a matter of days in Athens at the 2004 Olympics inspired me to do something not many athletes do; I changed event. By the time Kelly won her iconic golds I was already established as an athlete and I’d had some success as part of the 4 x 400m GB relay team, finishing 6th at the World Championships in 2003 and 2nd at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. But looking back on my career, I am most proud of the individual success I had, which didn’t come until I switched from 400m to 800m. Kelly can definitely take some of the credit for that! She was 34 and I was 23, so I’d followed her career, including the setbacks and injuries she’d overcome. Brendan Foster, commentating on the second of her amazing wins that week called it, “the greatest performance in the history of British distance running” and it felt like that watching. I thought that if Kelly could do that, after some had written her off and thought she was past her peak, I had plenty of time to see what I could do in the 800m. It was a defining decision in my career and one I’m so pleased I made. I went to the next Olympics in 2008 in Beijing as an 800m athlete and went on to win major medals in the World Championship, European Championships, World Indoor Championships and Diamond League. If I hadn’t switched to the 800m I don’t know whether I would ever have been more than a decent relay runner, so aiming higher really did pay off for me.”
“It’s a cliché but it’s so true! My mum has never been a ‘pushy’ parent but she was a ‘pushing’ parent, which is something completely different. She’d been a good runner herself and she could see I had some natural talent. She pushed me to be the best I could be, but that didn’t always mean doing more and more training. I remember being 13 and all my athletics friends moved from training twice a week to three times. I really wanted to do more training too but my Mum pushed me not to, and to think about my athletics as a long-term process. She didn’t want me to burn out and wanted me to aim as high as I could, which she knew didn’t necessarily require me to train more and more. As my career developed I saw my Mum stretch her comfort zone too. She didn’t drive but somehow we managed to find our way all over the country for me to compete, having adventures on public transport after calls to the Tourist Board. She took it all in her stride and modelled pushing herself to new heights, as well as encouraging me to do so. I’ll be forever grateful for all the support she gave me in aiming higher.”
My School PE Teacher, Mrs Grayston
“I would now call Mrs Grayson my friend, she even came to my wedding, but it took me years to get used to calling her Margaret! With the popularity of athletics and regular events like parkrun, athletics these days seems like a cool thing to do, but I didn’t always feel like that when I was at school in the 1990s. I was quite shy about being good at running. Around school people knew about my success on the track, and especially when I won the English National Schools Championships when I was 14, and I think that was probably down to Mrs Grayston making sure they knew. But I think she also knew I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, and so she never did. She would make sure that the Headteacher and other teachers knew about it, and they were always good to mention it to me, but never in a way that might embarrass me. I’ve always thought that the way Mrs Grayston treated me at school was exactly what I needed at the time, and helped me to keep my feet on the ground and not get too carried away with early successes”.
My Sport Psychologist, Sarah Broadhead
“I started working with Sarah in 2009 so I had already been to the Olympics in 2008 and the World Championships in 2009 as an individual 800m runner, but it was after working with Sarah that I really began to fulfil my full potential. At first I’d been a little hesitant to seek the help of a psychologist, but I’m so glad I did. She helped me think about the way I raced, and encouraged me to control the things I could control. Before I worked with Sarah I had always made decisions in races based on how the race was; if it was a ‘fast race’ or a ‘slower race’, I would react accordingly. After working with Sarah I would race my own race and what other people did became less important. We became friends and the things she has taught me have been so transferrable to my life. I even find myself applying it to the work I do now as a Director of Totally Runable, and as a mentor to younger athletes.”
My Husband and Coach, Trevor Painter
“I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be someone’s coach as well as their partner. Trevor definitely deserves a medal for being both! I am always being asked how our relationship worked. All I can say is that we were a coach and athlete on the track, and partners at home, it just worked! That is mainly down to Trevor being so great at swapping hats for whatever the scenario. He somehow always knew what to say to me to get the best out of me, at home or on the track. I guess because he always knew what was going on in the rest of my life and used the information wisely. He was also an athlete himself; he’d played Rugby League and was an England standard 400m runner. I remember a message I received several weeks after retiring in 2016, from Jessica Ennis-Hill’s Coach Toni Minichiello. He asked me how Trevor was, which I hate to admit I hadn’t really thought much about myself, in making the decision to retire. It was obviously going to be a strange time for him too, with our relationship changing. Thankfully he coped amazingly, and is still just as much of a support to me in the work I do now as he ever was in my training!”
If you know a school who might like to know more about the Gender Sport Gap and what they can do to measure and start to close it, they should be a part of Totally Runable’s Girls and Sport Pledge. It’s completely free to be a part of and includes some brilliant resources to start your school’s Gender Sporty Gap journey.