Rose Amankwaah — Former African sprints champion and retired nurse
Rose Amankwaah — Former African sprints champion and retired nurse

Rose Amankwaah: The London nurse who was an African sprint champion

Rose Amankwaah was once dubbed 'the fastest woman in Africa', and has been reflecting on her days representing Ghana on the track after almost 50 years of public service.

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The 72-year-old is the longest-serving nurse at London's Central Middlesex Hospital, but will retire from her role as a theatre matron at the end of the month.

She has received recognition for her service, yet was breaking records before her nursing career began in 1975.

"I was the second-fastest woman in Africa. I took silver in the 100m at the All Africa Games in Nigeria [in 1973]," Amankwaah told BBC Sport Africa.

"I also won gold in Mexico at the Afro-Latin American Games that year and a Commonwealth Games bronze [relay] medal in New Zealand in 1974.

"And that will be there forever. Google, wherever you go, my name will be there.

"Being an athlete was wonderful. I really did enjoy it. I still watch athletics; the Diamond League, the World Championships, the Olympics. I even record it so I can watch it after work."
ose Asiedua, as she was known before her marriage in 1979, was born in Kumasi, Ghana, and was the youngest of nine children.

While her parents worked in their shops in the city's market, as a youngster she found she had a talent for athletics, rising up through the school ranks - first in long jump and high jump, and then in the sprints.

Following inter-schools competitions, her talent was noticed by Ghana Athletics.

"We had a coach called Mr Lawson and he told me I was wasting my time on long jump and high jump and that he wanted to train me in the sprints," she recalled.

"I then went on to represent the Ashanti region and I came first. That's how it all began."

From running to nursing

After travelling the world representing Ghana on the global athletics stage, Amankwaah followed one of her brothers to England in 1974 and was inspired to get into nursing by a neighbour.

But her love of athletics remained, and as she embarked on her studies she began to mix with some of the world's biggest sprinting names.

"When I came to London, I used to train at what is now called the Linford Christie Stadium," she said.

"It used to be the Thames Valley Stadium, and I used to train a little bit with Linford Christie."

Such was Amankwaah's passion for running that her tutors and employers at the National Health Service (NHS) would rota her sympathetically, so that she could continue her training.

She had set her heart on competing at the 1976 Olympics in Canada, but that dream was crushed for reasons beyond her control.

"I had permission from the nursing school to represent Ghana in the 1976 Games in Montreal but then African nations boycotted it," she explained.

"I was so disappointed. I'd done my training in the evenings while working in the daytime. And then suddenly we couldn't go."

As her athletics career came to an end, Amankwaah's medical career began to flourish.

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After graduating as a nurse, she rose up the ranks in the NHS to become a theatre matron in west London.

Her exemplary duty at Central Middlesex Hospital led to her winning the Silver Medal Award, a prestigious honour for outstanding service.

But thousands of patients will have passed through Matron Amankwaah's wards without knowing they were being treated by a former international sprinter.

For her hospital colleagues, her sporting background was also a surprise.

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"I only found out recently - she'd kept it quiet all these years!" said Linda Lonergan, a ward sister who has worked alongside Amankwaah for 29 years.

"I was very shocked but very proud of her as well. She's done a lot of things in her life."

"She's a good friend as well as my boss - she's lovely. She's very competent and always very nice to patients."

"She's always smiling which puts them at ease."

The ward's senior sister, Jayanthy John, credits Amankwaah for always encouraging staff to pursue opportunities for growth.

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"It's fantastic to work under her, she always has a positive attitude," John said.

"She's always passing on her experience to other colleagues, she never keeps things to herself. Anyone who comes under her will go up and up and up and learn."

"She's like a mum to everyone. We're really privileged to work under her."

After more than 49 years of service at the hospital, the former medal-winning athlete will leave a big legacy as she enters a new phase of her life.

"Oh we will miss her a lot," says Lonergan.

"She's one of the original staff and it just won't be the same without her."

Amankwaah has four children and 10 grandchildren - with a fair share of sporting prowess sprinkled throughout her family.

Her son Kevin recently retired as a professional footballer in the English lower leagues and is now a personal trainer.

Three of her grandchildren are also excelling in sport, with one granddaughter a member of Great Britain's gymnastics team, another part of the GB dancing group and a grandson on the books of Tottenham Hotspur's academy.

As Amankwaah opens up her treasure trove of pictures and medals, her daughter Lorraine watches on proudly and reflects on her mother's sporting past.

"I feel amazing when I look at my mum's collection and all her stories and pictures that she's shown me since I was younger," she told BBC Sport Africa.

"Sport has played a big, big part in this family. When I was younger, and my oldest brother Kevin started playing football, we've always watched it. I'm very proud of my mum."

Amankwaah says the one thing that links her two careers is complete dedication.

"For nursing you have to commit. You cannot get up in the morning and say you are not going to work," she said.

"It's the same as being an athlete. You have to be committed to your training and love the job you're doing.

"For my nursing, I love it. Same as being an athlete."

After almost half a century of working at the same hospital, Amankwaah will finally hang up her gown in the coming days.

So, what will she miss most?

"The staff. I'll miss coming in to work. I love my job. I'll really miss it," she said.

"I'm thinking 'When I retire, what will I do?'. But I know what I'll do.

"I'll look after my grandchildren and maybe have a little holiday, a rest. Not getting up at five or six o'clock in the morning!"

Amankwaah is still hoping that one member of her family will follow in her footsteps and become an athlete - with her expert advice on offer.

"One of my grandchildren is five, and I can see she likes athletics. So I hope I can train her to become an athlete one day," she added.

And, when Amankwaah does finally retire, she looks forward to watching all her favourite sports - as they happen.

"Plenty of time to watch the sports," she said with a huge smile.

"I'm looking forward to the Olympic Games in France. I'm going to relax in my chair - not recording it, but watch it live." — BBC

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