London 2012 inspired Jen so much that she couldn’t decide which Olympic sport to take up… so she decided on giving all 39 a go
If you didn’t catch the pun, Jen (read Gen), abbreviated from generation, is a play on the London 2012 Olympic legacy motto: to ‘inspire a generation’.
But when this 30-year-old from London was inspired she didn’t give just her favourite sport a go.
Instead Jen Offord, a policy adviser, set herself a target to try out every single-women’s-Olympic-event as per the London 2012 Olympic Games. You can see her hit list here.
‘I was very cynical at the prospect of the Olympics, expecting London to be a nightmare, the games to be a naff embarrassment and the transport system to grind to a halt,’ Jen says from her East London home: ‘I was so cynical in fact I forgot that I’d quite enjoyed keeping up with the Olympic Games in the past.’
Jen ate her words (her term) when the Olympic bug infected the nation.
‘With in five minutes of the opening ceremony I think everyone was sold. The momentum of a home Olympics just grew and grew.’
‘London was just such a magical place to be,’ she admits, ‘Of course I became one of every other cynic who tried to get last minute tickets to any event available.’
A few free entry events later and trips to catch a glimpse of the action on the Olympic big screens the games came to a close Jen was left wondering how she could enjoy the phenomenon for a little longer, and then her friend proposed the venture.
‘I’m a bit of a frustrated writer and this was a great opportunity for a blog too, but I’ve never been into sport. It was always more to a necessity than a desire.’
‘And I did the London Marathon once,’ she adds.
Jen said it was something she’s always wanted to do and in 2009 she achieved the ambition.
‘From the age of 16-25 I literally did no exercise,’ she said: ‘The second I could stop PE at school I did so when it came to the marathon I tried to start running to prepare.’
In the introduction to her blog Jen writes: ‘I spent my adolescence confounding both science and PE teachers, who must have been frightfully concerned about my reproductive future, such was my anatomical makeup that the “time of the month” could last, well, a month. Even as long as a whole term if swimming was involved. In my mythical world, cats could eat trainers and mothers failed to spell the names of rudimentary ailments with any accuracy or consistency.’
Despite that, she did complete the marathon, in six hours and five minutes.
Since then she’s tried to maintain a healthy level of fitness attending gym classes frequently.
So, had she had trained for any of the sports she has tried? ‘I did no pre-sport specific training which basically means its possible for anyone to give anything a go.’
Jen has certainly proven this. Starting with winter sports and then summer sports to match the seasons, from rowing to wrestling, gymnastics to weightlifting, even equestrian dressage Jen hasn’t passed up on any opportunity.
Jen used a site called ‘Join In’ to find some of the activities she’s tried. Funded by the Big Lottery Fund, government grant and by Official Partners BT and Lloyds TSB Join In encourages and supports people to get involved in sporting events and activities near them.
‘As word got out about the blog I was contacted by sports groups offering to help too,’ she said.
Jen explained that writing the blog gave her greater access to sports too, offering a discount or free trial because they would get a mention on the site.
‘It’s been a bit overwhelming. I was doing this as a personal challenge and I wasn’t sure who would really read it.’
Jen said it’s been great to try so many sports, but she has also learned to appreciate that some cost more than others. She said location is key too and while there were lots of opportunities in her area you need to be passionate to put in the time and money and commit to a sport to do well.
‘For example the water polo,’ Jen said. ‘It was really physically hard work. But it makes you appreciate just how tough these girls train.’
You need to be a pretty strong swimmer for the sport, she said, because you can’t stand up in the depth of the water.
‘…So you’re trying to catch or throw a ball (with one hand), or drown someone else who is catching or throwing a ball, whilst treading water, which is not easy,’ said Jen.
‘Not only this, but the strength of these women is incredible. I could not, as anyone who has seen me play netball will testify, throw a ball that hard with both hands, standing on dry land.’
Her favourite sport so far? ‘Track cycling. I was terrified of the physical pain or injury.’
The ‘three-pronged terror-stimulus’ as Jen puts it in track cycling is the fixed wheel, meaning if you stop cycling the bike stops moving. The second is that, despite this the bike has no brakes to stop with. Then there’s the steepness of the track.
‘I went to Herne Hill Velodrome to do it,’ she said. The track at Herne Hill sits at 30 degrees at the it’s steepest, compared to the 45 degree track in the Olympic Velodrome.
‘I had been so fearful of the banked track but by the end I was even called ‘a natural’.
Jen said because of its affordable cost (£8 entry) and location being so close to London she can’t recommend Hearne Hill Velodrome enough.
Jen said she has taken something from every sport, even if she’s not enjoyed it as much as another.
For example in March she tried out Judo and admits to little planning for this sport, merely turning up at a class she organized attending last minute. ‘It’s basically wrestling, but with less spandex,’ she says.
The class begins with warms up which Jen describes as getting her ‘a little worried about what’s to come.’ She admits nothing could have prepared her for what did.
Finding herself paired with a 16-year-old, Jen got her ‘arse kicked by a child’ only to find out she’s training with possible future Olympians.
‘I met 14-year old national-champion Acelya Toprak. It was really cool seeing this tiny young lady hold her own against a huge 30-year-old.’
Jen writes on her blog: ‘I’m completely mesmerised by Acelya, she makes Judo look like ballet as she continues to dance around her opponent. Her mum calls her over for a photo with me and she asks, “Do you want me to pick you up as if I’m going to throw you? I won’t actually throw you”. Before I know what is going on, a 14 year old girl has hoisted me over her shoulder.’
‘The thing with the Olympics was, you couldn’t avoid it, it was everywhere, and I think one of the best results of that was our exposure to sports which are big in other countries, like handball, which we don’t usually focus on,’ she said.
‘The games was great for women in sport too. We focused in on some fantastic female athletes and they were such a success.’
With just a month left Jen has just seven sports left to try including triathlon, diving, modern pentathlon and athletics. Maybe you can help her out? Follow Jen @inspireajen link. In August her time will be up and Jen is planning on having a rest, but in truly inspired tradition she said she may pick one sport and see just how far she can go.
‘Perhaps track cycling because I really did enjoy it despite my fears. Though I haven’t been to an indoor velodrome yet and they look much steeper on the bends…’
If you’re still in need of inspiration here’s some final words from the PE skipping exercise- phobe turned Olympic pro:
‘The point is, from a personal level and in terms of sport, just have a go. Give everything a try because you will be surprised at how capable you are and how accessible and enjoyable sport can be.’
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