For most teenagers, a typical day involves rolling out of bed after hitting snooze one too many times, then vegging out in front of the telly in the evening. But 19-year-old Stephen Ferroni spends his time running a minimum of a whopping 61.5 miles every week.
The Moulsecoomb lad is up at the crack of 6 am every morning for a gruelling four-mile run. Come rain or shine, he repeats the four-mile workout every evening, and always makes time to run a half marathon on the weekends. This may seem like an excessive fitness regime but it’s the minimum expected of an Olympic runner.
“Running has definitely made me a better person,” said Stephen, “it has given me something to focus on and helped me to grow up.”
The young runner has his sights set on the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and the next Olympic Games in 2020 – a long, hard journey which will push him to his physical and mental limits. Thankfully, he’s not alone. He was quickly spotted by Terry Cooper, who coaches at Sussexsport on the University of Sussex’s campus in Falmer, and the pair have been inseparable ever since.
Terry offered to mentor Stephen after a regular at the university gym mentioned that he knew a talented young runner who couldn’t afford expensive training sessions but would benefit from some extra help. Steven had previously represented his county, but others saw his potential to go one step further. Having had his teenage dreams of becoming a professional footballer thwarted by a lack of funding and resources, Terry saw something of himself in Steven.
“I speak Stephen’s language, and I’ve been where he is,” Terry explains. “The difference is that when I was growing up I didn’t have anyone behind me, believing in me, whereas I can try and help Stephen.”
Terry managed to come to an agreement which allows him to coach Stephen free of charge. Running can be an expensive hobby or career; running attire, new shoes, training sessions, and travel to overseas events all add up. “When you first start out, you can run in any old clothes,” Stephen explains. “But when you want to take running seriously, it can get expensive.”
The cost of running means many professionals tend to hail from wealthy areas or families. Stephen and Terry, on the other hand, both grew up on the same street in Moulsecoomb. It’s a less affluent neighbourhood where sports fans tend to lean away from athletics and towards football.
“It was embarrassing when I first started running in the street,” Stephen says. “When I saw people I knew, I put my hood up so I didn’t have to explain what I was doing.”
Stephen has now overcome his embarrassment to achieve some truly impressive feats. In his first year with Brighton & Hove City Athletics Club, he qualified for the Sussex team at the UK counties cross-country finals. One of his proudest moments was representing England at an international competition last year – he came third at the event in Spain. But he says building confidence has been just as important for him as building speed.
“When we met, Stephen wouldn’t go into some rooms in the gym because he was too shy,” recalls Terry. Modest boy Stephen used to struggle with talking to people he didn’t know well and was quiet when he first met Terry, but the two can’t stop chatting now.
Kindhearted Terry says he’s motivated by helping others and thinks sometimes the best way to do this is just listening to the people he trains and sharing their burdens. “I’m a great believer in the phrase ‘no-one cares how much you know until they know how much you care’ – and that’s definitely been the case with Stephen,” he explains.
If Stephen doesn’t make the grade for the 2020 Olympics, his efforts will not have been in vain. The former Brighton Aldridge Community Academy student’s parents couldn’t be prouder of their son; they’ve travelled with him to races across the UK and abroad, and have even taken up running themselves. Stephen says he doesn’t run with them though, as that wouldn’t be fair!
Best of luck to you, Stephen and Terry!