How single mum Sheryl's sacrifices helped son Bradly Sinden become taekwondo world champion and Olympic medallist
Sheryl Sinden has hit the headlines after dedicating years of her life to helping her son Bradly become a taekwondo world champion and now Olympic medallist. She talks to Chris Burn.
It has been an unusual few weeks in the spotlight for Doncaster teaching assistant Sheryl Sinden. After seeing her son Bradly claim a silver medal in the Olympics after coming within eight seconds of gold, her incredible efforts in supporting his taekwondo career were singled out by broadcaster Adrian Chiles in his national newspaper column as a reason why the parents of Olympians deserve their own medal ceremonies in addition to their children.
Sheryl says while she greatly appreciates the sentiment, witnessing Bradly’s success is already enough of a reward.
“My medal is the pride I feel in watching him do what he loves and achieving his ambitions,” she said.
“Behind every great athlete, there are coaches, support staff and parents but it is nice to be recognised.”
Bradly may have been left bitterly disappointed after his narrow loss in the men’s -68kg final to Ulugbek Rashitov of Uzbekistan, but in the immediate aftermath of the fight he made sure to thank his mum for her support.
He said: “To mum, I say thank you for taking me up and down the country, putting the money in.
"It’s hard, when it’s a single parent background, and not in the best area. Not all parents would do that for their child. That’s the belief she had in me.
"I remember saying, ‘Oh mum, can I just miss training this one time?’, and she’s like ‘no’. I look back now and thank her for it’.”
Those comments led Adrian Chiles to write in The Sun about the “parental devotion” behind Bradly’s success.
He said: “Twice a week, through his teens, his mum would take him from Doncaster to Manchester for training. What a gruelling drive that is! And twice a week! She gets a gold medal from me for that.”
Mum-of-four Sheryl says it is not the first occasion Bradly, who is now 22, has shown his gratitude to her at a big moment of his career - recalling his reaction when he became world champion in 2019 and climbed up into the stands to embrace her.
She adds: “We had an after-party where he came up to me and said, ‘Mum, what just happened?’ I said, ‘You are world champion’ and he said, ‘I’m not, we are’. It is things like that which get you and make everything worthwhile.
“There is nothing better than to see him up there on the podium with the national anthem playing.”
Bradly first started taekwondo at the age of four in his hometown of Doncaster after developing an interest in the sport when his older sister Jodie began lessons with a friend.
He discovered a natural aptitude for it and by the age of 10 was winning national competitions.
“Jodie started when she was six-and-a-half and Bradly was two-and-a-half,” recalls Sheryl.
“He used to go along and sit and watch everything. He used to try and copy the warm-up exercises and count in Korean.
"At that stage, our club didn’t let them start until they were six but he was so enthusiastic, they said wait until he is four and if he can behave then he can take part.
"That wasn’t certain because he was a right little bundle of energy! He was very physically active and could do things far beyond his years.”
After Sheryl had twins, Bradly and Jodie initially stopped taekwondo lessons but took it up again a couple of years later and it soon became clear Bradly had a potentially major future in the sport.
“He started competing and we realised he has got something here,” she said.
"He was incredibly flexible and could do things most people can’t do. He went to his first national championships and won. We used to joke that between me and my friends we had a permanent seat at Doncaster A&E. There would be broken hands and toes and one of his front teeth was broken in an accident.”
As his talent began to shine through, Sheryl would take Bradly up and down the country and even into Europe to participate in competitions while relatives looked after the other children.
She would also be ‘designated driver’ for the European trips, getting behind the wheel of a 17-seater minibus to take Bradly and his peers across the continent.
Sheryl says helping Bradly was very much of a family-wide effort but admits that it involved plenty of sacrifice and challenges, particularly when he was invited to train with the GB squad in Manchester every Monday and Friday while he was doing his AS-Levels.
“I was working in a bookies at the time so I could often juggle my shifts around but by taking him to competitions and going to Manchester on Mondays and Fridays, it meant I was working more weekends and more nights,” she recalled.
“It was not just me. It was my mum looking after the twins so I could take Bradly places. Without his Nanas, we couldn’t have done the things we did.”
Bradly moved permanently to Manchester when he was 17 but not before the entire family also got drawn into the world of taekwondo.
Jodie is now an international taekwondo referee while the twins are also taekwondo officials.
Sheryl says it was difficult that Covid restrictions in Japan meant families of competitors have been unable to watch in person, with the family instead having to watch him on television from the other side of the world.
“Everything was booked to go to Tokyo in 2020 and it has been absolutely heart-wrenching not to be able to be there.
"You can’t do anything physically when you are there but you feel better being there. They can feel your presence in the crowd.”
While Bradly’s defeat in the final came with him leading with just eight seconds left, Sheryl says the nature of the sport’s scoring system means contests often go down to the very last second.
“Ten seconds is an absolute lifetime in taekwondo. People have to remember there is someone in the opposite corner trying just as hard.
"If you run in the 100m, your opponent is next to you - not waiting in your lane to kick you in the head. Bradly has won so many fights in the last second himself.”
Following the contest, Bradly spoke of his disappointment at missing out on gold but his mum says the family feel deep pride in all he has achieved.
She adds: “We were disappointed too - not in a silver medal and not in him but I know how he is feeling and how tough he will be on himself.
"But his opponent was a fantastic opponent. We went to Manchester Airport to meet him when he came back with the team and the reception was fantastic.
"He knew there were going to be some people there but didn’t know we were going to be there.”
Speaking over the phone from Manchester, Bradly says the support of his family has been key to his sporting success.
“Without especially my mum and her taking me up and down the country and paying to enter competitions, I wouldn’t be here with these medals.
"It is amazing what my family have done for me with my Nana and my sister looking after my younger brothers when I was away and the rest of my family just supporting me.
“The disappointment will stay with me for life unless I go and win gold at the next Olympics but seeing my family’s pride has made me realise what I have achieved.”