Ross Duncan interviews James Thompson -South African rowing champion

Globally, we know that neurodivergent people exist.

Globally, we know that there is a multitude of famous people who are neurodivergent.

Recently, I was able interview James Thompson; a South African rowing champion; a gold medalist Coxless four at the London 2012 Olympics and a gold medallist at the World Championships in Holland. He also has learning difficulties including ADHD, Dyslexia and motor skill challenges.

James originally grew up in a prosperous suburb of Cape Town. From a very young age he did not fit in academically and admits that he was quite different from his peers. He soon discovered that he had spelling and speaking challenges and was considered a slow learner as a young child. His eventual identification of dyslexia was for him more of his evolution. He was placed in the very first remedial school in Cape Town.

When progressing away from the remedial school, James soon discovered that none of the local schools would accept him. The Western Cape made it difficult for him to join a school in the area as it would blemish their 100% pass record reputation if they accepted a child from a remedial school. As a consequence, James went to his father’s old school in the Eastern Cape, St Andrews College. It had a different educational philosophy. It was a more inclusive environment compared to the schools he had experienced in the Western Cape. Thanks to St Andrews College, James was able to achieve his leaver certificate and eventually achieved a place at university. This is something that he felt he had been denied in the Western Cape. Nowadays, learning difficulties are more readily recognised and there is increased inclusiveness in mainstream schools across South Africa.

It was sport would play a huge role in the turnaround in James academic challenges. For James, he believes that sport teaches you how to overcome challenges. It can help you learn that there are different ways to do different things. James has become an incredibly successful rower and, his experiences to date have made him into the successful entrepreneur that he is today. Although now retired from rowing, James is still active in the sport. With his entrepreneurial skills, he is now in partnership where they refurbish bikes from a shop unit and trade in second-hand bikes. He also has an online catering business supplying a really busy South African market.

Ross Duncan

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