Great Britain sprinter Adam Gemili would love to win gold at the Tokyo Games, but he knows that goal is put into perspective when he thinks about the battle his grandma and many others have had with dementia.
One person every three minutes will develop the syndrome according to Alzheimer’s Society and more than a quarter of people who died with coronavirus in March and April in England and Wales had dementia.
Gemili was back in Stratford on Friday, eight years after he competed in the London Games there, to talk about an issue close to his heart.
“It puts what we do into perspective,” the 26-year-old told the PA news agency under the Olympic Rings.
“As athletes we want to see it as life and death and the be all and end all, but there are real world issues going on.
“The Olympics got postponed this year and athletes for a moment took that very hard and were very upset and then they realised the whole world is suffering and it is bigger than sport.
“That is why something like this for the Alzheimer’s Society, as an athlete it makes you realise what you do is great entertainment for people and there are real world issues.”
Since Gemili burst onto the scene at the 2012 Olympics Games as an 18-year-old, he has travelled the world and won medals in Zurich, Glasgow, Brussels, London and Shanghai.
When he was younger he would regularly visit Morocco to spend time with his father’s side of the family and one trip stands out amongst the rest.
It was not a positive experience. It was the first time Gemili saw his dad cry when his grandma, who would later die of dementia, failed to recognise her son.
He added: “I would have been coming up to a teenager and I understood everything about it. My dad sat us down, my sister and I, and said this is what is happening with your gran and what the situation is.
“She didn’t really speak English anyway so our communication wasn’t always great, but every time we would go there as kids she would always be cooking and we had these great memories with her.
“He tried to prepare us and said she will not be herself and then we got there and she didn’t even recognise my Dad at first and it was awful.
“It was absolutely awful and I just remember that trip. I have been to Morocco so many times, but I just remember that trip so much because it was full of tears and upset and crying. It was a low time in our family.”
After seeing first hand how much dementia can affect a person and those around them, Gemili hopes more people will sign up to take part in a Memory Walk – even if it must be completed socially-distancing.
“It was the first time I saw my dad cry and that broke my heart,” the Great Britain athlete said on Friday, the day which would have been the final of the 4×100 metre relay in Tokyo.
“I’ve seen what it can do to someone, it is a horrible illness and destroys you and your humanity and strips you of who are you.
“Something like that and promoting Memory Walks, which will raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society, is so key.
“We need to keep raising money for the carers and so the phone lines can stay open so people can get diagnosed and anything I can do to help, that is why I am here.”
Gemili has only been back in England for a few weeks after spending several months in Florida during lockdown.
In another world, the Londoner would have been in Tokyo now trying to end his quest to win a medal at the Olympic Games.
He impressed eight years ago before missing out on bronze in the 200m in 2016 by the finest of margins.
“I missed out on a medal in Rio by three thousandths of a second,” Gemili remembered.
“Then I missed out on a medal at the World Championships last year which was tough to take as well so I am hungry for it and I know what it takes to win that gold medal – and there is no reason why I can’t do that.
“As crazy as people say that sounds, I think anything can happen at a Games and I will get myself in the best shape I can be.
“I have my own lane to run and I will do my best. If it gets me to a gold medal or any sort of medal, I will be pleased.”Ad
From July-October, complete your own Memory Walk and help Alzheimer’s Society be there to support anyone affected by dementia, whoever they are and whatever they are going through. Sign up at memorywalk.org.uk