Donna Fraser: Never Caught Short
Encouraged by her primary school teacher, Donna Fraser went on to have a successful Athletics career both on and off the track. She is currently the Vice President of British Athletics and involved in Breast cancer awareness with a number of leading charities.
Before the starlet took to the stage at the county ground, Tony Cottey (Corporate relationships manager) announced that Sussex were playing Leicestershire ‘out there’ pointing to the cricket pitch and ‘we are coming second’. Hence an even larger crowd wanted to listen to Donna, than watch the ‘Sharks’ eaten by the ‘Foxes’. She was brought up on the stage by a witty Roger Deakin who had met her several times before and built a friendship that showed in their Q&A session after lunch.
Donna seen as a gifted Athlete left home in her teens touring various Athletics meetings all around the world. At first this was seen by her as ‘going away without your parents’. She ‘Loved it’. But the differences in food and the toughness of life on the track occasionally got to her. Donna was seen as a natural 200-meter runner but was encouraged by her coach to consider the 400 meters due to the size of her legs. These legs were eventually insured, measuring a 36 inch inside leg, with the potential for a great stride pattern needed for such a distance. Her progression at 400 was confirmed when she won the 1991 European Junior Championships in Greece.
Her success in this new 400 meters’ event led to training with the highly talented and gifted Australian Athlete Cathy Freeman. ‘We got on very well’ said Donna. Eventually the two would meet in competition at the 2000 Sydney Olympics 400m final. Donna ‘Likes to run her own race’ and in doing so she prefers the outside lanes when she ‘sees no one’. In the final she was drawn on the inside, not ideal from her own perspective. She described the final in amazing terms ‘the only thing I remembered was all the flashes and noise in the stadium. I was in a daze. Coming round the corner I was second from last, with 200 meters left. I kicked into gear. Eventually finishing fourth’. Her friend Cathy Freeman took the Gold as expected and was immediately congratulated by Donna (as seen in an iconic photo above) who had run a fantastic last 200 meters making her personal best time of 49.79 seconds.
She described drugs in Athletics as ‘a dark cloud over the sport’ then mentioned an amusing moment when after one race she was chosen for a test, but just couldn’t go. She explained ‘They (the testers) follow you everywhere. But I just couldn’t go. They stood me in water for ages to try and get things going. I was there till 11:00pm with them trying’.
Donna full of smiles and personality admitted she had a wacky side to her. An ‘alto ego she calls Diane. You won’t see her today she is the wacky one’.
She showed a lot of bravery when describing her fight and story with breast cancer after finding a lump in her right breast. Being told it was probably a cyst but would need surgery. She said ‘I went in for surgery that June 2009 and felt something was not quite right. All the results came back and it was quite bizarre. I kept seeing shows on television about breast cancer and reading stories in newspapers. I knew it would not be good news’. Donna continued ‘I went to see the surgeon. She sat me down, her lips were moving but I was not hearing anything. I just heard, ‘You have early stages of breast cancer’. Donna described that moment. ‘Everything else went blank. I went into a bubble, a zone. I was on a different planet. I was there on my own because until then I had not told my family anything. I had told my coach, Ayo Falola, and he was what I needed at that time’. Eventually with choices given by the hospital, Donna decided on a mastectomy.
Her determination on the track is now being transferred to her work with Breakthrough breast cancer and helping and supporting others. There is much to admire in Donna Fraser and in all that she does, but as Roger Deakin said ‘She never stops smiling’.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.