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Making of champion Jonathan Rea: How A* pupil with racing in his blood conquered the world

Family and schoolteachers hail his triumph

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 22/09/2015

Jonathan Rea and Tatia with their son Jake
Jonathan Rea and Tatia with their son Jake
Jonathan Rea and Tatia on their wedding day
Rea's old teachers Stephen Snoddy and Nicola Heron
Johnny Rea senior

Jonathan Rea's dream of becoming a world champion has more than a hint of a fairytale about it.

The 28-year-old Co Antrim man succinctly summed up the magnitude of his victory as the new world Superbike champion when he posted on Twitter yesterday: "'All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them,' Walt Disney."

His victory for the Kawasaki team is something everyone close to him thought was possible even from a very young age.

As his father Johnny - himself a former Isle of Man TT winner - got back behind the desk of his firm Rea Distribution in Antrim, he was very aware of a strong sense of destiny for his son.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "It was very emotional and a relief for him to get the championship.

"It's been his lifetime ambition. He struggled the last few years with driving bikes that weren't capable of championships.

"Being world champion is all Jonathan ever talked about. It's just a relief that he has finally reached his goal."

This year will go down as a special one for the Larne-born racer, who grew up near Ballyclare and now lives with his family in the Isle of Man.

His wife Tatia is due to gave birth to their second child in November and their son Jake will be two this Friday.

His brother Kris was there to help throw him into the air in jubilation as the entire family went along to Spain to watch Jonathan clinch his victory.

John Rea, Jonathan's grandfather, sponsored the late, great Joey Dunlop and other leading racing stars in the 1970s and 80s.

He took Joey to his first ever Isle of Man victory and now his grandson is following in the footsteps of Joey and Brian Reid, Northern Ireland's last world motorcycling champions in 1986.

"Jonathan just looked like a wee lost boy last night," his father said. "I don't think he can believe it or took it in. It nearly brings tears to my eyes thinking of how my father would have been with Jonathan's victory.

"He would have been so proud, it would be unreal."

To say that motorcycle racing is in Jonathan's blood is no understatement.

Johnny bought all of his sons - Richard, Jonathan and Kristofer - motorbikes when they were little, and gave daughter Chloe a quad bike. The love of racing started early and his mother Claire regularly took him to various competitions when he was growing up.

"Jonathan was riding a motorbike before he was even riding a push bike. He must have been about two-and-a-half when he first started," said Johnny. "What he has achieved is unbelievable. In the early days, his idol was Joey Dunlop and then US legend Kevin Schwantz.

"Johnny's first love was always motocross and if it wasn't for the fact that motocross doesn't get much recognition, I think he may have stayed there. He still does a lot of motocross."

Four years later, he began to take part in his first motocross races in Northern Ireland and his race to become world champion started when he was just six.

"We knew from a very early age Jonathan was special. It was after his third motocross race that I could see the disappointment of other riders passing him. Unless he was out in front, he just wasn't happy," said Johnny.

"For the last two-and-a-half years of my career, I was racing and so was Jonathan.

"Motorbike racing is like a drug. His racing gave me the reason to get out of it, as it changed me after my father died when he was just six. So I quit to concentrate on the haulage business and to support Jonathan."

Jonathan combined growing success at motocross - winning British junior titles from the age of 10 - with being a schoolboy at Larne Grammar School with some aplomb. All of the Rea children went to the school and sister Chloe just recently left after finishing her A-levels.

The school celebrated the news that a past pupil was now a world champion yesterday with one young motocross champion, Cameron Turley from Year 11, keen to emulate his hero's success.

Teachers Nichola Herron and Stephen Snoddy taught Jonathan GSCE Business Studies and PE Studies before he left aged 16.

"Jonathan got an A* in his GCSE and was a star performer," said Mrs Herron.

"He was a real wee gentleman, but no matter what happened outside in his sport, he left it there and was very modest."

Mr Snoddy recalls a boy who tried every sport equally but was particularly good at volleyball.

"For a teenage boy, Jonathan was one of the more mature ones. He committed to everything in all sports. He never dwelt on his motorcycling. He just came into school like any other pupil, despite what he was doing outside."

Former British Grand Prix driver Jeremy McWilliams from Belfast was on the selection and judging panel that gave Jonathan a place on the Red Bull Rookies team when he was just 16, switching from dirt to tarmac in 2003.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Jeremy said: "The moment I saw Jonathan throw his leg over a 125cc and ride against other more experienced rides in Cartagena in Spain, I knew he had great potential. He just wanted to go faster than anyone else.

"I've known him since he was a small boy, as I used to ride against his father Johnny and he was always at the races one way or another.

"We are all absolutely delighted for Jonny and the whole family."

Jonathan will have his place in Northern Ireland motorcycle history if petrol-head MP Ian Paisley gets his way.

He has called for a Stormont reception to mark Jonathan's success, after he described him as a "another fantastic sporting ambassador for Northern Ireland".

"As a rider he is an inspiration to his fans and he is a great role model for anyone interested in motorsport," he added.

Jonathan had been knocking on the door of the Superbike world championship, having been runner-up on his first ever race in 2008 with another runner-up under his belt.

He turned professional at 16 and his father said that he was lucky to have been able to make a living from his sport and not to have had to hold down another job while pursuing his dream.

Johnny Rea believes that at the age of 28, his son will still continue to chase for world titles.

"Jonathan's only other option would be MotoGP, that's the elite of the elite, but unless he can go with a powerful bike, I think he will stay with Superbikes.

"I'm a bit more relaxed about his safety because I raced the roads, and thankfully he isn't doing the roads, so I'm a bit more relaxed. But you still worry. Once I see that he's not struggling and content, then I'm happy."

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