Meadows’ crossroads moment

Jenny Meadows
Jenny Meadows

SIX weeks before the Commonwealth Games, Jenny Meadows was given an ultimatum – have an epidural to ease a hamstring injury, or miss the competition altogether.

For most elite athletes, it would be a no-brainer.

But for Meadows, it proved a problem. Because the 800m track star is no longer supported by Lottery money – distributed by UK Athletics – she had to pay the procedure herself.

“The only thing that was going to allow me taking part at the Commonwealths was to get an epidural, which cost just short of £2,000,” she explained.

“If you are on lottery funding you get private medical insurance, but I had to fund myself.

“In hindsight I did really well to make it to the final and come sixth, considering I couldn’t run six weeks before the final.”

She kept the procedure a secret. After two miserable years on the sidelines which included missing out on the London Olympics, she wanted to shake the reputation of being injury-prone, not enhance it.

She gave the example this week to highlight the sacrifices she, and other non-funded athletes, have to make as they chase their dream... even if it hits them in the pocket.

Last week, UKA revealed the 77 athletes it will be funding through Lottery cash over the next two years. Under their strict criteria, only those with a prospect of winning a medal at the Olympics in 2016 – or four years later – will receive financial backing and medical support.

“A lot of athletes take it hard when they’re overlooked, because it’s someone saying, ‘We don’t believe you can do this’,” said Meadows.

If it’s any comfort, she is in good company.

European gold medalist Jo Pavey, 40, was one of the summer’s success stories and may yet make the shortlist for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. But she isn’t worthy of central support. Too old, it seems.

Even Meadows’ good friend, and fellow Wigan Harrier, Hayley Jones was overlooked despite winning a bronze medal at the World Championships just a year ago.

Yet still she carries on. Training twice a day, six days a week, and using her spare time to study towards a masters degree in sports marketing.

It would be easy for cynics and critics to suggest she should hang up the spikes and focus on a new, and far more lucrative, career.

Easy, and unfair.

Because, well, here’s the thing: Meadows’ persistence isn’t only fuelled by a dream of further glories – but also by cold, hard, facts.

“Four weeks after the Commonwealths, I went to a local meeting in Trafford and ran 1.59.3, which was a whole second faster than the winning time at the Commonwealths,” she pointed out.

“If I’d have had the time ... I was in really good shape four weeks later.

“I know some will look at me, see I’m 33 and think I am perhaps past my best. But that time ranks me at 14th in the world this year. I’m ranked No.2 in Great Britain.

“I honestly believe I just need some luck, and to stay injury-free.”

Meadows gets by on the money she makes from competitions and the generous support of her sponsors, including Harris and Ross physiotherapy and the Wells Foundation, which runs the Box4Kids charity. She would welcome any more to get in touch via her website.

Either way, she will not be deterred in pursuing her dream – whatever the cost.

“I’m not in it to get rich – I’d make a lot more money doing other jobs – but I feel like I owe it to myself to get to Rio,” she said.

“I really believe I can win a world medal and make the team for the Olympics. My aim is to make that Olympic final. I know I can be top eight in Rio, and be in with a chance of winning a medal.

“I just want to be able to have that commentary that mentions Jenny Meadows in an Olympic final. That would be the ultimate.”

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