I was born in West Bromwich in the Midlands to a Jamaican mother. Although we were immersed in an English way of life, there was a tinge of Jamaican flavour in the house, whether it was music, cooking, the patois that would bellow out of my usually reserved mother’s mouth when England played the West Indies cricket team.
All of these influences combined to give me a strong sense of my heritage and our Commonwealth connection. This Jamaican heritage also meant I had twice as many athletes to inspire me as a child, not only the stars of the British team during the 80’s but also the legacy and success of athletics champions like Don Quarrie and Merlene Ottey from Jamaica.
Like many other athletes, my first experience of a major international competition was the Commonwealth Games. A Games, which are sometimes aptly referred to as the Friendly Games, but with a healthy balance of fierce competition. It’s a tournament unlike any other with a strong spirit of unity permeating through every element.
All of the competing countries share the bond of the Commonwealth. The national teams, whose individual sports usually train apart, all come together with disabled and non-disabled athletes uniting together to represent their countries.
In 1994, I went into the heptathlon competition mentally unprepared to be crowned Commonwealth champion, and the Games changed my life as they have done for many others before and since. I had the pride of returning to the Games four years later as reigning champion and favourite, to win again.
Becoming a double Commonwealth Games Champion was a dream come true. One of my proudest moments was leading Team England as President at the Gold Coast in 2018 and like so many people around the Commonwealth I cannot wait for the Games to return next year, and for me it will be like coming home to the city where my aspiration was forged. To the host city of Birmingham.
In the past year, all around the Commonwealth, the doors of gymnasiums were closed, and the stadium lights were turned off, but in the face of adversity, giving up was never an option. Athletes have been demonstrating enormous resilience, and resourcefulness, finding new ways to train as all of our lives have been impacted by the Covid pandemic. They have shown unwavering grit and determination to keep pushing towards their goals.
I look forward to the enjoyment we will all share as our best athletes once again unite to display their exceptional talent and their years of hard work. I wish all competitors the very best of luck, and we all look forward to witnessing once more the power of the Games to change lives as we celebrate the best of the Commonwealth.