Perri Shakes-Drayton: London's local girl happy to cause a stir in Tesco

400m hurdler is fine that fame is creeping up on her as she aims to star in the Games on her doorstep, she tells Jack Pitt-Brooke

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The Independent Online

Even in a global event, local knowledge plays a role. Perri Shakes-Drayton, raised in Bow, educated in Stepney, and training at Mile End, hopes to race to Olympic glory in the 400 metre hurdles this summer. So rooted in the area so close to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, Shakes-Drayton is thrilled by the chance to make history in her own corner of east London.

"It's a good thing," Shakes-Drayton told The Independent about the growth of the impressive new stadium. "I see it, I go past it nearly every day, it's inspirational to see it there, and it's good for my area, it's developing and coming on well. So it's a good thing, and I'm glad that it's come, of all places in London, to east London."

Of course, competing in an Olympics requires no extra motivation, but 23-year-old Shakes-Drayton is obviously excited by the transformation of her local area by the Games. "It does give me an extra buzz," she said at the Mile End Park Stadium, where she trains. "I'm seeing that the place is changing a lot. It's exciting, I just want to be part of it."

Shakes-Drayton is also thrilled, as well as confident and relaxed, about her likely role as a local figurehead for Team GB. "There will be a good story to tell, and I see no harm in that," she says. "And a lot of youngsters I know look up to me. A lot of people see me as inspirational, as a role model. It will be a good thing, it's not pressure. I'm seen as a positive, that's how you want to be seen, there's nothing wrong with being seen as a positive individual."

It is clear that, while national and international fame is surely on its way, she is already well known in her locality of which she is so proud. "I'm quite a familiar face around the area," she admitted. "I've been on London Transport, I've been in Tesco and people stop me and say 'are you that runner girl, Shakes-Drayton?' and I'm like 'yeah that's me'."

An irritating invasion of her privacy? Far from it; Shakes-Drayton sees it as more of a reward. "It's nice to be recognised," she says. "If I'm running well, it will probably come with that, and I'm ready for that and I see no harm in it. And I actually like it, really."

Rather than escaping local attentions, Shakes-Drayton is keen to continue training in Mile End, where she has been for more than 10 years. "Since I started out at the age of 12 this has been my track," she says of the facilities she is proud to call her own. "It's the closest track to me. I always wanted to stay close to home."

There are other, better-equipped options that Shakes-Drayton could frequent, but doesn't: "Obviously I have the facility at Lee Valley, where you go for physio, or a massage or anything, or ice bath facilities. I can go there."

But there are more important things than modernity for a hard-working athlete. "I've got what I need here at this track. When I go to any other track across the country I appreciate it more. Because it's like 'OK, there's a track and the track is faster, the facilities are better'. But training to me is not a pretty thing. This is what Mile End represents, and I love it."

Hard work is no stranger to Shakes-Drayton, who has mixed her athletics career with earning a degree in sports science, the one thing that has drawn her away from her beloved east London. "I've kept everything local," she said, "except that I went to Brunel University, that was for a change of scene, and obviously they have a good reputation for sports science."

A difficult balance was well-managed: "I graduated uni with a 2:1, which I thought I wouldn't be able to do, and on the plus side I was still competing on a world stage. At uni I still became a double-bronze medallist [at the 2010 European Championship]. But now I'm a full-time athlete and I'm concentrating. I can probably go even further, because I can invest the proper time, recover better and eat well."

With this balance, Shakes-Drayton can now fully focus on a medal this summer. She came seventh in her semi-final at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, and last year in the Daegu World Championships she missed out on the final by one-hundredth of a second.

"Yes it was disappointing for me. But I've gone back, reflected, talked about it with my coach. We want to work on it, hopefully I won't miss out again," she says. "Next time I just want to make it comfortably: not just making it."

Appearing in the latest Nike campaign, Perri Shakes-Drayton has made her pledge for this year. Make yours and join the movement #makeitcount. Watch the video here.