Gold Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu MBE is a superstar on and off the track. Here she talks to Holly Louise Eells about her role as a Patron at local children’s charity The Dream Factory and why sport is so important for children’s mental health.
It is not every day you get to speak to an Olympic World and Commonwealth Champion, especially not one as humble as Christine Ohuruogu MBE.
‘Everyone wants to be an Olympic champion and to stand on top of the podium knowing you have finished first in the world. This stuff is only created in your dreams’ says Christine.
Born and raised in the borough of Newham, Christine attended St Edward’s Church of England and Sixth Form College in Romford, where she found her love and passion for sports. ‘They had a strong netball team and that is where my passion for netball came from and this is where my running started too’ she says. ‘I really enjoyed sports days!.’
The award-winning athlete spent a lot of time in Essex, especially for sports events, and played netball for Essex Metropolitan. Surprisingly at first, Christine didn’t really see herself as a runner.
‘I joined a running club because I felt if I kept running I would become a better netball player. I was trying to help my school team get extra points,’ she laughs. ‘Also I wanted to become a better netball player so I could fulfil my dreams of playing the centre position, but I never got the chance! However after joining the running team things went a bit better for Christine. I had to make a choice to either do athletics or netball. My track coach was worried he was losing my weekends to netball and hit that I didn’t have time to do both as I was working at uni; so I had to pick one’
You could say the rest is history. Boasting so may accolades, I had to ask Christine the obvious question, ‘What is her biggest achievement?’
‘Even though it wasn’t quite gold, winning my silver in London was very dear to me because it was in my home town. In fact, it was literally my back garden as I live so close to the stadium. Just watching the town change before my eyes was something phenomenal for me’. She adds ‘ I don’t think it was a story anyone could have ever scripted. I am immensely proud of myself and how I managed to hold everything together!’
Now, she is training as a paralegal at the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, but is putting her running shoes back on once again. This time it is with six-year-old Jacob Tompkins who will raising money for The Dream Factory, a charity which grants dreams to children and young adults with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions and/or severe disabilities. This will be really exciting. I am going to have to work really hard so he doesn’t beat me by too much!’ she says.
A Patron for The Dream Factory, Christine will be joining Jacob, an Ambassador for the charity, for one mile whilst he tackles an epic challenge to run a mile a day for 50 days. This is the only time Christine has been involved with the children’s charity. Over the last year or so, the Olympic champion has raised valuable funds for them, including participating in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire ? So how did she get involved with The Dream Factory, which was founded by Avril Mills BEM, after she lost her aged nine to leukemia.
‘I knew Anne (Anne Wafula Strike MBE, a Harlow-based British Paralympic wheelchair racer) from track and she mentioned I should meet Avril as she was really nice. I met her and yes, Avril is really lovely! She told me about the charity and what it stood for. She didn’t hold back on her enthusiasm and that was nice to see. That is how we started and since then it has become a beautiful relationship. I really do respect Avril and what her team is doing. I really, really, do!.
She adds, ‘The kids are so amazing. I love meeting them and their families, it is such a lovely thing, and to see how happy they are.
On the topic of children, I asked if she felt sport had a positive impact on her mental health growing up and how it can help young people today.
‘Sport really does help and I hope it doesn’t get lost in the pandemic. ‘ I love going back to Newham and Essex Beagles Club (one of the leading athletics clubs in Great Britain where Christine trained) to watch the young people train because you will find so many kids just enjoy themselves and they love it. You can see how happy they are when they’re running – it doesn’t matter where they finish, in fact, whether they finish or not, they are happy to be there. We cannot underestimate the power of freedom these youngsters have.’
She adds, ‘Even if it’s half an hour, it is an opportunity for them to feel a bit of joy being outside. Everything we think we need as adults, youngsters need as well.