To celebrate Father’s Day, we spoke to British Gymnastics Foundation trustee and father of Britain’s greatest ever women’s artistic gymnast, Jerry Tweddle.
Beth Tweddle MBE is a 17-time major championship medal winner and earlier this year we were delighted to announce Beth as an ambassador for our Hardship Grants Programme. Learn more about the programme.
Father’s Day seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Jerry for an exclusive insight about Beth when she was growing up as well as both of their involvement in our charity.
Jerry, tell us about Beth as a young girl. Did you always know she was destined to achieve big things?
“She was very energetic and always upside down as a child, she just went to try gymnastics. She started walking at 10 months old, but she was so small, people used to say, ‘that child isn’t old enough to be walking!’. She tried all sorts of different activities like ballet and went to the gym club with some friends in the village when she was seven.
“It was at her first competition that the light switch turned on. She just loved competing. We never realised that she would become as successful as she has been. She was just always very enthusiastic about it.
“It was one step at a time, like getting into the North-West squad; we never twigged that she was going to be world champion. Beth won the odd apparatus title but never won the British junior championship. She only really came to the top when she was a senior, so we never expected it.
“Beth always says it’s all about hard work. She failed a few times, had many setbacks along the way but if she had a bad competition she put it behind her immediately. That’s the great thing about Beth, she never dwells on things. She’s always looking forward. She never missed a session. She was always wanted to be first there and last out.”
How much time and dedication went into Beth’s gymnastics?
“Beth was at school in Chester, so every night she would either get a lift with another gymnast to Liverpool or taxi ride from Chester to Liverpool, then we would pick her up in the evening.
“It sounds a pain, but it meant that we’d got our daughter in the car to talk to coming and going. You get a lot of one-to-one time with your child doing that. Everyone says it’s a sacrifice but we never saw it that way. It was fun and as a parent, it’s just what you do.
“The only problems came when it clashed with what our son was doing. Weekends where both children were competing, my wife and I would have to separate and each take one.
“We do love sport – neither of us (my wife and I) are competitive but everything was driven by sport – that’s how the kids were brought up.”
How did you feel when Beth went to the Olympics and won medals at major championships?
“Winning the Olympic medal, I think the greatest feeling was relief. She’d finished 4th in Beijing and decided to give it one more go. She committed 4 more years of her life. She had also won world titles in the build up to the Games so things were going well, but if she’d come 4th again, it would have felt like ‘why did I dedicate four years for that?’.
“We can’t go to a restaurant with Beth now without people coming to ask for autographs. We’re as proud of her for what she does now and how she does it, and what she’s putting back into gymnastics as we are with the medals.
“Gymnastics is her life and everything she does is driven around that sport – helping youngsters to have a go. She is more interested in getting kids to be involved than in the next Olympics.”
Beth is now an ambassador for our Hardship Grants Programme. Why do you think it’s such a good fit for Beth?
“There is a match with Beth’s interests as she wants everyone to try out gymnastics. Even if they go onto other sports, she sees the value in the discipline and the relationship with their coach. If kids can’t do it because of a financial situation, it’s very frustrating.
“The thought of a child not being able to do gymnastics because their parents are going through hard times is what drives her and Beth won’t do something half-heartedly.”
For you personally, why did you choose to be a trustee for the British Gymnastics Foundation?
“It’s because Ann and I have had 25 years of getting an awful lot out of gymnastics. It’s been a joy to us. We’ve hardly missed an event and still go to the Worlds and Europeans. We’ve got so much out of it, so I feel this is a small way to give something back to a very worthwhile charity.”
Finally, how pleased are you to be involved in a charity making a difference through gymnastics?
“I’m very pleased, especially because we started from nothing, just an enthusiastic bunch! But we have achieved a lot in terms of putting the charity on the map, helping a lot of kids already, and the dementia programme is making such strides. It is making a difference and we can see that.
“I can see something happening in quite a big way. We have some challenges but we know we can make a difference.”