Question Time: Richard Fidler chats to Sheila Sherwood

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Sheila Sherwood is a long jump Olympic silver medallist from the 1968 Games in Mexico, as well as an MBE. She now organises and referees junior tennis match plays and tournaments at Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre, Sheffield’s most visited tennis centre and home to more than 300,000 visitors per year, where her son, David, is also a coach.

Q: What have you been doing today?

A: I have been answering e-mails and text messages received about the tennis events I organise and referee at Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre.

Q: Who is your inspiration and why?

A: My ex PE teacher, Shirley Headley, recognised my ability and supported me as a young athlete, and then later as an international athlete. She spent so many unpaid hours supporting and encouraging me. I hope I am now helping youngsters to follow and live their dreams, albeit in a different sport.

Q: Which sports star did you admire when you were growing up?

A: I admired Judy Grinham, the Olympic swimming medallist, who was featured in a much treasured girls sports annual in the 1960s. I still have a copy.

Q: What’s your favourite other sport?

A: I like most sports but watch a lot of junior tennis and enjoy watching the young players’ progress.

Q: Who is your most famous person in your phone?

A: Ann Brightwell, Olympic Gold medallist in 1964, and her husband Robbie, who was a bronze Olympic medallist in the same year.

Q: When was the last time you cried?

A: Last time I cried with laughter was recently with a friend, spending a few minutes socially together. The last time I cried in sorrow was when my best friend, Shirley Headley, died in 2009.

Q: Who or what are you most proud of?

A: I am proud of several things: my daughter Nicola for gaining the family’s first BSc degree and her ongoing hard work as a dedicated schoolteacher. My son David for his achievements in tennis and his professionalism and hard work in coaching tennis. Mine and my husband John’s Olympic, European and Commonwealth athletic medals, and our MBEs awarded way back in 1975 for services to sport.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

A: “Treat people as you find them and how they are with you, not what stories you hear from others,” which was one of many pieces of advice given to me by my father over the years.

Q: When did you know you were good at what you do?

A: I’m still learning and trying hard. To me, the events I organise and referee are an extension of 40 years teaching PE. I enjoy what I do but I suppose it’s up to others to judge whether I’m good at it or not. I do my best. 

What one item do you take with you wherever you go?

My husband!

Q: What is the most nervous you’ve ever been?

A: In 1962, as a 16-year-old representing GB in the European Athletic Championships in Belgrade.

Q: Do you ever doubt yourself?

A: Not sure whether I doubt myself, more of thinking before I do things.

Q: What is your view on social networks like Twitter and Facebook?

A: I think to keep in touch with friends and family you don’t see regularly, for free, is brilliant. But, why people want to tell the world what they are doing every minute of every day is beyond me. How do they find the time? Their lives are surely lacking something - friends/companions/work who they can spend quality time with.

Q: How do you relax away from sport?

A: Time with family and friends. Gardening. Catching up with TV programmes.

Q: Where was your last holiday – and would you go again?

A: My last holiday was in 2008. I went to a friend’s apartment on the Costa Del Sol - I definitely be going again.

Q: What was the last book you read?

A: I cannot remember the last time I read a book from beginning to end. I never seem to have time; or should I say, prefer to do other things.

Q: What’s your favourite TV programme?

A: I like several programmes but I do watch the news every day.