Alan Hubbard

Remember Jen Offord, the young woman who grew up in East London totally disinterested in sport but was so seduced by London 2012 that over the following year she had a crack at every one of the 26 sports in that Olympic programme?

We first told her story in insidethegames, one which began when the curtain came down on a London Games the civil servant from the Olympic heartland of Hackney had actually wanted to get away from.

"I had always been a bit sport-phobic, and living in the East End and working in Westminster I thought the disruption would be horrendous and I would be getting it both barrels," she told us at the time.  "I was a real cynic about the Olympics, and it got to the point when I seriously considered leaving London for the duration."

But she stayed, to be captivated by them. "What grabbed me most was the variety of sports. I felt we had been so saturated in the media with football that we had forgotten there are so many other sports that are truly amazing and quite inspirational. Afterwards I thought I'd like to have a go at one, but I wasn't sure which."

A friend jokingly suggested she should try them all. "I thought, that's not a bad idea. Let's have a bash at the lot."

And she did, with a little help from established Olympians,  including Dame Kelly Holmes, hockey’s Chloe Rogers and modern pentathlete Kate Allenby, running the whole gamut from archery and athletics to weightlifting and wrestling, embracing 38 different disciplines.

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Jen Offord tried 38 Olympic disciplines after being inspired by London 2012, including handball ©Jen Offord

It was an astonishing volte-face for someone who admits disliked sport so much she used to bunk off PE at school. "One thing I learned is that you don't have to be good at sport to enjoy it. In light of my experiences my views on sport have completely changed. I'm fitter, stronger and happier as well."

And full of the Olympic spirit.

So much so that she decided to choose one sport to stick with permanently. It turned out to be cycling.

Which is why on Monday week she embarks on a one-woman mission to pedal her way across 3,500 miles of America, from the East Coast through to Texas,. Not for charity, but to raise the profile of women’s sport which she argues is grossly inadequate.

Although she never envisaged her original groundbreaking Olympic project as a giant step for womankind, she believes it did offer a message that sport should have no gender barriers: "Unless participation actually depends on you having male sex organs, how can a sport not be 'a woman's sport'? If you've ever believed anyone who told you that participation in a sport depended on you having male sex organs, frankly, you've been had.”

So, at 32, she has quit her job as a Westminster civil servant, taking redundancy to help fund a two months venture which begins in Harwich, Massachusetts (chosen because she now lives in Harwich, Essex), and ends in Houston, home town of American singer and actor Beyonce, after whom she has named her trusty bike, presumably because it is similarly amply upholstered at the rear.

She explains: ”The Olympics thing changed my perspective on life and made me think I should be doing something interesting like this.

“It set up a whole new world for me in which it became apparent that sexism was inherent in sport.

“The fact is women’s achievements are not really celebrated the way men’s are.

“I want to show that what women do in sport can be just as bold, exciting  and adventurous as anything men can do.

“I want to meet a bunch of people on the way and get their stories about what they are doing and what their achievements and aims are.

“Some of the role models young women are exposed to and the aspirations they are encouraged to have can be quite negative, yet there is a lot of positivity in female athletes.”

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Jen Offord plans to cycle 3,000 miles across America on her bike named after US pop star Beyonce to help raise awareness of women's sport ©Jen Offord

With her beloved Beyonce having been given an overhaul by a friendly local bike shop owner, Offord plans to cycle down America’s East Coast from Harwich near Cape Cod, through Virginia and Carolina into Tennessee and follow the Mississippi to Louisiana and then into Texas, mainly camping and occasionally staying in motels and with friends.

A woman travelling alone on the open road in the US? Isn’t that that rather risky?

“I figure that as it is North America it is pretty safe, and certainly not as scary as doing something similar in the UK.

“My hope is that people will see what I am doing and be inspired to try something different themselves.

I have become a bit of a zealot about sport, which has been a life-changer for me.

“The thing about the Olympics project is that it made me rediscover my lost sense of adventure. I hope others can take something from that message. 

And what, ultimately will Offord take from her new American odyssey?

“Well, it would be really nice if someone would pay me to write a book about it...”

Alan Hubbard is a sports columnist for the Independent on Sunday and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Games, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.