CHERRELLE Fennell gained recognition for being the youngest gymnast to make her way into the national squad at just age 10. She then went on to compete during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, but had a catastrophic setback that stuck with her throughout the competition.

Fennell is not where she initially planned to be. After successfully completing two of the three trials training for the Commonwealth Games back in 2004, she injured her Achilles and missed out.

“I landed on the floor and heard a rip. I was taken out of the trial, and was absolutely devastated.”

“I was lucky enough to be taken to Barcelona to focus on the Olympics, and after another girl in the squad was injured badly, I was then told, ‘Cherelle – you’ve got to train. I had to suck up the pain and carry on.”

Cherrelle’s get-up-and-go attitude is one that she had no choice but to implement. The prospect of competing in such a high level competition was creeping nearer, and in December, the Olympics were coming.

A life changing experience was waiting for her. From sharing a house in the Olympic village with athletes Amir Khan and Tim Henman, to being able to watch all of the other competitions after Cherrelle had finished her own, she describes her former self as being utterly star struck.

‘All of the nations got together and I had the privilege of meeting the most amazing people. I can’t say that a single day, or time was the best part – because the experience as a package was indescribable.’

Still a child at only 17, Cherrelle was submerged in a world where she would ‘eat, sleep and breathe gymnastics’.

I didn’t really have time for friends at home, I had friends through gymnastics, but not really where I lived.”

This was nothing unusual to her, as from the age of nine; she was familiar with the rigorous training program that included no less than 25 hours of practice per week.

After Athens came and went, a lingering physical pain remained with her, making it impossible for her to continue competing.

“After The Olympics, I waited two years for my Achilles to heal – but it never did”

She describes gymnastic injury as ‘a normal sporting injury times ten.’

“It’s not like other sports, you can’t treat the injury and wait for it to heal immediately. You have to re-train yourself to gain your flexibility and strength back again.”

The mental devastation hit Cherrelle hard; she would avoid conversation relating to gymnastics, and would even refuse to watch it on the television.

I hated it. I think it’s because I didn’t have a choice to leave gymnastics – I had to, and that made me mad. Someone would mention the word and I’d look the other way.”

It was only until Cherrelle received a telephone call years later, she decided to channel her anger. Her former coach made the call, and Cherrelle took the opportunity to re-ignite her love of the sport in the form of coaching.

“He told me that he needed help to coach children who could do with inspiration. So I gave it a go. And that was it.”

At 29-years-old, Cherrelle now coaches young children at The Wire Gymnastics club in Warrington.

Detailing the rewarding experience, she says: “The kids work so hard, I love that they’re fighting so much to achieve a single skill, and I love knowing I’ve helped them do that – it feels incredible.”

“It’s an amazing club, and the children we teach will probably be the next group to compete on a large scale. I feel so proud, I can relate to every single one of them.”

In July next year, she is travelling to a training camp in Toronto with the young gymnasts. They will be able to recognise first hand what it’s like to be an international gymnast and travel the world.

“It’s fantastic for their confidence. I’ve always believed that if you can go to another country, self-confidence follows. It’s a story for them to tell; they can say ‘When I was a gymnast, I travelled here and did this.’

She describes children that she feels have potential to make future Olympic teams, but continues to maintain a realistic outlook.

“There’s one girl who’s on an elite pathway. You can just tell. She will compete one day, but not right now. She’s only nine.”

Cherrelle is thankful that both training and skills involved in gymnastics haven’t evolved into unknown territory, and the basics remain the same.

“Despite my path not turning out the way I thought it would, nothing has really changed which is good for me. I teach what I know, and I’ll always be able to relate to the children that way. I suppose that part has worked in my favour,” she laughs.

By: Eleni Wrigglesworth
@elenimacf

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