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Neurodiversity Celebration Week: Adelle Tracey talks about being a runner and having dyslexia and dyscalculia

For Neurodiversity Celebration Week, runner Adelle Tracey speaks to Nick Ransom about living with dyslexia and dyscalculia; Tracey competed for Great Britain and now runs for Jamaica; she finished seventh in 800m final at World Championships and is set to run at the Paris Olympics

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British Jamaican runner Adelle Tracey, who is going to the Paris Olympics this summer, talked to Sky's Nick Ransom about being an elite athlete with dyslexia and dyscalculia.

This summer, runner Adelle Tracey will be on the world stage in Paris chasing her Olympic dreams.

She has already reached big finals for Great Britain and Jamaica but for Neurodiversity Celebration Week, she wanted to reveal what it is like being an elite athlete with dyslexia and dyscalculia.

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty which primarily affects reading and writing skills, according to the British Dyslexia Association. Dyscalculia is defined as a specific and persistent difficulty in understanding numbers which can lead to a diverse range of difficulties with mathematics.

Tracey told Sky Sports News: "As someone who's dyslexic and is dyscalculic it can be really challenging day to day, particularly with the numbers and distances and times and things. It's something that I've come to realise. The reasons why I do sport have very much to do with the fact that I am neurodiverse as well."

The middle-distance runner was born in Seattle and has spent most of her life in the UK. She had a taste of the Olympics when she was chosen by Dame Kelly Holmes to be one of several young future stars to light the Olympic cauldron at the London Games in 2012.

Tracey of Team Jamaica competes during Heat 4 of the 1500m at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year
Image: Tracey, of Team Jamaica, competes during the 1500m at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year

In 2018, while running for Great Britain, she finished fourth at the European Championships in Berlin. Two years earlier she won the British indoor 800m title, before victory in the indoor 1500m in 2022.

Tracey raced for Great Britain before transferring allegiance to Jamaica when she was eligible in the summer of 2022.

The 30-year-old finished seventh in the 800m final at the World Championships in Budapest last year in a race won by Mary Moraa, with Britain's Keely Hodgkinson finishing second. She narrowly missed out on making the 1500m final but broke the Jamaican national record as she ran under the four-minute mark for the first time.

Tracey says there is "a lot of conversation" around dyslexia but other forms of neurodiversity such as dyscalculia "get spoken about less".

"It's quite a difficult word to say, but it's basically just that numerical side of things," she says, speaking at St Mary's University in Twickenham where she regularly trains.

Tracey wants to inspire young Jamaican women to take up running
Image: Tracey wants to inspire young Jamaican women to take up running

"If you think of dyslexia as words and literacy - it's not always that simple. Sometimes it can be processing. But for me with dyscalculia, I feel like that affects me a lot more as an adult. I don't know if that's because that went undiagnosed.

"I think I waited until just before my GCSEs before I got a diagnosis, and we did have to seek that out privately. But the dyslexia was diagnosed when I was seven years old."

She explained how her mother was key to revealing her neurodiversity.

"My mum sort of pushed for me to get a diagnosis at school and that was a state school, so it's just seeking out those schools that have specialist teaching assessors.

"But essentially that's why I've worked closely with the British Dyslexic Association as an ambassador to sort of push for their overall goal, which is to get specialist teaching assessors in every school," Tracey added.

Tracey celebrates her victory in the Women's 800m at the Indoor British Championships in Sheffield
Image: Tracey celebrates her victory in the Women's 800m at the Indoor British Championships in Sheffield

'I've missed a couple of flights…'

So, what are some of the challenges for her with two forms of neurodiversity?

She said: "I'll read a passage of text and I could read it three or four times, but it might not fully go in. That processing time to put together what I'm seeing on the page versus what's sort of processing in my brain takes a little bit longer.

"And with numbers, they definitely move around for me. Particularly in sort of lines, it's almost your Excel sort of format."

"I've been known to miss a couple of flights, and when you see those things on the board where I've sort of read the flight time and that sort of moved and the gate number haven't aligned, just little things like that.

"I would say there's quite a lot of challenges that come up day to day, particularly on race day," says Tracey, who also works as a make-up artist.

"We're usually given a call time for when we need to be ready and in the cool room, and you sort of have to work back from that time.

"So there's a lot of numbers and I usually write out a schedule for every race day for what time I'm going to do everything, just to take that process of thinking away from what I'm trying to do.

"And it'll always be some random number - like racing at 1752. That's the other thing - working in 24 hours and trying to calculate how long it's going to take me to do everything. So I always allow for more time.

"There's been times where it hasn't always gone to plan and you learn from those experiences. But I think being honest with people around you and also having a really solid support system really helps."

Adelle Tracey in the women's 800m during day two of the Athletics World Cup
Image: Adelle Tracey in the women's 800m during day two of the Athletics World Cup

Does sport attract people with neurodiversity?

Tracey also praises her "super helpful coach" when it comes to training.

She says: "If we ever have any training on the track and I've got 1200 or 1000 - I always understand 800 because that's my distance - he'll say 'we're just going to do two laps today, or three laps or four laps'. And that really helps me cognitively to be able to just work out how far I've got to run."

She believes there is a link between those with neurodiversity and those who show their sporting talent. "It does attract a lot of people who are neurodiverse because of the skills that it requires to be a sportsperson.

"I think there are a lot of strengths that come with being neurodiverse, and they translate really well into sport.

"Also I think if you're someone who has struggled at school and you maybe haven't had that identified, you might lean into your strengths a little bit more like I have. And sport was always there. I think there are actually a lot of people in sport and in creative avenues as well that are neurodiverse.

"It is essentially a different way of thinking, and that's the way that we should look at it. I think you need that medical diagnosis in a way, to access the support.

"I think I saw a stat that said 80 per cent of people leave school without diagnosis. Having that diagnosis is so crucial for people to be able to flourish at school and be able to go down different avenues that they want to.

"When it comes to actually understanding neurodiversity, we kind of have to move away from that a little bit and not necessarily put people in a box. I think us having this conversation now is hopefully showing that so many different people can exist in different spaces and bring different things to the table by thinking differently."

Lord Richard Layard awards London 2012 Olympic Stadium cauldron lighter Tracey with a 'Happy Hero' gold medal as part of a United Nations event in 2013
Image: Lord Richard Layard awards London 2012 Olympic Stadium cauldron lighter Tracey with a 'Happy Hero' gold medal as part of a United Nations event in 2013

Connecting with my Jamaican heritage

Tracey will spend March in Arizona where she will train at an altitude of 7000 feet in preparation for her biggest test yet. This summer she will run for Jamaica at the Paris Olympics and it will be a special moment. Her father Nicholas Tracey was a Jamaican runner.

"It's been really special for me to be a part of a team where the team managers knew my dad as an athlete and just to be able to connect with that other side of my heritage as well. I'm really excited to represent Jamaica at the Olympic Games this summer."

She has said in the past that she hopes to be a role model for young Jamaican women who want to take up running. She also wants to help create knowledge and an inclusive culture for those with neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity Celebration Week (18-24 March) is a worldwide initiative that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences. It aims to transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported while creating more inclusive and equitable environments that celebrate differences.

One in five people are thought to be neurodivergent which means they have a difference in brain function. This group includes autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD or other forms of neurodiversity.

Tracey says: "I think it's a lot harder to be open and honest when you're younger perhaps, or if you don't fully understand what you need. But I think every neurodiversity is so different.

"Helping other people to understand what works for you is really key for navigating different spaces. Being unapologetically neurodiverse is the best way to be because other people want to help."

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