Jessica Ennis: My story from beating the school bullies to becoming a golden girl
Here, in an exclusive extract from her new autobiography Jessica Ennis: Unbelievable – From My Childhood Dreams to Winning Olympic Gold, she describes how she beat the bullies.
I am crying. I am a Sheffield schoolgirl writing in her diary about the bullies awaiting me tomorrow.
They stand menacingly by the gates and lurk unseen in my head, mocking my size and status.
They make a small girl shrink, and I feel insecure and frightened.
I pour the feelings out into words on the page, as if exposing them in some way will help, but nobody sees my diary.
It is kept in my room as a hidden tale of hurt.
Fast forward two decades and I am crying again. I am standing in a cavernous arena in London.
Suddenly, the pain and suffering and frustration give way to a flood of overwhelming emotion.
In the middle of this enormous arena I feel smaller than ever, but I puff out my chest, look to the flag and stand tall.
It has been a long and winding road from the streets of Sheffield to the tunnel that feeds into the Olympic Stadium like an artery.
I am Jessica Ennis. I have been called many things, from tadpole to poster girl, but I have had to fight to make that progression.
I smile and am polite and so people think it comes easily, but it doesn’t.
I am not one of those athletes who slap their thighs and snarl before a competition, but there is a competitive animal inside, waiting to get out and fight for survival and recognition.
Cover shoots and billboards are nice, but they are nothing without the work and I have left blood, sweat and tears on tracks all over the world.
It is an age where young people are fed ideas of quick-fix fame and instant celebrity, but the tears mean more if the journey is hard.
So I don’t cry crocodile tears; I cry the real stuff.
In 1993 my parents sent me to Sharrow Junior School.
In terms of academic results it was not the best, but Mum was keen for me to go somewhere that had a rich mix of races and cultures.
I was the smallest in the class and I became more self-conscious about it as the years went by.
Swimming was a particular ordeal, and in my mind now, I can still see this young, timid wisp standing by the side of a pool in her red swimming costume quaking with anxiety.
I was small and scraggy and that was when the bullying started.
There were two girls who were really nasty to me. They did not hit me, but bullying can take on many forms and the abuse and name-calling hurt.
The saying about sticks and stones breaking bones but words never hurting falls on deaf ears when you are a schoolkid in the throes of a verbal beating.
At that age, girls can be almost paralysed by their self-consciousness, so each nasty little word cut deep wounds.
I went home, cried and wrote in my diary. Perhaps it would be nice to say that one day I fought back and beat the bullies, but I didn’t.
It festered away and became a big thing in my life, leaving me wracked with fear about what they would say or do next.
It got to the point that I dreaded seeing them at school.
And then we moved on to secondary school and I found out that they were going there too. The dread got deeper.
Later, I did tell my mum. ‘They are only jealous of you,’ she replied. But jealous of what? I could not understand it.
I tried to deal with it myself, but that was impossible.
I would rely on my diary and hope for the best, but that was not much of a defence against these scary girls who were dominating my thoughts.
And then, around that time, my mum saw an advert for a summer sports camp at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield.
It was my first taste of sport and it would be the first tentative step towards fighting back and getting my own quiet revenge on the bullies.
I started at King Ecgbert’s School in the little village of Dore in South Sheffield in September 1997. I was still terrified on the first day.
I was not a confident child and almost froze when my dad asked me to go and get the paper from the corner shop one day.
‘On my own?’
Dad barely looked at me. ‘Yes, here’s the money.’
He knew I needed to shed some of my inhibitions, but I still remember going to big school and being frightened.
There were two buildings, Wessex and Mercia, separated by a changeover path, and as I was edging along it one day, I heard an older girl say: ‘Oh, look at her, she’s so tiny and cute.’ That made me feel 10 times worse.
Sport, though, was becoming an outlet for the insecurities and I found I was good at it. Gradually, I became more popular.
The two bullies were still there, but if I was talking to anyone going through something similar I would stress things change quickly.
It does not seem like it at the time, of course, with every week an endless agony of groundhog days, but it soon fades.
I slowly made friends and the tide turned. The same girls who had bullied me now wanted to be friends.
It was all part of that whirlpool of hormones and petty jealousies that is part of being a young girl.
Now I do not think they were inherently nasty people, but I know what I have done with my life and I think I am in a better position.