If I’m perfectly honest, I wasn’t a great student. I spent most of the day dreaming about sailing and boats and so on. I grew up down in Cornwall and I could get out on the water every day.
I was so fortunate that I was so passionate about that, so, yeah, I probably didn’t have the attention span that I should have done.
But as I grew up and began to understand the importance of exams and studying and so on, it managed to grab my attention and focus a little bit more.
Growing up in Cornwall, it was a very rural area and at school we were able to go out into the countryside and on to the water. I was lucky that I went to two really great schools in the area, Truro School and Peter Symonds Sixth Form, and I remember spending a lot of time playing sport – rugby and hockey and cricket, and football, obviously, and getting into that, learning to be in team sports, kicking a rugby ball around and getting wet and muddy and all the rest of it.
I’ll never forget my PE and science teacher, a chap called Mr Pierce, who taught me in prep school, from about 7 to 11 years-old. He certainly was the one who inspired me to get into sports and fitness and all the rest of it. He was quite elderly, but he was incredibly fit for his age, which was quite an inspiration really because he was an older person, he was in good shape.
PE teacher 'was quite full-on'
He did a lot of running and used to take us on long-distance runs through the woods and so on, and he was quite full-on but in a positive way and really encouraging and inspiring. Sports were a big part of the school that I went to and that was because of him – he drove that.
I remember him very fondly and, for whatever reason, he seemed to show me a lot of support and really help me get through school because the academically stuff didn’t really come that naturally to me. I spent too much time being distracted. He helped me to get some focus and some determination.
As I took part in more and more competitions, the actual amount of time I spent at school decreased. The school was very understanding because at quite a young age I was racing nationally and internationally, so I was trying to fit that around school time. Sometimes it wasn’t possible because I had to travel overseas. I was representing the country so I guess my teachers realised that it was a reasonably significant level and worth supporting.
When I was doing my A levels, I had to make a really tough choice. I qualified for the Olympic Games, and I had to decide to either finish my A levels and not do the training and preparation that’s required to try and be successful at the Olympics or train full-time, miss a year and come back a bit later.
We had a bit of family crisis talking about it. I remember my mum wasn’t too strong on the idea of taking a year out, but thankfully, my dad was very supportive and said, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the Olympic Games and you have to give it your best shot, and come back afterwards and finish off your education." So that’s what I did. I was fortunate enough that I did well at the Olympic Games and got a silver medal, and off the back of it I was able to sign with a sponsor and, with some of that sponsorship money, I was able to fund going to tutorial college to finish off my A levels and I managed to sign off that deal with my mum.
I still have contact with my secondary school and have been back there quite a number of times to talk to the kids. He doesn’t teach any more, but if Mr Pierce is still around, hopefully he can read this and take some pride in it.
Sir Ben Ainslie is an ocean ambassador for the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth
CV: Sir Ben Ainslie
Born: Macclesfield, 1977.
Education: Terra Nova School, Cheshire; Truro School, Cornwall; Peter Symonds Sixth Form, Winchester.
Career: Sir Ben Ainslie is one of the most successful sailors in Olympic history. He’s won four Olympic gold medals and eight gold medals at the sailing world championships