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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2005, 08:32 GMT 09:32 UK
Kelly's boot camp
By Mark Ashenden

Kelly Holmes helps our man on the assault course
A 2012 Olympics medal prospect?
The laugh could have come from any Hammer House of Horrors movie and it followed the tender words: "Welcome to my army challenge day."

The owner of the laugh and twinkle in their eye? None other than Dame Kelly Holmes.

The definition in the strange laugh dictionary would read: "Prepare for pain, pain and more pain."

And Holmes knows a thing or two about pain.

A series of injuries saw her agonisingly miss out on a number of potential medals, until of course those ghosts were laid to rest at the Athens Olympics last year.

On the latest leg of the Norwich Union Camp Kelly initiative - she is mentoring a group of aspiring female middle-distance runners - a select group of "athletic machines" were invited to the place where in 1986 she began honing her physical and mental skills.

All seemed tranquil as BBC Sport's lowly-ranked Private Guinea Pig approached Pirbright Barracks in Surrey, just two weeks after agreeing to a "gentle work-out" on the assault course with an Olympic superstar.

The distant sound of gunfire at the security gate and the sight of a bunch of anxious new recruits sporting newly shaven scalps was unsettling, but the nerves held firm.

Until, that is, Kelly's welcoming speech.

Aged 18, she turned her back on athletics - albeit temporarily - to start training at this very camp and, donning her combat trousers and gleaming black boots, she looked intent on giving us a sharp lesson.

She called it "character building".

Our man catches his breath at the end of the assault course

As we laced up our boots and squeezed into the army suits, Holmes reminded us what more than nine years of hard graft in the army had taught her.

"It's all about looking at the determination you need to be an athlete," she said.

"When I joined I wanted to be an Olympic champion, but I wanted to have a life and learn some skills, grow up and become somebody."

With the army instructor's voice ringing in my ears, the assault course beckoned.

I was not just looking to complete it, I wanted to conquer it, to prove to my colleagues - maybe the world - that training as a top athlete was a doddle.

Adrenaline neared boiling point, the boots looked good. There was a slight concern with the fabric in the groin region, but I was ready for action.

Little did I know that applying facial make-up would be my first major problem. Did brown camouflage cream go best with the green? Too much choice and I was late for the drills.

Not since school have my ears endured "Ashenden, listen to me or...", followed by any number of possibilities including detention, rulers, even confiscation of my conkers.

If you are going to be a champion you've probably already got it within you
Dame Kelly Holmes

My face paint was still wet and already I was hearing these words.

The start was a gentle one - we were told they didn't want to "break us". It was, of course, the calm before the storm, but we didn't know that yet.

A steady warm-up, hurdling barriers and the rope swing. Oh, such fond memories of the rope.

Swinging across four foot of water should have been easy, very easy. It was, but two things failed to help my cause.

First, the name Tarzan was not on my birth certificate. And second, my hands failed to understand the simple concept of letting go.

Classic comedy capers ensued and more ear bashing for the newly crowned King of the Swingers.

The phrase "mental strength" is constantly used in sport.

It is easy to be blasé about such clichés, but scrambling over a brick wall at the end of 10 minutes of gut-busting exercise and hearing "Right you horrible lot, now do it again" proved an unbelievable test of character.

Oh yes, character building. That was it...our mission...don't you remember?

Not to mention the sudden realisation that I was one false move away from getting a glimpse of my breakfast again and my old friend Barry the Blister had just popped up on my palm to pass on his good wishes.

My legs had turned to stone, my inner demons were screaming "stop right now, you idiot" and I just wanted to collapse on the spot, curl up under the nearest tree and request the presence of my mummy.

This was not your average school PE lesson. This was genuine pain, agonising pain.

And that is the difference between mediocrity and winning medals.

Kelly Holmes congratulates our man
A welcome distraction at the end
It is all about what you have between the ears. It is the ones with the "head for it". As Holmes told us in preparation, you have to be "totally focused and ready to get through it no matter what".

More agony followed. Crawling under barbed wire, heaving oversized colleagues over 15ft brick walls, press-ups for being too slow, bashing knees on metal barriers.

We were left bruised, beaten and battered, and as we stood wobbling at the finish, gasping for air like goldfish out of water, we looked up to see Holmes flying over the remaining obstacles like a 14-year-old.

"I really enjoyed that," she announced.

"If you are going to be a champion you've probably already got it within you," she added comfortingly.

Any dream in life, in sport or otherwise, the question needs to be asked. "How much do you really, really want something?"

Kelly Holmes knew the answer nearly 20 years ago, but only now is she truly reaping the rewards.




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