Me and my school photo: Fatima Whitbread remembers craving love and wanting to throw the javelin
22:19 GMT, 6 April 2012
Fatima Whitbread, 51, is a former world champion javelin thrower
This is me aged 14 with my netball team at Culverhouse Secondary School in Essex. Sport meant everything to me growing up and being part of a team gave me a sense of belonging.
I lived in care homes during my younger years [Fatima was abandoned by her mother as a baby] and was sent to Dilkes County Primary School in South Ockenden.
It had no uniform but all the kids from the care home would turn up in matching grey duffel coats. I had lots of friends but I felt a sense of loneliness seeing kids arriving at school with their mummies or daddies.
Each morning I was woken early to get in the queue for the bathroom, then the queue for breakfast, before I was booted out the door. At the end of each day, I’d see parents waiting to collect their kids and there was no one
there for me. I craved the same love my classmates got.
However, my early years probably helped me in my career because you have to be disciplined to succeed. I didn’t listen in lessons, I was happier rolling my sleeves up and my socks down and being a tomboy. I got told off a lot but sport was my saviour and meant I had loads of friends. I’d play football with the boys and rounders with the girls.
One of my best friends was Wendy Smith. I’d knock on her door some mornings and we’d walk to school. I’d get round early because she’d call me in for toast with marmalade and tea.
Essex County Council then sent me to Culverhouse Secondary School, which was a bit unruly. I played for the school netball team, I was quite competitive and got the referee’s whistle a few times. One of those referees was Margaret Whitbread, a PE mistress at another school. She was also a national schools athletics coach.
When I was 13, I went to the local athletics club with some friends. I wanted to throw the javelin and the coach turned out to be Margaret. I loved athletics and got to know her well.
Last year she appeared in I’m A Celebrity. She lives in Essex with her son Ryan, 14
She started to coach me, then introduced me to her family and adopted me when I was 14. She helped me work hard and we conquered the world together, but it wasn’t easy for her.
When I found the love of the Whitbread family, I wanted to be at home all the time. I’d skive off to help my mum do the ironing. However, she got me back on track and moved me to a new school, Torrells, near our home in Grays, Essex. It was more disciplined than Culverhouse and proved to be a turning point.
The comedian Joe Pasquale was in my class and we’ve remained friends. He was quiet but funny. I was happier than I’d ever been and I was determined to prove to myself and my mum that I was capable of behaving myself. I worked hard and became head prefect.
At 5am I’d train with weights. I’d go home for breakfast and take my brothers, Greg and Kirk, to school, then walk to my school. Later I’d pick up the boys, help prepare tea and then go training. With my adoptive family behind me, I felt truly loved and started to understand that I was capable of achieving any goal I set myself.
Fatima supports the Living The Dream Trust, helping young athletes reach the 2012 London Olympics. See www.livingthedreambandd.org.uk