Jemma Reekie carried the Olympic torch for London 2012 when she was 14 years of age (picture supplied by Jemma)
Jemma Reekie has revealed how she set her heart on a professional career as a runner – at the age of just 10.
The double European U23 champion opened 2020 by setting no fewer than three new British Records during a sparkling indoor season.
Now 22-year-old Reekie, who has represented GB and NI at Senior level for three major championships in the past two years, has resolved to use the ‘extra year’ to make an impact at the Olympics in Japan next year.
Becoming an Olympian, as it happens, was another early ambition – fired no doubt by carrying the Olympic torch in the build-up to London 2012 when she was 14.
‘As soon as I started running my mum and dad say that was it and my heart was set on it,’ Jemma told Sue Gyford in our Coaching Conversations interview series.
‘I was something like 10 years of age but I was saying to them ‘I want to be a runner when I grow up’.
‘I had no idea actually how it could work as a job and I had no idea about money or earning a living at that kind of age. I was just saying ‘I want to be a runner’ whether or not I would get paid. And I was determined about it.
‘That attitude came through in my training.
‘London was the first Olympics I can remember. I carried the Olympic torch after my auntie put me forward for it.
‘When I was told I was getting to do it, the letter said: ‘This is your first step towards becoming an Olympian yourself’.
And I was like ‘WOW, that’s so cool’. It felt as if I was dipping my toe in the water.
‘In 2014 I went to Hampden to watch athletics. I went to the Diamond League meeting which was held there a couple of weeks before the Commonwealths. I’d not been to anything like that before and I also competed at Hampden in the Scottish Schools.
‘With all of that being so close to home, it just kind of brought it all home (what might be possible).’
Like many of Scotland’s best athletes, school cross country was the initial pathway for Jemma, growing up in North Ayrshire. Soon, she joined Kilbarchan AAC and later, at the age of 17, came under the tutelage of coach Andy Young.
‘I joined the XC club at my primary school – Mrs Duncan was the coach – and I just loved it,’ she recalled.
‘I think my first race was just a 1km in cross country but it still seemed far too long to me! I joined Kilbarchan AAC not long after that.
‘There I was coached both by Arthur Smith and Alan Craig. They made me feel so welcome and so did all the girls in the group. I did track sessions at first and then grass sessions at the weekend. It was all about having fun at that age, really.
‘I looked up to the likes of Claire Gibson (Scotland 2010 Commonwealth Games athlete) and Gwen Gillham at that time and Kilbarchan was like a family group to me then. I still talk to the coaches and keep in touch with some of the girls.
Jemma wins the 1500m at the Muller GP in Glasgow in February (photo by Bobby Gavin)
‘A lot of people were asking me if I was going to go to a college in America on an athletics scholarship or go to Loughborough (around 2015).
‘But as soon as I did the first sessions with Andy’s group, I wanted to grab that opportunity – although I felt I was too slow to join the group!
‘I was a little nervous but that first day I bumped into Laura on the way into the track and she was really friendly. So was everyone else in the group.
‘Andy put me at ease really quickly, too. But I was a very long way behind on the reps in the first session.’
Being coached by the man who has taken Laura Muir to five European medals, two World Indoors medals and two Diamond League titles has proved fruitful – for all three.
‘After 18 months I went out to South Africa for a training camp with Andy and Laura and we really started to build relationships there,’ said Jemma.
‘I put my full trust in Andy. I didn’t want to do 1500m, really, because I felt I was coming from an 800m background. I didn’t tell him my reservations and just as well – because it has turned out pretty well for us!’
Jemma celebrates on the track on Gavle, Sweden, on a weekend when she won European U23 gold at both 800m and 1500m (photo via European Athletics)
A European U20 title over 1500m in Italy in the summer of 2017 hinted at the impact to come. Two years later, she became the first athlete at the European U23s to deliver an 800m/1500m track double over three days in Gavle, Sweden.
In between, she went to Berlin with the full GB and NI team for the 2018 European Champs and followed that up with appearances at Glasgow 2019 and the World Champs in Doha late last year.
‘Andy has handled everything so well,’ she added.
‘He never pushed me too hard. Even now, he will slow me down a wee bit because he knows me so well and that I’m always straining to do more or go faster.
‘At times, you really want to do all the reps that others are doing. But, looking back, he’s had the right approach for me.
‘I’ve seen U20 athletes who have been in the wars because of the way they pushed, they way they trained, their mindset on eating. Going on training camps at a young age was helpful as it let me know how healthy you need to be and what you need to ear.
‘I had a couple of issues like, at one stage, really bad asthma but Andy didn’t get frustrated with me. He took his time with me.’
Given Reekie was ranked 56th for 800m in Britain in 2016 and in 2020 tops the World rankings for that distance indoors, some might well argue four years isn’t all that long to wait . . .