Athlete Mentor Neil Danns interviewed by Stretford Grammar School

Mon 18th Feb '13

neil danns stretford

Neil Danns was interviewed by Stretford Grammar School pupil Oliver Johnson on one of his visits as part of his month of teaching students the importance of 'the hunger to achieve'. 

How did it feel going from skateboarding in the streets to being the UK’s best skateboarder?

Neil: It was a strange feeling because I never expected to become British Champion, I just knew that it was a sport I enjoyed and I wanted to be the best that I could be at that sport. When I realised I had the potential to be one of the best, that was when I really dedicated and set goals for myself in order to become the best skateboarder I could possibly be.

Were you treated any differently after your success?

Neil: Definitely, straight away. People are in awe of you and when you turn up at a skate park they expect you to do all the tricks they’ve seen you do in magazines. People want your autograph which makes you feel proud of your achievements.  Big companies like Vans or Gotcha came forward saying they were interested in sponsoring me and were prepared to pay me a salary to ride in their clothes or shoes or to use their skateboards.

Did you get a lot of support from your family? Did they want you to pursue your skate boarding career?

Neil: Absolutely, I come from a family of five boys and one girl and they have always supported me. I’ve got three older brothers who are very talented, one was on a television programme called Opportunity Knocks years ago, others play bass and guitar alongside their full-time jobs as hobbies, so they’ve always been very talented and have always supported me in everything I’ve done.

Who is your sporting role model?

Neil: This is a hard one. When I was young it was Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan. In skate boarding it would be Tony Hawk and Chris Miller. My main competitor in the United Kingdom, Sean Goff, was also one of my sporting heroes because he still skates now with all the same ability and enthusiasm as he did as a 12 year old.

Did you ever think your career was over?

Neil: Yes, a couple of times. I broke my tibia and fibia and that was the first time I thought my career was over. The second time was when I did my medial ligament in my knee. I thought I’d never recover enough to be able to compete at a professional level. But through hard work, dedication, lots of physio and a positive mental attitude, I fought back to full fitness.

How emotional was it for you?

Neil: Very emotional at times. I’m an emotional person and I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I would often feel angry but I tried to focus on the positives, thinking about what I had already achieved in the sport and what I hoped to do once I recovered, and that got me through.

Neil, did you ever think about giving up skateboarding when you were injured?

Neil: No, not really as I always believed in myself. At times it was frustrating, I never thought I’d be champion again or in any championships again, but I never thought about giving up because I love the sport so much.

How long did it take for you to become a professional?

Neil: In skateboarding you are classed as a professional once you achieve your first sponsorship deal. It was probably around four or five years after I started skateboarding that I was sponsored, so I was then presumed to be good enough to compete against top pros.

Did you enjoy any other sports or want to take part in them when you were growing up?

Neil: Yes, I enjoyed a variety of sports including football, swimming and hockey.  I also played basketball at school and took part in athletics and trampolining. I always enjoyed physical activity at school so I took part in as many different sports as I could.

What would you have done if you hadn’t got into skate boarding?

Neil: Skate boarding set me on the road to become successful and opened so many doors for me, without it I am not sure what I would have done. I would most likely have left school with no qualifications and, growing up in a tough part of Liverpool, there would have been a possibility I could have ended up in trouble.

Why did American skateboarders inspire you?

Neil: Because they were the best and they led the sport. I loved the American lifestyle, going to the beach, surfing, skating, leading a healthy and active life.  

What made you want to be part of Sky Sports Living for Sport?

Neil: I wanted to share my experiences, the ups and downs and the sacrifices, with young people. I hope my story can inspire them to get involved with sport and to teach them how sport can improve their lives. Sky Sports Living for Sport gives pupils the opportunity to try different sports and find an activity they are passionate about. Visits from the Athlete Mentors, such as myself, give the students real life examples of how sport can change lives and I am honoured to be part of such a positive initiative.

Find out more about Neil's month of teaching about the 'hunger to achieve'

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