British Olympic medallist Jess Learmonth (MBE) has revealed that the road to gold has not been easy, with dyslexia crushing her confidence as a teenager.
Shying away from university, and leaving the sixth form study to get a job, Jess was pushed towards roles in retail and admin. During this challenging time, her only outlet was sport… and she found she was good at it.
“While my friends were brilliant at maths and English, I loved sport. But the system never considered that a viable career – I mean who does at that age – so I just got put into a generic pot of kids being recommended a 9-5 job.”
When did Jess Learmonth discover triathlon?
“Looking back, I had so much to offer at that age but got pigeonholed into jobs that I felt I’d struggle with,” the Olympic mixed team relay gold medallist adds. “My confidence went through the floor and it completely extinguished my drive for success.”
But then a few years later a chance encounter with Alistair and Johnny Brownlee sparked an interest in sport as a profession. Then 23, Jess, a keen swimmer, was swimming at the John Charles Center of Sport in Leeds, and saw the two brothers training:
“I remember going to the pool during my day off and just happened to see the Brownlee brothers training. That’s when the penny dropped. I thought to myself, ‘if they can go training instead of going to work – why can’t I?’”
Fast forward four years, and Jess would go on to win two silver medals at her debut Commonwealth Games in 2018; one was in the mixed team really alongside both Brownlees. Another four years on and she was winning gold in the mixed team relay event at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“Through sport, and the simple idea that it could be my job,” adds Jess, “I once again found my confidence, worked hard and the rest, as they say, is history.”
In 2021, Jess was awarded an MBE for services to a triathlon – an honor that in many ways is yet to sink in.
“When it comes to the MBE my mind is still blown,” she added. “I sometimes look back to those dark times where my dyslexia and confidence hit an all-time low and I still find myself wondering if it’s all real.
Inspiring others to find their passion
“I think dyslexia is still so misunderstood, and it presents problems for young people trying to progress in life. Even as a professional sports person, it presented problems that I had to learn to overcome.
“At the top of any sport, you’re expected to interact and work with the media but with my dyslexia I struggled with this, and I’m only starting to feel comfortable. But it’s a continual process of personal development.
“I hope my story helps inspire others to find their passion and follow it. You never know where he will lead. I’m hoping over the coming years to play a role to actively help young people on their own journeys, but first my pot of gold is waiting for me in Birmingham [Jess is targeting qualification, the final two places have yet to be announced] and Paris [2024 Olympics] – so watch this space.”
Now one of the most celebrated British triathletes, Jess has her sights firmly set on taking the final women’s spot in Team England for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games this summer, before striking gold at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. To find out more about Jess’ progress follow her on Instagram @jesslearmonth.