Rebecca Adlington

27th May 2011 at 01:00
Two mentors - one `mumsy', one `cool' - stand out in the swimmer's school days

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, The Brunts School in Mansfield, which all three of us attended, was incredibly lenient in terms of my swimming. As an artsmusic school, you would understand them granting time off if I was a singer or involved in drama; not necessarily because I was a sportsperson. But their understanding, as my swimming gradually improved, was crucial.

Up until GCSEs everything was fine. I could cope. 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 fell to about 57 per cent. So I couldn't afford to muck around in class. I was always playing catch-up.

There were two individuals who really stood out, who treated me like an adult. The first was my science teacher, Mrs Steiner. She was proper mumsy in her approach - nothing like the professor of 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". I was later told I looked exactly like her daughter, who is about six years older. That's 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 say 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 has been on TV, "I'm sick of all my kids asking about you all the time!"

Rebecca Adlington, 21, the winner of two Olympic gold medals in 2008, is Great Britain's most successful Olympic swimmer for 100 years. A Speedo ambassador, she is the face of Speedo's Learn to Swim initiative (for details visit www.speedo.co.uk). She was speaking to Rob Maul.

PERSONAL PROFILE

Born: Mansfield, 1989

Education: The Brunts School, Mansfield

Career: Two gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games; appointed OBE 2009; winner of the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle at the British Championships 2011.

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