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Skate Champ Hope Student Won't Let MS Slow Her Down

THIS inspirational skating world champion - and Liverpool Hope University student - has spent a decade coping with Multiple Sclerosis. 

And Jenna Downing, 32, says she’s determined to get more young women off the sofa and into physical activity. 

Inline skater Jenna, currently studying part-time for a Masters in Psychology at Hope, was speaking to groups of young women at the University to mark International Women’s Day.

Having been diagnosed with MS aged 20 - losing the feeling in her arm, feet and face - she somehow continued to skate… and win competitions. 

She now hopes her story will convince others to pursue their dreams. 

Jenna, originally from Barnsley, South Yorks, explains: “In my sport, you’ve got to fall down before you learn. It toughens you up. 

“While being diagnosed with MS was an incredibly challenging time, I know that everything happens for a reason. 

“It’s never been something that’s stopped me from doing anything. In some ways, I pretend that I don’t have it.

“MS has forced me to look at other career otions and to return to education. And I’m also a big believer in looking after yourself. For me it’s a case of, ‘healthy mind, healthy body’.”

Jenna, who co-founded the Wheels Extreme coaching company, first donned skates as a seven-year-old. 

She explains: “I turned up and I was laughed at. I was told, ‘This isn’t a sport for young girls like you. Go away!’ 

“But that actually motivated me to get better, to skate harder, and to show people that I was good enough.”

She ultimately jetted to international competitions across the globe, winning the World Championships in Seattle, US, in 2008, and picking up Silver at ESPN’s long-running  X Games comp. 

Many of her wins came after her MS diagnosis, as she’s able to manage her neurological condition. 

She still skates regularly… and refuses to say she’s ‘retired’ from comps. 

Speaking about how Skateboarding will feature in the Olympics for the first time ever this summer in Tokyo, she adds: “You never know what’s coming up. 

“We’ve got a new governing body and inline skating is now part of the World Skate international federation, and which takes in a host of disciplines including skateboarding, roller derby and inline hockey. 

“They’re working hard to get Inline Skating at the Olympics. Skateboarding is there this year and BMX was there at the last Olympics. 

“And as part of this push there’s new world events that have been created to help with this progress and development. 

“Last year we had the World Roller Games  in Barcelona, which was a huge event, and next year that event is going to be held in Buenos Aires. 

“That’d be a nice trip - so maybe I’ll get out to that one! 

“I’m still unsure whether I’ll compete in that or not. But if Inline Skating does go to the Olympics - I’m absolutely there. That’d be the ultimate goal.”

She also praises the inclusive nature of skate sports, adding: “Skateparks can be intimidating places. They’re filled with tattooed guys and they can appear scary at first glance. 

“But these days everyone in the skatepark will respect you, whether you’re an absolute beginner or professional rider.

“Everyone is there to support you. Sports like ours are so good for people struggling with their mental health because you can find a real sense of belonging. 

“Go to roller disco with your mates, build up your skills, and then give a skatepark a go.

“And, crucially, know that it’s okay to fall over. Get back up, keep going and be proud of your bruises.”

** Jenna, who now lives in Prenton, Wirral, finishes her Masters this summer and is completing her dissertation - ‘Developing emotional health and wellbeing in adolescent girls’, while also delivering an aspirational mentoring programme to girls at a school in Holywell, North Wales. For more details about Jenna’s course, go here.

 


Published on 11/03/2020