'I was emotionally disturbed, sport was my saviour': UK Olympian Fatima Whitbread on how throwing the javelin saved her life
14:32 GMT, 30 July 2012
Reaching high: Fatima Whitbread prepares to throw the javelin at the Dairy Crest Games in Gateshead in 1988
She has smashed javelin world records, snared Olympic medals and been crowned a UK Sports Personality Of The Year.
But Fatima Whitbread MBE had to work her way through a horrific 'nightmare childhood' to achieve all these dreams.
And now, to coincide with London 2012 and the release of her autobiography, Survivor, the inspirational athlete, 51, has spoken out about her unpromising beginnings, and how it was sport that eventually saved her life.
Referring to how she
was abandoned as a baby and spent the first 14 years of her life in
British children's homes, Whitbread says: 'I was too emotionally
disturbed to really thrive academically.
was my saviour, for me to compete on level terms and earn respect from
my peers, and also feel good and have self-confidence.'
In an interview in the Times, Whitbread explains how growing up in care homes until she was 14 instilled in her both a set of ferocious survival instincts and a real need to nurture and look after others.
She says: 'My childhoood gave me an inner strength. It was very hard on me, so when I actually did train, I became physically and mentally strong and I was very competitive. That was what my life was all about.'
Whitbread was abandoned by her biological mother, a Turkish Cypriot, aged just thee months.
It was only because a neighbour of the north London flat heard a baby screaming that she was rescued at all.
Rescued by the javelin: Fatima Whitbread has revealed that sport saved her life after a horrific childhood spent in the care system
After spending four months in a hospital being treated for malnutrition, Whitbread was sent into care, frequently being moved around the country into different establishments.
She met her biological mother a handful of times during her formative years, and each time the experience was hellish, whether she was being screamed at, abused, shown to pimps as a prospective victim or raped by her mother's drunk boyfriend.
Disturbed and terrified, the young girl began misbehaving in school, eventually being reprimanded loudly by the referee during a school netball match.
It was during this match that she was spotted by a lady named Margarent Whitbread, and the pair met again when Fatima, aged 11, started learning javelin at the local athletics club where Mrs Whitbread was a coach.
Triumph in the face of adversity: Fatima Whitbread in action
The javelin teacher took Fatima on as
a pupil, and through this her young star spent more and more time with
the Whitbread family. They eventually adopted her.
Whitbread competed in three Olympics, winning bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles games.
She set a javelin world record in 1986, became world champion in 1987 and was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
She retired in 1992 and lives in Essex with her son, Ryan, who was born after Fatima and her ex-husband, the late Andrew Normon, received IVF treatment.
She was a contestant on I'm A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here in 2011, leaving the jungle in third place.
Mother and son: Fatima Whitbread with her son, Ryan, who was born after successful IVF treatment
Mum's the word: Fatima Whitbread with her coach and mother Margared Whitbread
Jungle challenge: Fatimia Whitbread faces a wilderness challenge on I'm A Celebrity in 2011
Here comes the bride: In 1997 Fatima Whitbread married sports promoter Andrew Norman