Mum Morna embraces Jemma after her British Record 800m run at the Emirates Arena early in 2020 (photo by Bobby Gavin)
By Katy Barden
There was a collective sigh of relief as the wee blonde pigtails came into view.
The Reekie family had travelled to Largs to watch daughter Jemma in her first cross country race.
But, on arrival, mum Morna had concerns: ‘We were watching her start and I was thinking ‘she’s only going to get half way round’ because it just looked so far.
‘Off they went, way out of sight, and when we didn’t see her, I thought ‘I wonder if she’s walking?’ Then, the next minute, her wee pigtails came running around the corner at the front. Her grandpa roared her all the way into the finish line; he was so excited for her.’
Jemma was excited, too, and while her winning streak didn’t continue, she had discovered her love for the sport.
As a child, Jemma Reekie was quiet, thoughtful and gentle, but – as she’d proven in Largs – she was also determined and tough.
‘That was her nature,’ says Morna.
‘If she knew she wanted to do something, that was her focus; she had such good focus, even when she was small.
‘Like learning to ride a bike – that had to be done in the one day. She was determined as much as she was quieter natured and gentle. She would have fallen off that bike all day and taken all the blows, but she had to learn to do it that day, that was her nature. If there was something she wanted to do, she would do it.’
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The Reekies – mum Morna, dad Jared, brother Jared (Jemma’s senior) and younger sister Hope – were an active family and learning to swim was a priority as the children grew up.
Jemma also loved playing hockey and enjoyed horse-riding.
Her true love, however, was athletics, the sport that captured her imagination from the moment she joined Mrs Duncan’s cross country group when she was in P5 at Beith Primary School (aged nine).
Mrs Duncan (Liz), a PE teacher, was passionate about athletics and committed to her young athletes. She coached the school’s cross country team in her own time, as well as organising trips to indoor athletics competitions and cross country events. Her enthusiasm was infectious.
By the end of primary school, Jemma Reekie knew she wanted to be a runner.
‘I used to say ‘you do need to stick in at school, too’ and she’d just look at me and say ‘but I want to be a runner,’ says Morna.
‘I’ve always been happy for them to be what they want, but actually watching her in her young secondary years (when she was training at Kilbarchan), I just had a feeling that she was going to take it further.
‘I thought that if Jemma wants to be a runner and she sticks in at it and she’s good at it, then why not?’
Jemma on right with team-mates at Beith Primary School after one of her very first races (photo via the Reekie family)
Mrs Duncan, who is now retired, also held that belief.‘Oh, I remember her really well because I knew she had potential right away,’ she says.
‘She didn’t win many of the races but she worked so hard.
‘It was her determination. She always had that mentality of ‘I’m going to do better, I’m going to get better, I’m going to work at this’, and she always enjoyed her running.
‘She was a pleasure to have – she’s a lovely girl and she’s not changed. She always had a beautiful stride.
‘She always ran well, but it was her attitude and her temperament.
‘Jemma had this remarkable and unwavering determination to be better; she wanted to win every race, and if she couldn’t win it she wanted to beat her time – even if it was just a second or two better than the last time, that made her happy.’
When a teenager, Jemma carried the Olympic Torch ahead of the London 2012 Games, aged 14, and the experience further ignited her passion and belief.
‘It was closer to home and I think it became more real to her in that moment – it made her think that it could really happen,’ says Morna.
‘It was the same with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Diamond League meet at Hampden.
That was our first live athletics as a family and it made it real for her.’
Jemma’s strengths – in particular her determination and toughness – have, at times, also presented challenges.
‘I found it hard when Jemma wasn’t well, a cold or sore throat or anything at all, she absolutely refused to miss training,’ says Morna.
‘I’d be saying to her, ‘Jemma you’re not well, you can’t go to training tonight,’ and that would be absolute devastation to her.
There has never been a day from when she was nine or 10 years old until now that she’s said to me that she can’t be bothered with training. It’s just what she loves.
‘Even when she was a bit older and got a couple of weeks off from training at secondary school age I’d be all but hiding her trainers from her because she just wouldn’t take the full fortnight.’
Jemma’s introduction to athletics at Beith Primary School and the hugely positive influence of Mrs Duncan and her parents have shaped her character, as well as her talent.
That she has stayed in touch with Mrs Duncan – who encouraged her to continue competing in her early years of secondary school by telling her about upcoming cross country fixtures – is testament to the strong relationship.
Without exception, they are all proud of Jemma, from the athlete she was, to the athlete she’s become.
‘With your children, you’re just happy that they’re happy and achieving the goals that they’ve set themselves,’ says Morna.
‘I knew how important running was to Jemma when she was at primary school, she was so determined and focused on doing well, so I felt just as proud of her then as I do now – the only difference now is that it’s a bigger stage.’
— Beith Primary School and Early Years Class (@Beithps) December 4, 2020
Tags: Jemma Reekie