ALAN HUBBARD is lending his support for the sportswoman of the year to someone who has spent the past 12 months taking part in 38 Olympic disciplines
Most will never have heard of my choice for Sportswoman of the Year. Hers is a name a long way removed from the usual elitist list of contenders, but in terms of endeavour, true grit and a unique achievement, Jen Offord is surely worthy of the ultimate recognition.
When she puffed her way across the finishing line in after a five-kilometre run through London’s Bushy Park a couple of months ago, it signaled not only the completion of her first triathlon but the culmination of a remarkable Olympic odyssey in which she has attempted every one of the the 26 sports on the London 2012 programme, embracing 38 different disciplines, in the course of a year. It was certainly some journey.
That journey began when the curtain came down on a London Games the 30-year-old civil servant from the Olympic heartland of Hackney had actually wanted to get away from.
“I have always been a bit sport-phobic and living in the East End and working in Westminster I thought the disruption would be horrendous and I would be getting it both barrels,” she said. “I was a real cynic about the Olympics and it got to the point when I seriously considered leaving London for the duration.” But Offord stayed to be captivated by them, wanted to try one of the sports but couldn’t decide which. So a friend suggested she “had a bash” at them all.
And over the course of the next 12 months came an astonishing volte face for someone who admits she used to bunk off PE at school. “What grabbed me most was the variety of sports. I felt we had been so saturated in the media with football that we had forgotten there are so many other sports that are truly amazing and quite inspirational.”
So hard on the heels of Lord Coe’s “Inspire A Generation” came Inspire A Jen, a one-woman mission of truly Olympian proportions, which she kick-started with a canoe sprint at the Stoke Newington reservoir. “Tremendous fun and so exciting.”
Following this she ran the whole gamut of sport from archery to wrestling, regularly producing an illuminating and amusing blog (www.jeninspired.wordpress.com or on Twitter @inspireajen) which attracted support from Kelly Holmes and offers of tuition and advice from several members of 2012’s Team GB. Among them was Sebastian Prieto, who taught her the rudiments of handball, and Chloe Rogers from hockey.
Down in Bath, Kate Allenby, the Olympic medal-winner, took Offord through the rigours of the modern pentathlon – riding, swimming, shooting, swimming and running – and was sufficiently impressed to report: “Jen put herself outside her comfort zone on so many occasions, yet she was really positive and outgoing about the whole challenge. She was very easy to coach, taking information on board and putting it into practice.”
Always determined not just to dabble, or be dismissed as a dilettante, Offord says water polo was the hardest, and synchronized swimming the weirdest, the latter “all rather cliquey”. Boxing she found the most fascinating. “Trying it totally changed my view of the sport. Beforehand I thought it was about a bunch of gnarly-eared blokes lumping each other’s brains out. It turns out there’s quite a bit more to it than this – it’s incredibly skilful, for a start.”
Offord adds she has enjoyed so many sports, devoting evenings, weekends and holidays, it is hard to choose one to stick with permanently. “I have a bike now, so cycling is high on my list. But I have learned that you don’t have to be good at sport to enjoy it.
“In light of my experiences my views on sport have completely changed and I’m totally converted now. I’m fitter, stronger and happier as well.”
And full of the sort of Olympic spirit that surely deserves the SJA accolade.
- Alan Hubbard is a sports columnist for the Independent on Sunday
- Who get’s your vote? SJA members are invited to submit their article, of around 500 words, on why they have chosen their Sportsman, Sportswoman or Team of the Year by email here
- Or consider the other leading candidates for the British Sports Awards here
- Between now and the end of 2013, anyone wishing to join the SJA may apply, with their initial fee covering their membership through until the end of 2014 – effectively 15 months’ membership for the price of 12. Click here for more details.
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced