Distance vision: from opticians to Olympics
Tracking Tracey Morris as she prepares to make the most of her surprise selection for the British Olympic marathon team.
Do we take distant dreams seriously enough in career guidance interviews? Most of us, for example, would feel perfectly comfortable talking a client through the pros and cons of training to be an optometrist. But how many of us could offer any guidance on how to win a place in the British athletics team to run at the Olympic Games? Would we simply dismiss such a notion as idle fantasy? If not, where would we turn for information and advice?
For Tracey Morris, a previously unknown fun-runner working as a contact lens specialist in Leeds, the dream has become a reality following her astonishing performance in the 2004 London Marathon.
Within 24 hours of crossing the finishing line as the first British woman home, in a time of 2 hours 33 minutes and 52 seconds, Tracey received confirmation that she had been selected to run in Athens alongside Paula Radcliffe and Liz Yelling. She was then handed £4,000 by race organisers for her training expenses, and told that she could have time off work to prepare for the Olympics. This will allow her to train in the warmer climate of Cyprus, tended by nutritionists and physiotherapists, ahead of this summer's Games.
"All my training so far has been done before and after work," says Tracey. "I will have to see what happens now in terms of my preparations for the Olympics. I have long had an interest in sport in terms of the Olympics, but I never felt I would be there. You are always in awe of those people taking part. The people at the Olympic Games are the elite athletes."
"It still seems like this has happened to someone else," she adds. "I don't think it will sink in for a while."
Brief biography of an Olympic athlete
Tracey-Anne Jones was born in September 1967 in Anglesey, North Wales. One of four children, she has a twin brother, Anthony, an older sister, Debbie and a younger sister, Sarah. Her parents, Gwilym and Pamela, are now divorced.
She represented Wales as a schoolgirl, running 1,500 metres and cross-country races, at a time when her sporting hero was British world record-holder Sebastian Coe. But her appetite for athletics faded when she moved to Bradford University to study optometry. The social side of student life clearly had greater appeal than regular training.
Tracey stayed on in West Yorkshire after graduating and met her future husband - Paul Morris, head of PE at Leeds Grammar School - when he came into her opticians' shop to buy a pair of glasses.
"You could say that she looked into my eyes and that was the start of the romance," he jokes.
The couple married five years ago but have had to change their lives in the few months since Tracey started to become more serious about her marathon running. She has been rising at 5.30 am, pounding the streets of Leeds as she took a circuitous ten-mile trip to work. She has also changed her diet, eating lots of carbohydrates to fuel her gruelling training regime. There has been no training, however, on a Saturday because that is the busiest day of the week in her workplace at the Leeds branch of Dollond and Aitchison.
A lesson for others
According to Dave Bedford, race director of the London Marathon and himself the former world 10,000 metres record-holder, Tracey is "a classic example of how you can fulfil your physical potential. She is a lesson for others, showing how with serious application you can improve your times."
When she last took part in the race - as a jogger in 1999 - she was running only 15 to 20 miles a week. Her time then was 3 hours 39 minutes and 21 seconds. In the ten weeks leading up to this year's event, she was running up to 86 miles a week and combining road work with interval training on the track. As a result, in the cold and very wet conditions of April 2004, she knocked more than an hour off her previous time.
"Tracey has made fantastic progress," adds Dave Bedford, "but it will now be much more difficult for her to get another ten minutes off her time. The worst thing for her now would be to get injured. She should not increase her mileage because she could break down. She needs to stay healthy."
We all wish Tracey well in Athens...and hope that her dedication will rub off on future generations of aspiring Olympic athletes.