Caring for my mum meant I couldn’t adopt
OLYMPIC athlete Fatima Whitbread had always planned to adopt a vulnerable child – having grown up in children’s homes herself.
The 59-year-old, who was abandoned as a baby and adopted by javelin coach Margaret Whitbread at the age of 14, had dreamt of giving a child the same second chance at a loving family that she had.
Now the medal winner reveals her hopes have been dashed after devoted mother Margaret was taken ill and Fatima has had to care for her.
Fatima, who has a 22-year-old son, Ryan, said: “Just over a year ago I backed an adoption campaign for Barnardo’s to encourage more people to take in vulnerable kids.
“I was considering adopting a child but there’s been a lot going on.”
Fatima, who can be seen on BBC’S Pilgrimage: The Road To Istanbul, continued: “Unfortunately, my mum hasn’t been well, so I’ve been looking after her for the past six months since I got back from filming Pilgrimage. She’s in a care home near me in Essex so I’ve been consumed by that. It’s been a stressful time.
“Mum is 80 and she has been suffering with anxiety and it’s created quite a lot of issues. Luckily I have my older and younger brother [Margaret’s biological sons] but they work so it has largely been on my shoulders to help my mum.
“The home she is in is lovely but the costs are so expensive.
“It’s crazy and the Government should readdress it. Our elderly have all put into the system and they are in the last stages of their life when they need help.
“They should be treated more kindly and with more financial backing.”
It is one of many challenges Fatima has had to endure in her life. In her book, Survivor: The Shocking And
Inspiring Story Of
A True Champion, she documents her struggle from when she was abandoned as a baby at the age of three months.
Born in Stoke Newington, north London, to a Turkish Cypriot mother and Greek Cypriot father, she spent much of her childhood in and out of children’s homes.
In a brief, disastrous stay with her birth mother she was raped by her mother’s drunken boyfriend – while her mother held a knife to her throat to “quieten her down”. Fatima was only 12.
Athletics was her saviour and athletics and javelin coach Margaret Whitbread took Fatima under her wing, eventually adopting her.
Fatima competed in three Olympic Games, winning bronze in 1984 in Los Angeles.
In 1986 she set a world javelin record of 77.44m and the next year in Rome became world champion.
As a result of her past Fatima says she still suffers from crippling anxiety.
“I have to work through it with prayer and meditation. Sport is a great leveller – it gets your endorphins going and it helps me greatly.”
However, she said: “My mum’s anxiety has gone through the roof over the last several months and it has created my own anxieties too.”
Fatima said taking part in Pilgrimage helped to alleviate her anxiety. Alongside Adrian Chiles, Edwina Currie, Pauline Mclynn, Dom Joly, Mim Shaikh and Amar Latif, she tackled the 1,200km Sultans Trail on a pilgrimage fromvienna to Istanbul.
“I love to walk and to be outdoors. It was so therapeutic,” she said.
Fatima said she has not been in a long-term relationship since her husband Andrew Norman died of a heart attack in 2007.
The Road To Istanbul, BBC Two, Good