In the shadow of talent: A Family Affair

GROWING UP WITH HIS OLDER SISTER ZOE, IAIN JONES OFTEN FELT LEFT OUT AS HIS MOTHER, CHRIS, PUT MUCH OF THE FAMILY'S TIME AND RESOURCES INTO DEVELOPING HIS SISTER'S CAREER AS A SKATER. IT STILL RANKLES

When Zoe Jones was just six years old her parents discovered she had a rare talent for skating. Chris Jones, 38, is an administrator in a Swindon Call Centre. She has two children, Zoe, 18 and Iain, 16. Zoe showed her talent for skating from the first time she took to the ice. Mother and son talk about how the family has revolved around her training ever since, and how Iain has sometimes felt overlooked.

Chris

It all started when the new sports centre was built in the centre of Swindon. When Zoe was six and Iain was four we took them both down there one wet weekend. We only went to have a look to see what was on offer, but when we discovered there was an ice rink the kids got really excited.

When Zoe first saw the ice she was totally transfixed. She begged us to let her have a go, so we hired skates for both the children. Iain absolutely hated it. But for Zoe it was like a love affair. The next weekend she asked to go again and I signed her up for lessons. It just grew from there. I knew it was going to be more than a passing phase when she entered a big competition in Blackpool at age eight and walked off with the top prize out of 80 children.

When Zoe was 10 she won the novice championships and landed a place on the Olympic Squad. That was when the training started in earnest. She practised every day from six until eight in the morning. That meant dragging myself out of bed in the morning, and taking Iain along too. I felt that I had to put all my energy into supporting this child's talent. I don't think I stopped to think what effect it might be having on Iain. My top priority was to make sure Zoe could get to the top in her chosen sport.

When you have a child with a talent it takes over your whole life. It had a huge effect on the other members of the family because everything revolves around one person. I don't think I'm a "pushy parent" but I did feel very strongly that Zoe had something special, and that I was duty bound to make sure she could take it as far as she wanted to.

The financial pressure was horrendous. Once we realised that skating was really becoming Zoe's whole life, we knew we couldn't just pull the plug on the money. In the early days I had to literally work day and night to pay for her training. I feel bad that Iain probably lost out in lots of ways, but at the time I had to do what I felt was right. I would have supported him if he had wanted to do a particular sport, but I was grateful he didn't.

I am incredibly proud of what Zoe has achieved but it has been an uphill struggle for all of us. Skating completely disrupted our family life. We could never go away on a whim for a weekend, for example, because she had to turn up for training every Sunday. Our family routine was governed by Zoe. I had to cook special high protein food for her - I couldn't just knock up burgers and chips because she had a very strict diet. I was vicious about making sure she got enough sleep. That meant everyone had to creep around the house at night so as not to wake her. There was a pervasive feeling in the household that here was a star in the making and I made sure everything worked in Zoe's favour. I never felt I was neglecting Iain, but, with hindsight, I can see it must have been hard for him to come to terms with all the attention, money and time being lavished on Zoe, and not on him.

Iain

When I was little I always felt I was second best to Zoe. I think kids should all get equal amounts of attention when they're growing up, but I definitely don't feel I got the same amount as Zoe.

It definitely affected my personality too. When I was little I was always doing really stupid things and showing off, just to get some attention. I also realised very early on that I was going to have to make sacrifices for Zoe's career. When I was four I remember being woken up and told to get dressed because I had to go with Zoe and mum to the ice rink where Zoe was training. I used to hate having to get up at six when I could have stayed asleep for longer.

I do love my sister and in some ways I feel torn in two. I'm really proud of Zoe, but I also really resent the time and money that was spent on her when we were growing up.

I also feel a tremendous sense of regret that perhaps if I had tried harder when I was younger to do a particular sport, I might be happier now. If Zoe hadn't been so talented I think I would have been more competitive but, because she was so brilliant at her chosen sport, I thought there was no point in trying very hard at anything because I could never be as good as her. No matter what I did, I never felt I could impress my mum, and I never ever felt I could be as good as Zoe.

All the time Zoe was getting better and better at skating I began to feel left behind. Skating seemed to totally take over our lives. Even now that Zoe has left home, when she comes back to visit the whole family conversation is about skating. It really gets on my nerves.

When we were younger everything used to revolve around Zoe and where she was going. We used to have to uproot to see her in competitions. We could never have normal family weekends because Zoe had to be taken to lessons.

In the evening I used to want to relax and watch TV in my bedroom. But even that was stopped, because mum said Zoe needed her sleep. I remember mum coming into my room and whispering to turn the TV off and come downstairs. It seemed that I couldn't have a life of my own because everything I did was affected by my older sister.

It wasn't mum's fault. She was only doing what she felt was right for Zoe. She often tried to encourage me to take up different sports but I always felt she was quite relieved that I never stuck at anything. I do feel that if Zoe hadn't been around, maybe I would have been more enthusiastic about sport. But I think she sapped my competitive spirit. I never felt I could possibly achieve what she had.

I do feel envious when I hear about her life. She travels all over the world and I feel I am stuck in Swindon. I suppose you could say I am jealous of her life. She skates for a living and really loves it, and sometimes I feel I wish I had had her opportunities.

Interviews by Liz Bestic

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