Just weeks before the Beijing Olympics, 22-year-old British heptathlon star, Jessica Ennis, one of our hopes for a medal, received the news that she cannot compete, having fractured her ankle in competition. Jessica’s disappointment and her courageous response to the dreadful blow form the theme of this assembly


Picture of Jessica Ennis (plenty on google images and on her website)

Have you ever had a sudden disappointment? Let me give you some examples of what I mean. You’re going to have a special outing that you’ve been looking forward to and suddenly it’s cancelled. Hands up for that? [Take some stories of this and the other examples]

You buy yourself something special and it’s not nearly as good as you thought it was going to be.

You’re expecting a special visitor and they don’t turn up.

You were hoping to get a good result in a game or a competition and you do badly, instead.

Any others?

Today we’re going to hear about a young woman who’s had a terrible disappointment. She’s been working to achieve her dream, and, suddenly, she’s found that she can’t do it, after all.

Jessica Ennis is an athlete. In fact she’s one of the best athletes in the country. Her event is the heptathlon. Do you know what that is? It’s actually seven events in one. In a women’s heptathlon competition, the athlete does seven events, and the results for each of them are all added together to find the winner.

As you can imagine, it’s very difficult. The athlete can’t just be a strong runner, or a powerful thrower. She has to have all the qualities for all the events, which are: 100 metres hurdles, 200 metres race, 800 metres race, javelin throw, shot put, high-jump and long-jump. Makes you tired just to read the list, doesn’t it?

Jessica is totally dedicated to her sport. Once she’d finished at university last year, she didn’t get a job, but began to be a full-time athlete. Her coach, Tony Minichiello, did a similar thing, by giving up his office job to be a full-time coach.

There’s one other important person in her story. Jessica’s grandad, Rod Powell, has always supported her. When she was very young, he would give her a pound, if she won. ‘She got so good, I was going bankrupt’, he says. His support has always been important to her.

Her dream, and the reason she and her coach gave up everything else, was to compete for Britain, in the Beijing Olympics, this summer. She knew she’d have to do better than her best to get a medal, but she was determined to do it.

Then disaster. In a competition in Austria, a week or so ago, she hurt her ankle. An X-ray showed it to be broken and the doctors had to tell her that she wouldn’t be able to compete in the games.

What dreadful news.

Do you think she cried and felt that all her life was in ruins? Of course she did. But the measure of a great competitor is how they go on to handle the big disappointments like that. After a while she was able to say, ‘It is is very upsetting, but injury is part of the life of a heptathlete. But I intend to make a full recovery and enjoy a long career in the sport.’

Of course, at twenty-two, she really does still have a long career ahead of her. By the time of the London Olympics, she’ll still be only twenty-six. The greatest of all heptathletes, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, of the USA, won her first heptathlon gold in the Seoul Olympics of 1988, at the age of twenty-six, and then another at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when she was thirty. So Jessica has time on her side.

Tony Minichiello, Jessica’s coach, posted a message on Jessica’s website, that sums up the way they’re dealing with the problem. He mentions all the messages they’ve had and says, ‘Out of people’s good wishes, a common theme has been expressed, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. And, on this occasion, nobody died.’


Big disappointments knock you down. But do you remember the song that went, ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again…’? Even if you don’t know the song, you get the idea. Everybody can understand it when someone is knocked down by disappointment. Everyone’s heart went out to Jessica, all keyed-up for Beijing, and now having to stay home and watch it on the TV, full of thoughts of what might have been.

But what’s important is not to stay down, but to get up again. As you go through life, it’s certain you’ll find a whole mixture of experiences. There’ll be times of great joy and there’ll also be times of great sadness and disappointment. Maybe the disappointments will be caused by things you can’t control.

But what you can control is how you deal with your disappointments.Yes, it’s OK to cry. It’s OK to get angry and say, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ And I expect Jessica reacted just like that.

What really shows your courage and character though, is your determination not to keep going on about the problem, but to sit and think what to do next. Already, Jessica and coach Tony are saying things about the future. I have no doubt that, even now, they’re planning how to keep fit during her recovery time.

That’ll keep her busy, and then she’ll start looking forward to next season, by which time London 2012 will only be three seasons away.

Finally, we’ve mentioned Jacky Joyner-Kersee. She eventually retired from athletics at the age of thirty-eight, but she immediately began a new career working to help young people.

The words she used, when she retired, are an encouragement to anyone who hits an unexpected problem. ‘It’s better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.’


Lord, strengthen us so that we can take our disappointments and learn from them. Stay with us when we’re knocked down, help us up and be with us as we go forward.


The passing of time irons out all the bumps and snags in our lives.

Further information

  • Jessica’s website
  • Facts about the heptathlon

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2008

About the author: Gerald Haigh