He might be a three-time World Superbike champion, but Jonathan Rea’s form teacher remembers him as a schoolboy who came into class every week with a fresh injury and a fantastic smile.
The News Letter had a chat with some of the staff at Larne Grammar School where the Ballyclare lad achieved considerable academic success before speeding off on the career path to motorbike racing.
School principal Jonathan Wylie said the superbike champion had been at the school as recently as last December to talk to pupils about the secret of his success.
Mr Wylie said: “It was nice for our pupils to see someone from our school who has gone on to have so much success in his chosen field. That was really inspirational to see someone who had sat where they had sat and gone on to become a world champion.
“The message he was giving to pupils is that there’s no reason they can’t enjoy the same success in their chosen field with the right attitude and right work and right commitment.”
The 30-year-old is not the school’s only current successful sporting star. Northern Ireland and West Brom footballer Gareth McAuley also attended Larne Grammar seven years ahead of the future superbike star.
The Larne Grammar pair both took to the hallowed turf of Windsor Park on Thursday night as Northern Ireland faced Germany in a World Cup qualifier. McAuley was in action on the pitch, while Rea’s success was applauded before the game.
School principal Mr Wylie said: “We’re very proud of them both and have followed their careers with great interest.
“Jonathan could have stayed on for A-levels and gone to university. He got a really good set of GCSE results but all he wanted to do is race bikes.”
Jonathan Rea came to Larne Grammar in 1998 from Ballynure PS and left in June 2003 after doing his GCSEs.
Mr Wylie said: “He was one of Mrs Herron’s star business studies students. When he came back to the school to talk to pupils he was able to relate how that understanding of business studies was important to him as an up and coming racer when he needed to be able to do things like negotiate sponsorships and find a works team.
“His knowledge of Spanish has allowed him to recruit a Spanish works team.”
Mr Wylie added: “He’s a faithful supporter of the school and we’re very grateful that he does remember the time he had at the school and credits us for a tiny part of his success.”
As a racer Jonathan Rea has 50 wins to his name in World Superbikes. His latest, and undoubtedly sweetest, win came in Magny-Cours in France last Saturday when he became the first rider to win the championship three years in a row.
A reception was held in Ballyclare on Sunday night to toast the three-time world champion. It was attended by some of his former teachers at Larne Grammar.
His business studies teacher Nicola Herron said: “I am thrilled for him and his family. Jonathan is so deserving of all the successes he has achieved, not only because of his genius as a sportsman, but because of his dedication to the sport and the sacrifices he and his family have made to support him in being the very best in his field.
“At school his determination to succeed meant he worked hard, and was an absolute pleasure to teach. He was a very respectful, modest and grounded young man, at a time when his motocross career was really taking off. And his sense of fun added to some healthy classroom banter.
“Jonathan is a fantastic role model to all young people and an inspiration to us all.”
His old junior school form teacher Zillah Horner remembers him fondly: “It seemed like every other week back then that Jonny would come in with a new scar or something in plaster.
I can remember one Monday morning when he came in with yet another broken bone I asked him if all this motor cross was really worth it. “But Miss, I love it!” he replied.
“Looking back now those early days were definitely worth it but so much more than the scars and the broken bones I remember a delightful boy who had a fantastic smile and was a pleasure to have as a member of my form class.”