From a very modest snowboarding debut to writing her name in the history books as Britain’s first Winter Olympic medallist on snow this year, Jenny Jones has some story to tell.
The 34-year-old’s first taste of the sport she brought to the British public’s attention at the 2014 Sochi Games in February was in a free 30-minute lesson with her brothers in Somerset, which by her own admission was a less than promising start.
“I was terrible!” she laughed, speaking freely in a Q&A session to a captivated audience at last weekend’s Telegraph-sponsored Ski and Snowboard Show North at EventCity in Manchester.
“My brothers were better than me, and I was really infuriated by that! So I carried on having a few lessons.”
The hard work that started from there paid off at Sochi. Jones revelled at the party that was slopestyle’s Olympic debut to bring home bronze and she isn’t done with inspiring a generation of future athletes yet.
Jones had a motivational and uplifting message for youngsters hanging on her every word in EventCity.
Her passion for the sport and her enthusiasm was abundantly clear as she recounted her story with a smile, self-deprecatory quips about her age and height, and how her pursuit of happiness came before success.
“Young people have got to enjoy what they’re doing,” she said.
“I’ve answered a lot of questionnaires about ‘what makes a medallist’ and it’s really interesting to see now that they’re discovering that it’s very important to make kids try lots of different sports when they’re young.
“It’s important not to specialise in one specific sport, so they learn all the different aspects of strength, agility, balance – whether it’s from snowboarding, gymnastics or football.
“Young people just need to keep enjoying whatever it is they’re doing.”
Jones’ love for sport in general grew into a passion for snowboarding when she forgot about her trivial sibling rivalry by taking on more lessons before embarking on a college ski trip to the Italian Alps, followed by a stint as a chalet maid.
“That’s when I really learned to jump and go off things and fall over. After that I spent my first season serving at a ski resort in Tignes.
“I was a chalet maid at Chalet Chardons,” she giggled, knowing what was coming. “People would constantly steal the ‘c’!”
Through working a series of part-time jobs – including inspecting cardboard in a factory and teaching fencing to children – she was able to fund her passion.
Growing sponsorship gradually meant she had to work less, but the absence of a coach was an obstacle she still had to overcome.
“I didn’t actually have a coach for the first seven or eight years, so I’d watch people,” she said.
“I’d bug them and ask, Ah, how’d you do that?
“I’d make mistakes and I’d video myself and I’d watch it back and that was all the way through until I’d won that first X-Games gold.”
More X-Games gold followed (three in all: 2009 and 2010 in Aspen, 2011 in Tignes) and she hired a coach in Hamish McKnight, now head coach of the British Freestyle Snowboard Team.
With that her profile grew. As she became a bigger name in the world of snow sports, more opportunities were presented to her, including the chance for Olympic success.
Jones’ preferred event is the slopestyle, a downhill event in which riders are rewarded for performing the most difficult tricks while getting the highest altitude from jumps.
She was previously offered a place in the Olympics on the strength of her half-pipe ability – a chance she turned down.
Her rejection of this opportunity reaffirms how her genuine love for the sport has been the driving force throughout her career.
“Two Olympics ago I was asked, ‘Would you like to try half-pipe and then you can go to the Games?’” she recalled.
“I toyed with the idea, but however much of a good experience it would have been, if it’s not the thing that I love the most, I really am not going to do that well in it.
“So I chose to stay with what I really enjoyed and that was slopestyle in the X-Games.”
Ultimately she chose her own happiness over an early chance to become a household name – yet another Jones lesson for any aspiring youngster.
Main image courtesy of BBC via YouTube, with thanks.