I SUPPOSE the norm for most guys would have been that a Saturday was a football day or, at least, a football morning. But not for me. It never really played that big a part in my sporting life, even in Grangemouth. I did like playing in goal and funnily enough was quite agile and acrobatic.
But there were bigger boys and faster guys playing. And anyway, I had ambitions on being a gymnast from a very early age – 4 years-old to be exact, when I spoke to an old guy in his plumbers shop, Jim Bennie, who was a weightlifter and bodybuilder (and who last year appeared in a Channel 4 documentary Seventy with a Six Pack) and told him I wanted to be an acrobat.
Saturday as a youngster – even before I entered competitions – was a sporting day. I remember watching the wrestling at my grandad’s, on World of Sport with Big Daddy. But Grandstand was on the BBC and occasionally they’d have gymnastics from the Albert Hall.
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But that was a rarity, and usually saw some British guy (who was almost certain to be an Army PTI), finishing 17th. Gymnastics on TV was really saved for the Olympics, but then it was almost always the women they focused on and, again, almost entirely Eastern European. Not really what an aspiring male gymnast from central Scotland needed as a role model.
So my inspiration came from wanting to be a superhero, honestly. I was right in to Marvel comics, and when I read about their characters running and jumping and somersaulting, I wanted to do exactly the same. So I’d practise doing the back flips and cartwheels and all those moves. I'd practise running up the walls of a close, and bridging myself between the walls.
What I was doing would now be described as parkour but then it was called being a daft wee boy.
Although there are a lot of daft wee boys – and girls – around, even today. While I mentor older kids as part of my Sky Sports Active ambassador role, when I go to primary school they all still want to be ninjas more than gymnasts. But if that is their way into sport, I’m fine with it.
It’s about getting the kids involved.
At school, I’d love the end of term heading into the summer holidays, when we got to play pirates in the school gym; up ropes, across beams, over bars, big jumps, sitting at the top of climbing frames. Brilliant. I loved it, and was good at it. I think I’m still being chased!
But those days are gone; health and safety wouldn’t have it, unless the kids wore harnesses and hi-viz jackets.
Changed days. As a kid, for me it was about trying things without any supervision, although it was more doing things when no-one was watching. So you’d learn stunts and moves.
There was some heart in the mouth stuff along the way, and a few bumps and bangs when you got it a wee bit wrong.
I mean, the first time I ever did a full circle and dismount (which in reality was just a straight drop) on the high bar, I was in the back garden of one of my pals. Seriously, he had a high bar outside in his garden. He also had an old mattress off a bed as a safety mat. High tech, state-of-the-art stuff. But I was learning, and enjoying it.
Not conventional, but what was conventional about dressing in a leotard in Grangemouth?
The gymnastics took care of most Saturdays – and Sundays – for me as I grew up. Serious competition, internationals, club events. But still, you couldn’t really say that gymnastics was a big TV sport. I should be grateful that at least the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 was televised, when I won my gold medal.
That was 15 years ago, and now I’m back on TV competing on Ninja Warrior UK.
I know, I should be retired and growing old gracefully. But when the researcher from the show rang me up to see if I’d be interested and said they were looking for a Scottish competitor, I was their man.
It isn’t as if I’d been sitting about kicking my heels. But the chance to do something like this, a bit of competition and a bit of fun, was too good to be passed up.
I gave myself three weeks to get fit – I know, I haven’t exactly let myself go over the years – but I needed a bit of sharpening up. But it has been great fun.
But when you break it down, it’s all about coordination, balance, strength; it is parkour more than anything – and great Saturday evening entertainment.
Who’d have thought running up close walls as a child would have got me on telly in my 40s!