Dame Kelly Holmes on school days and her favourite teacher

Dame Kelly Holmes

Dame Kelly Holmes - Credit: Various

One of the UK’s best ever middle-distance athletes, Dame Kelly Holmes won gold medals in both the 800m and 1,500m events at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. But it’s her PE teacher who she credits with setting her on the path to sporting stardom...

My fondest memories of school are of being outside and doing any kind of PE or games.

I started school at Hildenborough Primary in Hildenborough, near Tonbridge, Kent, where I grew up and still live today. I seemed to be good at all games and tried any new activity going, I remember winning the egg-and-spoon race and sack race at primary school sports day and was proud to be prefect and games captain for my house.

When I moved to Hugh Christie Secondary School, just north of Tonbridge, my dreams and ambitions that dominated my adult life began to take shape when I met my PE teacher Miss Debbie Page, and we have stayed in touch ever since.

Looking back, school was great fun, but academic life was not for me. I was always being told to try harder, to concentrate, to write more neatly. In classes where I had to sit and concentrate on subjects I couldn’t relate to, such as French or physics, I would often drift off.

The only classes where I achieved any success were PE and design graphics. I loved anything creative and could spend ages on a drawing or collage.

My favourite subject of all though was always PE. I played all the usual sports but was strongest when it came to speed, and soon started breaking school records in every distance. In fact, those records still stand today for all the 800m and 1,500m races that I ran from my first year up until my fifth year.

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People often credit inspirational teachers they had at school, and for me that person was definitely Debbie Page. She was one of the two female PE teachers at Hugh Christie Secondary School. She was tall, imposing, full of energy and great at her job. She cared about what we were doing and wanted to teach us rather than just oversee us.

A defining moment for me was my first ever cross-country race for my school. I remember vividly standing on the start line shivering; I was nervous, cold and didn’t know what to expect. Despite my reluctance to enter, my PE teacher Debbie Page had gently persuaded me. We were competing at Sussex Road School in Tonbridge and I could see the course ahead of me, lined by tape and looping around the school playing fields. A real inspiration My PE teacher had told me to look out for Stacey Washington, a girl who had already established herself as a successful junior runner, whereas I was completely inexperienced. I was quite tall for a 12-year-old, very skinny, with my big Afro hair sticking out everywhere (actually that may have been why I was tall). Stacey, was turned out professionally in her crop top, knickers and spikes. I, on the other hand, was in my school games kit of burgundy skirt, white Aertex shirt, knee-high socks and plimsolls.

To everybody’s surprise, though, including mine, I ran a great race. In fact, I was leading the field with only 200m to go, when Stacey sprinted past me to win. However, I had challenged the number one junior for our age. It was amazing and the sense of achievement was fantastic. Beating a field of runners still gives me the huge buzz that I got that first time.

That first cross-country race for my school was definitely a turning point, because it made my PE teacher notice my potential and encourage me to keep running. The next step came a year later, when I competed in the county championships. This time I won easily. Miss Page’s excitement for me, her pleasure at my winning, and her view of my potential translated into her talking to Mum, telling her how good she thought I was. She suggested that I join Tonbridge Athletic Club.

The first time I went to a training night, neither Mum nor I knew what to expect, but the first coach I met, Dave Arnold, was the man that guided me throughout the rest of my career. I was very lucky to find Dave; he took me from competing at my first Kent Schools Championships in 1983 to my first Olympic Games in 1996 and ultimately achieving my Olympic dream in 2004.

After my success at the Athens Olympic Games, Debbie was one of the people that joined me on my open-top bus parade through Tonbridge – that was something really special. New beginnings Now I am enjoying lots of new challenges, and one of the biggest is developing my sports education programmes under Kelly Holmes Education passing on the experiences of my 12-year international athletics career. My flagship education programme was ‘On Camp with Kelly’, which I set up early in 2004 before the Olympic Games, and now we are working with an expanding number of colleges, universities and schools to support young people in achieving their own sporting potential.

• Kelly Holmes Education is a sport education and training provider, established in 2004, to deliver bespoke education and mentoring programmes for talented sports people and coaches. You can find out more about Kelly Holmes Education by visiting their website at kellyholmeseducation.co.uk


A word from Dame Kelly Holmes’ teacher

A teacher for 34 years, Debbie Page is still teaching PE at the same school today (now called Hugh Christie Technology College), where she is also ‘Director of Learning, Raising Achievement’, which involves working with pupils to help them gain the best possible GCSE results

I first came across Kelly at Hugh Christie when I asked/persuaded her to take part in a local schools cross-country event. Her facial expression said it all – she had no desire whatsoever to take part! In the end, she did not want to let me down and went on to have a very successful run. That was the start of things to come...

Kelly went on to represent the school in various sports but most notably athletics. Her school records still stand in the 200m, 800m and 1,500m and she won two English schools titles.

During this time, I saw the potential that she had and suggested that Kelly join Tonbridge Athletic Club, which she duly did and, as they say, the rest is history! I feel honoured that I was able to help Kelly onto the first step of an illustrious career.

Kelly still contributes to the local community and school by visiting frequently and inspiring children to achieve and chase their own dreams. Our sports hall, which was part of the new-build in 2007, was named The Dame Kelly Holmes Sports Hall.

The Hugh Christie School is very proud of Kelly’s achievement and she will always be the school’s ‘golden girl’.

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