Be-mag talks to the queen of UK rollerblading about her inspirational success story and working with Dame Kelly Holmes.
Listing the achievements of Jenna Downing is on a par with trying to memorise the lyrics to The Beatles’ entire back catalogue: damn near impossible. After all, she set the rollerblading world alight at the mere age of eight when she won the IISS World Finals in 1996, finally turning pro at the age of 12 making her the youngest ever female professional. From then on she has gone on to dominate some of the world’s biggest events by winning the British Championships ten times, taking silver at the X Games in 2002 and winning the LG Action Sports World Championships in 2008.
In addition to her success at competition level, Jenna has also been sponsored by some of the most respected companies in the UK (Puberty, Anglo, Loco Skates) and internationally (K2, Razors). She became a Sports Ambassador in 2004 and won the UK Freesports Athlete of the Year award in 2005 as well as featuring in many TV shows and national advertising campaigns. If Jenna isn’t capable of inspiring other young women to rollerblade with her remarkable story, no one is.
Jenna’s obsession with rollerblading started when her single parent mother bought her a pair of skates at the tender age of seven. She immediately fell in love with the freedom that it provided and a chance encounter with two of the UK’s most prolific male rollerbladers showed Jenna the many possibilities of park skating.
“One day my mum took me and my friends to a roller disco and it was there that I met the Jagger brothers who told me about their skatepark, Rehab, in Wakefield,” says Jenna. “The park was amazing and after my first visit I was hooked.”
Less than two years later Jenna won the prestigious International Inline Skating Series World Finals and the young woman from Barnsley’s skating career snowballed. Soon enough, she was travelling the world with good friend Jenny Logue, with the help of skate sponsor K2 and drink sponsor Sobe, holding her own against some of the fiercest female competitors, including the mighty Fabiola Da Silva and street skating’s first lady, Martina Svobodova.
It has been over a decade since Jenna turned pro, but she is still as focused as ever. At the moment she is working with the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust and Sport England in order to improve the lives of young people in the UK and expose rollerblading to a wider audience. “I’m involved in a range of mentoring projects which are all ultimately aimed at inspiring the lives of other people using “world class athlete role models.” Being able to work alongside Olympic and Commonwealth champions is fantastic and provides great opportunities to promote rollerblading to a range of audiences.”
It has not been the easiest year for Jenna. She is currently battling with a serious knee injury that she has just had surgery on after tearing her cruciate ligaments at the Chaz Sands Invitational earlier this year. As a result, she was not able to gather any footage for Game Theory, the team video for current sponsor Razors. She also had to miss out on one of the UK’s biggest competitions, NASS, and the Super Girl contest in California, an event that would have seen her go head-to-head with close friend and competitive nemesis Fallon Heffernan. However, she is remaining positive.
“My priority right now is to strengthen my knee so I can get back on my skates,” says the 22 year old. “It’s going to take around 6-9 months before I’ll be back skating properly again and in the meantime I’ll be continuing with the inspirational projects that I’m involved in, which I absolutely love. I just want to continue to push rollerblading and get our sport out there to the masses. I would love to see the industry boom again.”
Those foolish enough to believe that Jenna is simply a talented athlete could not be more wrong. In addition to her sparkling rollerblading career, Jenna has also proven herself in academic circles by getting accepted to attend the prestigious Cambridge University to study Law. However, she chose to stay in Sheffield to be close to her family and graduated last year with a degree in Law. It seems that this was not enough to quench her thirst for further education, as Jenna looks set to return to university in the near future.
“Now, all my work is completely un-related to Law and I honestly don’t know if I will use it in the future as I love what I’m doing now. I am considering going to do a MA in Sport Development Management in Liverpool so that I can continue my studies and be closer to my favourite skatepark, Rampworx.”
Jenna is an inspiration to rollerbladers, male and female, because she is living proof that you can pursue a career as a professional athlete and succeed in other aspects of life simultaneously. She manages to juggle the responsibility of working for the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust and Sport England, while attending competitions regularly to represent her sponsors Razors, Loco Skates, Wellwoman, Rocket Dog, Black Flys, Nutcase and Ground Control. Let’s hope she gets better soon, we need more Jenna Downings.
- David McNamara
To find out more about Jenna visit www.jennadowning.com
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