When long jumper JJ Jegede goes for gold at European Championships this week the message of hope he sends out to Hackney’s kids every time he sprints down the runway will be just as important as winning a medal.
The athlete had a tough upbringing in the borough and wants his success to be an inspiration to others who have to beat an underprivileged background.
“It is not about where you start – it is about your ambition and your drive and where you finish”, JJ told East London Lines.
“That is what I want to show people when I compete.”
JJ is one of four children born to Nigerian parents and was brought up by his mother, who named him JJ after a character in the australian soap opera “Sons and Daughters”.
His father left home when he was one month old and as he grew up with his three older sisters JJ had to assume responsibility as the man in the house.
“We were not in poverty, but I did have a tough upbringing. We weren’t rich. It was tough,” he recalls.
“But everybody I grew up around found it tough. I don’t want to paint a picture where I get sympathy.
“Around me there were people that did naughty things, but I never got involved in a criminal act. I was too scared of my mum to do that.”
Mum Ebiti was the major driving force in JJ’s early career and his achievements are a tribute to her.
“She made me the person I am today. She taught me to be tough – she did three different jobs to support us”, he recalled.
“She taught me that I could achieve anything I wanted to. Now I want to achieve for her. If I do well it will be a tribute to my mum. Me being a long jumper at all is a tribute to her.”
Originally JJ wanted to be a footballer and had trials with Tottenham and Norwich, but got into athletics by accident.
A teacher who saw his potential at 16 asked him to represent the school in the Barking and Dagenham Schools Championships – even though he was initially not keen and had tried to avoid track and field.
He was entered for the triple jump, but the boy due to compete in the long jump became sick and JJ took his place.
The athlete won a scholarship to Loughborough University, from where he graduated with a degree in finance and banking as his career as a long jumper took off.
He also got a job with the police, visiting schools and working as a mentor with disadvantaged children, a role he still enjoys today.
JJ came seventh in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, but takes a refreshingly philosophical view about not doing as well as he knows he can.
“I was hoping to have fun, but I am cool with it. I was trying a bit too hard. When the crowds are there you really want to win,” he said.
“I may have pushed myself a bit too hard. I wanted to win more than anything. Normally, I go out and execute what I have planned to do. I should have done that.
“But it is all good. It is a lesson learned. I have the Euros now so I am lucky. I have got a chance. I just hope to execute well. That is my ambition. Whatever position I get I will be happy with.
“Long jumping is more about the feeling of when you do a good jump than the position you get. I am just hoping that every time I do a jump I get that feeling.
“My mum has always said to me: ‘Your time will come. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.’
But ultimately the example he sets to the less fortunate will always be uppermost in his mind – win or lose.
“I didn’t start out great – but look where I have got to”, he said. “I just really want to give people hope.”