Sky Sports Living for Sport Athlete Mentor Craig Heap spent a day with students from Longridge Towers School in Berwick last week.
He shared his story of how discovering gymnastics and planning for his future helped him to secure an international sporting career.
Sky Sports Living for Sport is a free UK secondary schools initiative, delivered in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust, which uses sport stars and sport skills to boost confidence, change behaviours, increase attainment and improve life skills.
Working as an Athlete Mentor for the initiative in the North East, Craig regularly shares his story of how finding gymnastics helped him to channel new found ambition into pursuing international success as an artistic gymnast.
Now retired and carving out a successful second career as a gymnastics commentator for the BBC, Craig continues to visit schools across the North East to give students an insight into how finding a goal to focus on turned his life around:
“I grew up on our family farm in Burnley, Lancashire and as a youngster thought school was a complete waste of time for me because I was destined to become a farmer,” commented Craig. “I was a hyperactive child and constantly bouncing around the classroom because I had so much energy, so when I was nine my parents took me along to my sister’s gymnastics club to try and help burn off my excess energy.
“At first I couldn’t understand why they took me to gymnastics but the minute I saw someone do a back-flip, I thought ‘that’s cool, I want to do that’. From that moment onwards I was hooked!”
Craig’s natural aptitude for gymnastics soon became apparent and by the age of 13 he was already competing with the British Junior Team. Not only had the sport given Craig an outlet for his creativity and energy but it also taught him important new disciplines including commitment, focus and determination. With the goal of becoming a professional gymnast, Craig had a new plan for his future and one he was determined to achieve:
“Gymnastics showed me that I didn’t have to go into farming, I was talented and passionate about my sport and I quickly set myself the goal of becoming a full time member of British Gymnastics,” commented Craig.
“I wasn’t a model student at school but discovering gymnastics certainly helped me to understand the importance of planning my days, working my training around my studies and keeping focussed on my long term goal.
It was a strategy that soon paid off and aged 21, Craig left home to live and train full-time with British Gymnastics. He went on to have a hugely successful gymnastic career with highlights including becoming the first person to captain England to team gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, a feat which he repeated in 2002, and achieving his personal best performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
Visiting Longridge Towers School Craig used the story of his sporting journey to help today’s students plan for their own futures as he explained:
“I am so grateful for all of the opportunities that sport has given me and, while I recognise that not every students wants to become a professional athlete, my goal is to help ensure that every student has their own future goal to focus on be it academic, sporting or otherwise.
“Looking back, I am so grateful now that I stuck at it and finished school before becoming a full time gymnast. My education has played an important role in securing my current work as a gymnastics commentator and I’ve had some fantastic opportunities because of it including commentating on London 2012.”