Opening lines are a problem; but when you’re talking to someone who could practically staple the words ‘Olympic Legacy’ to her forehead while concurrently happening to be one of the most interesting sport experience writers currently armed with a keyboard and a website it seems to come pretty easily. With the anniversary of London 2012 upon us, we sat down with the woman behind Inspire A Jen to discuss her mission to trial every Olympic sport in 12 months.
For someone who professes to have only begun exercising at the age of 25 in order to allow herself to eat more cake, Jen Offord is clearly no slacker when it comes to sporting involvement. Despite insisting that she began the Inspire A Jen project primarily as a frustrated writer, Offord has to date undertaken all but 7 of the events she targeted to try her hand at back in August 2012.
A self-confessed ‘hater of sport’ (‘I did no sport, no exercise from the ages of 16 to 25. I drank a lot, smoked. An NHS nightmare!’), when we sit down for coffee, Offord has a refreshing lack of ego about the enormity of the project she undertook in the light of the Alistair Brownlee’s victory in the Olympic Triathlon on the 7th August last year. Ego or no ego, it really is quite some distance (both metaphorically and literally) that she has travelled.
‘I used to get out of PE at school, telling my teacher I had lady problems for weeks and weeks and weeks’. The extent of the transformation from inactive 16-25 year old to phenomenally active 29-30 year old seems to have been a surprise, even to Offord herself. ‘I can’t imagine not doing some form of sport’, she says, ‘I was away at the weekend with some friends and went for a run: the idea of going for a run, a year ago, in the middle of a boozy weekend is just absolutely…bonkers.’
Her source of inspiration, though, almost escaped her: ‘I was absolutely a doubter [about London 2012] – I was so cynical about it coming to London, but it was one of those rare occasions when it was definitely better than you thought it would be. And it was awesome. I loved it. I really, really got into it.’
The sheer commitment required to dedicate a year of your life to finding your sport by trying..well…all of them is, by any measure, pretty inspiring but time consuming. ‘My social life has taken a bit of a back seat…I was a bridesmaid this year and I was just so busy I thought to myself “I’ve been a bit of a shit bridesmaid really”.
And it’s not just the psychological effort that has been painful at times: as Offord reels off the list of injuries sustained in the last twelve months – the undiagnosed damaged ankle that denied her a place in the 2013 London Marathon; a bruised leg sustained falling when BMX’ing; strained intercostal muscles over Christmas sustained in gymnastics (‘I did still have a nice Christmas!’) – it’s clear that she has quite literally thrown herself into the task, mind and body.
The Home Straight
Throughout the whole of the Inspire A Jen blog, Offord’s natural humour and enthusiasm pervades her writing however when we get onto the topic of what’s going to happen once she’s completed her challenge (and the blog) that the humour falls for a moment. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do next,’ she admits, ‘and I am pretty nervous about finishing. I want my life back in a way, but also, I’ve changed so much, really, as a person over the last year I don’t necessarily want that life back, if you see what I mean?’
And speaking to her, I do see what she means, because in so many ways the project has gone far beyond the bounds of a writer’s quest to just eat more cake. Mark Foster may have stubbornly refused to return her tweets as yet (the British Olympian’s lack of engagement is a running thread throughout Offord’s writing) [n.b. – the day after our interview Foster does, finally, respond to Offord’s tweets. So simply, yet with the now trademark effort behind the scenes, another of the Inspire a Jen landmarks is met], but others have been more forthcoming, both in terms of introducing areas and people for Offord to try out some of the harder to organise sports and in helping to build her profile, alongside more established outlets like the BBC and Sky Sports. The simple constraints of the project though dictate a finishing line and Offord is now on the home straight.
She talks about the next stages, perhaps finding a single sport (track cycling currently sits strongly in favour) and ‘seeing how far it goes’. But equally, there are logistical concerns to consider: ‘I need to put more into it, but it’s a bit of a dilemma; I can’t physically do more whilst I have a full time job.’
For now, though, the emphasis is on getting the existing schedule complete in the remaining few weeks. The determination to get all the sports finished in the 12-month time frame is self-evident. After that, the very real possibility that Offord may collate her year’s experience into a book. We’ve certainly seen she has the determination.
But there’s also a sense that there are things anyone can take from what she has achieved. ‘As an adult, you don’t get to do things like this. You don’t get to throw yourself onto a crash mat face first, and it’s really good fun! In a way, it’s like finding your inner child. I think there’s a sport for everybody – there’s so many out there: get out there and give something a try.’
Only a Sprint
Talk turns to the triathlon, the last event that Offord will undertake as part of the project. I mention a point, early in the blog, where she discounts doing a full distance triathlon on account of probable death, which Offord bats away with ‘it’s only a sprint’ (sprint triathlon being a 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run). ‘In a way, I hadn’t really thought of it like this, but it’s quite nice finishing with the Triathlon given that’s where it started in the first place.’
It’s interesting hearing Offord use the word finishing, and in some ways it’s almost as if she’s playing out that final Triathlon on an epic scale. The finishing line for the project may be in sight, but you can’t help but feel it’s only the finishing line of the 1.5km swim. With such evident hunger and enthusiasm (and, despite what she may tell you, this isn’t Offord focussing on cake), Inspire A Jen still has some distance to travel yet, there’s still the cycle and run to go. Watching on from the sidelines, it would be astonishing if she didn’t inspire her own set of followers as yet; a one woman Olympic legacy.
The day after our interview, fresh from finally receiving her Tweet from Mark Foster, Offord appears as a guest on Radio 5 Live as part of the BBC Inspire series. It is a piece which I, shamefully, miss thanks to commitments on the football pitch. Somehow I don’t think Offord would mind too much – after all, I’m another person out there, playing sport. And isn’t that the point anyway?
Image from http://jeninspired.wordpress.com – Thank you!!