Jonnie Peacock’s astonishing journey from battling meningitis to Paralympic hero

Jonnie Peacock breaks down after learning about family history

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Jonnie Peacock burst onto the scene at London 2012 as a relatively unknown teenager who had finished fifth in the world championships the summer before.  Then just 19, he was carried home by the roar of the London crowd, breaking the Paralympic record in a time of 10.90 seconds. He did it again at Rio 2016, this time winning the T44 100m in 10.81 seconds. Now he’s back for more.

When lockdown saw sporting facilities and the postponement of the Paralympics, he thought his Tokyo dream was over.

He told The Mirror: “I had a knee operation and was just returning to running and needed a level surface.

“Training on a road or the grass was no good.

“Let’s just say I had to jump a couple of fences.”

Jonnie, born in Cambridge in 1993, has had a remarkable journey to the very top of his sport.

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When he was only five years old, he contracted meningitis.

The disease killed the tissues in his right leg, which was amputated below the knee in a life-saving operation.

His mother Linda Roberts had to explain to five-year-old Jonnie that medics would be removing his leg, “but they’ll give you a new one Jonnie”.

She told The Telegraph in 2012 of Jonnie’s response to the news.

He asked: “So, please can I run at school sports day next summer?”

A doctor had previously warned Linda that Jonnie’s chances of survival were incredibly slim, as she recalled the day in October 1998 when she had to carry her son into casualty with an awful rash caused by meningitis.

The doctor had told her to say her goodbyes.

She said: “I said no, I wasn’t going to let him go.

“They were putting him in an induced coma when he very weakly said ‘Ow’. So I told him, ‘Go on, you fight them, I love you.’”

Jonnie fought and survived, but had his leg amputated six weeks later.

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He always refused a wheelchair – and his mum would carry him to the bus stop when his short stump became too sore to wear his prosthetic leg. 

It was her son’s remarkable courage that helped the family return to normality.

She said: “Two weeks after coming home from the amputation, I caught him climbing up the outside of the stairs, via the bannister, with just a bandage on his stump.

“For him, not being able to play with his friends would have been far more painful than anything like having to put his leg on blistered raw skin to go out.”

She added: “You couldn’t stop him climbing trees.”

Of course, he did run at his school sports day. His mum recalled there wasn’t a “dry eye on the field” as he kept pace with his friends.

Jonnie had never planned to be a sprinter, instead hoped to join a football team, and his hospital pointed him towards a Paralympic talent day.

He told The Guardian: “I just love sprinting because it’s so raw. Literally from here to here, how fast can you go?

“You don’t pace yourself, just go nuts. Pure speed: I love it.”

Since his first international race in 2012, the same year he won Paralympic gold, his success has skyrocketed on and off the track.

Jonnie appeared as a contestant on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2017. Partnered with Oti Mabuse, they were the eighth couple to be eliminated.

Jonnie goes into Tokyo with genuine rivals this time in the T64 100m, the final is at 12:43pm on Monday 30 August. German Felix Streng is coached by Steve Fudge, who guided Jonnie to Rio gold. 

Ranked number one in the world, Felix has “run multiple 10.6s this year, he’s run six races quicker than anyone else in the world this year”, Jonnie told The Independent.

The expectation back home doesn’t phase Jonnie, he knows what he has achieved in the past and what he is capable of.

His dream is to run below 10.5 seconds.

He finished with a final bit of fighting talk: “I think there are three people capable of running that time and I’d put myself right in the mix.”

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