My best teacher - Rebecca Adlington

24th June 2011 at 01:00
The Olympic swimming champion often missed lessons, but was never thrown in the deep end on her return

Education plays an important role in my family but I will admit I'm not really an academic person. When I was at secondary school, I was always getting compared by teachers, much to my annoyance, to my older sisters, Chloe and Laura.

My two sisters are so academic and intelligent it's unbelievable. When I came along, without the same passion for the same subjects, all the teachers would simply remark: "Well, you're not like your sisters, are you?"

In fairness, though, the Brunts School in Mansfield, which all three of us attended, was incredibly lenient in terms of my swimming activities. As an artsmusic school, you would understand them granting time off if I were a singer or involved in drama, so their understanding, as my swimming gradually improved, was absolutely crucial.

Up until GCSEs everything was fine. I could cope with school. But then, during Years 10 and 11, I was travelling to various training camps, I became ill with glandular fever and my sister, Laura, fell seriously ill with encephalitis, spending a month in intensive care.

Not surprisingly, my attendance for some lessons dropped to about 57 per cent. I couldn't afford to muck around in class. I was always playing catch-up.

Two people really stood out for treating me like an adult. The first was my science teacher, Mrs Steiner. She was proper mumsy in her approach - nothing like the professor from Back to the Future, that mad scientist type. Mrs Steiner rarely shouted, but when she was angry it would have the desired effect. Everyone would shut up and listen.

Despite the fact I would often miss lessons involving lab experiments, she was constantly supportive. Once the lesson had started, she would come over and say: "Becks, this is what you missed last time etc ..." I was later told I looked exactly like her daughter, who is about six years older. That is probably why we got on so well.

Then there was my maths teacher, the laid-back Mr Redmond, one of the cool teachers, who had a great sense of humour. If I hadn't been present for a while, he would often joke: "Hello stranger" or say: "My God, we've a new kid in our class". But he never patronised you and was equally supportive.

Even though his son had a serious illness, which meant he was away for periods, Mr Redmond always remained upbeat in class. Normally, when you go into a classroom, everyone tries to sit at the back; in his class, everyone wanted to sit at the front.

After secondary school, I left education completely to pursue my swimming ambitions. Nobody knew then I would win two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But as my parents said at the time, I was only going to have this one chance to swim, "so go for it".

After Beijing, my mum said Mrs Steiner stopped her in Sainsbury's to explain how proud she was of my achievements. I suppose, in a way, things have gone full circle for me in education. When I started, all the teachers would ask about my sisters. Now, Laura, who is a PE teacher, will often moan, when something like the Commonwealth Games have been on TV, "I'm sick of all my kids asking about you all the time!"

Rebecca Adlington won two Olympic gold medals in 2008 and is Great Britain's most successful Olympic swimmer for 100 years. A Speedo ambassador, she is the face of its Learn to Swim initiative (for details visit www.speedo.co.uk). She was talking to Rob Maul.

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