A gold-medal winning athletics champion inspired pupils in Newcastle when she paid a visit to their school. Sprinter Joy Eze is from Walker and returned to home territory when she joined the children at St Aidan’s Catholic Primary School in Ashington, where she was also reunited with a familiar face from the past.
Headteacher Michael Moran taught the 19-year-old when she was a pupil at St Alban’s Catholic Primary School – and even played a minor role in the young athlete’s first sporting success.
“Joy was in my first class when I qualified as a teacher, so I taught her in Year 4 when she was seven and eight,” he recalled.
“She was obviously very talented and lightning quick. Her current coach, Mike Donelly, was headteacher at the school and picked this up straight away and encouraged her to join in with children much older.
“She ran for the under-11s in the city championships and qualified for the county finals through that. Mike would have taken her, but he was away at another competition, so I offered as she was in my class. It was in Hexham, and she won, despite being two or three years younger than the other runners.
“I’ve got a video of her running, and you can hear me shouting encouragement!”
Miss Eze met with 60 children from Years 5 and 6 at St Aidan’s, which, along with St Alban’s, is a member of the Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust.
“I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the pupils and welcomed their inquisitive questions,” she said. “We talked about my early life and how I managed my training. They also asked some excellent technical questions about how I was able to run quickly and how I handled pressure.
“I encouraged them to enjoy themselves in sport and to set small target steps to help improvements. Keeping fit and healthy is vital to maintain a balanced lifestyle.
“It is important to have self confidence and a drive to do your best, irrespective of what others do, but meeting people who have excelled helps us realise that they aren’t super humans, and learning their stories can help to motivate and inspire others.”
The track star had fond memories of her own school days.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my primary school, as we had a really good curriculum experience and were exposed to lots of different sporting and cultural experiences,” she continued.
“We were all encouraged to make the most of our talents and given lots of opportunities to experiment and to experience life skills. I get the feeling that St Aidan’s is striving to provide the pupils with the same positive learning environment.”
“My teachers have always supported and encouraged me,” she added. “I’ve never had any pressure applied on my performances, other than what I’ve put on myself. My coach, who was my headteacher, has always told me to have fun and entertain those who have come to watch.
“I remember Mr Moran as an excellent teacher and motivator. It is wonderful to see him as a headteacher helping to guide pupils on their learning journeys.”
Miss Eze’s sporting achievements include bronze and gold medals in the 2021 European Athletics U20 Championships, and she also won the British Universities 60m title in March this year, and became European U20 champion in the 100m in August.
“I really like the fact that someone I have taught has gone on to be so successful and has the potential to be so much more successful,” concluded Mr Moran. “It’s nice to think that the trip to Hexham may have played a minuscule part in her success.
“That’s what we strive to do here. If we can see any small aspect of talent, we try to give our pupils the chance to shine in whatever they’re good at. If we can play a tiny role in their journey, then I’m sure they’ll be coming to visit younger pupils in the same way in the future.”