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My legs were my way out

My legs got me to a different realm, a different walk of life;Portrait by Owen Humphreys

I went to a primary school called St Mark's, in north London. It was a tough school, really tough. We were always chasing around the school premises, being bad. I think that's where I got my speed from. I was born with it, but school nurtured it in me. That's where it came to light.

Our headteacher was David May. I was always getting into trouble with him because I was very mischievous in school. I was always talking in class, and in assembly. Mr May used to go red in the face when he got mad, and that used to amuse me. I would always laugh too loud, and get summoned out of assembly and told to sit in the corner.

He was my favourite teacher because he was the one who encouraged me to go on and do sport. He was the person who said, "You'll go far". He always had a soft spot for me even though I was a bad child. I didn't realise it at the time, but it dawned on me later that I was going to be good at something. It was always Mr May who encouraged me. He's retired now but we're still in touch, which is cool, because normally you leave school and just forget about it.

He was a great motivator in the early stages of my life. If it hadn't been for him I don't know what I'd be doing now, I really don't. When I was young, I couldn't watch athletics because I thought it was just for dumb people, but he encouraged me. School was fun in PE, but that was all I enjoyed. It was the only time I really shone, doing physical education. I was always miles head of everybody else.

I suppose I was destined to be a sprinter. I wasn't good at the academic stuff; it just didn't stimulate me if it had no physical activity in it.

Putting pen to paper doesn't work for me, but if I do something physical, it gets my brain working at the same time.

What was special about Mr May was the words he used, and the belief he had in me. He always had an eye out for me, knowing that I had a talent. He spent a huge amount of time helping me, going out of his way to try and find me training grounds and top-class facilities. He took me to Finsbury Park, the first athletics club I joined when I was 15.

My secondary school was St David's and St Catherine's, in Wood Green, but everyone called it the "Dunce Kids' school" for short, because no one came out of it on top. There were loads of good teachers, but I was always getting into trouble. I was still a bad kid.

My two favourites were Simon Watton and June Alexis. Mr Watton was our form tutor, and he was always cool - he was one of the lads, you know. It was his way of disciplining us that was good, because we were too unruly. If left to our own devices, we would have run riot. He had a good way with us.

Miss Alexis was an English teacher; we used to call her by her first name and get into trouble. She was a black teacher and was very strong for us. I guess she was the only teacher who we did listen to. In our household you had to respect your elders and in that classroom I didn't mess around; I was very well mannered. There were a few black teachers in the school, and that helps in the sense that we respected ourselves more. She helped us do that.

We were always being told that as black people our lives were going to be that much harder because we'd always have elements against us. She always told us that, but we took life for granted then. Now, because of where I've got to in my life, I am able to see things differently, and all the things she told us have actually come to light.

That's made me realise a lot of things that I ignored when I was younger.

At school I was just there for fun; I didn't get any GCSEs or qualifications. I was fortunate that my legs were my way out. My legs got me to a different realm, a different walk of life.

Athlete Dwain Chambers was talking to Matthew Brown THE STORY SO FAR

1978 Born Islington, London

1983 Attends St Mark's primary school, Islington

1989 St David's and St Catherine's secondary school, Haringey

1995 Becomes European junior champion at 100m and 4 x 100m relay

1997 Sets world junior record of 10.06secs in 100m final

1999 Takes bronze medal in 100m at World Championships, Seville

2002 Wins gold at European Championships in 9.96secs. Equals Linford Christie's European record of 9.87secs

August 2003 Finishes fourth in World Championships in Paris, missing gold medal by one hundredth of a second. Wins silver medal in 4 x 100m relay

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