31 March 2006
EXCLUSIVE: WE'LL BREAK YOUR LEGS
EXCLUSIVE Scots medal hope in overdose after bullies' hockey-stick attack
JEALOUS bullies tried to smash a young Scottish Olympic hopeful's legs with hockey sticks.
Champion athlete Ashleigh Murray, 16, was subjected to a campaign of verbal and physical abuse by the vicious girl gang.
Ashleigh, pictured right, was so traumatised she tried to take her own life with an overdose of pills and is now recovering from her ordeal in hospital.
Last night, Scottish track superstar Liz McColgan sent her a message of support.
She said: "Ashleigh is one of the most talented distance-runners I have ever seen.
"I know she has had a lot of problems but she is still able to go out and win major races.
"Fingers crossed she gets her health back.
"If it's a year or two years from now, she will do something special. She is just such an amazing runner."
Ashleigh was one of 12 elite young athletes earmarked for the 2012 Olympics.
But she was so tormented by bullies at Glenwood High School in Glenrothes, Fife, that she came close to giving up on her dreams of sporting stardom.
The gang staged a concerted campaign against Ashleigh, who is undefeated in more than two years of racing.
They even stood at the trackside during big competitions and shouted cruel jibes at her as she lined up to run.
Ashleigh began self-harming as a result of the constant abuse.
And a year ago, her mum caught her trying to take an overdose of paracetamol.
The youngster was eventually admitted to hospital where she is now rebuilding her strength.
But she has set her heart on a return to the track to start training for 2012.
Her mum Sally, 39, said yesterday: "Ashleigh is determined to run for Scotland at the Olympics.
"She wants to stand on the podium with a gold medal to show the bullies they didn't beat her.
"She won't let them ruin her dream."
Liz McColgan first met Pitreavie Athletic Club member Ashleigh when the teenager came fourth at Scottish national crosscountry championships in Perth in 2003.
Mum-of-four Sally, of Leslie Mains, Fife, said: "Liz sees Ashleigh as a her protege.
"She tells all the girls in her running club if they want to succeed, they need to beat Ashleigh."
McColgan's talented young athletics team are chosen as possible stars of the future and receive special funding and training.
Ashleigh was crowned Scottish junior champion and Scottish schools champion in both the cross-country and the 1500 metres events for three years in a row from 2002 to 2005.
She is coached by Eric Simpson, who also trains Commonwealth Games star Chris Baillie. Ashleigh even won a team gold medal for Great Britain at the crosscountry junior championships in Lisbon, Portugal in February last year.
As the youngest member of the under-20s squad, she was asked to hold up the trophy as they stood triumphant on the podium.
That was the last time Ashleigh competed in a race.
Her mum said: "The bullying made her so ill she couldn't run any more.
"She was making herself sick because the bullies told her she was fat. She lost all her strength physically and mentally.
"She wasn't able to defend any of her titles last year."
The bullying began soon after Ashleigh started at Glenwood High at the age of 11.
Sally, a development manager, said: "Ashleigh was a popular, bubbly and happy young girl at primary school.
"She has always been attractive, good at her schoolwork and very sporty.
"A small group of girls at Glenwood just decided to try to knock her down.
"They constantly called her cruel names, saying she was fat and ugly.
"They targeted her whenever the teachers weren't around, with one of them acting as a lookout."
Ashleigh became so terrified of the gang she would eat her lunch sat on the toilet with her feet up so they couldn't see her.
Her mum would even sit in her car outside the school all day in case Ashleigh needed to get away from the bullies.
Sally said: "She started self-harming when she was about 13. She hid it well and would only wear long-sleeved tops to run.
"I would go into her room at night and check her body when she was sleeping - I was so worried."
Sally said she contacted the school's head teacher countless times to ask to help, but claimed her pleas fell on deaf ears.
She said: "I kept being told I was an over-anxious parent, that this was what little girls do. But it was so much more than that."
The hockey stick attack in November 2004 was the last straw.
Sally said: "They whacked her with hockey sticks at a games lesson at school.
"I walked into her bedroom that evening when she was getting changed and I saw massive bruises all down her legs."
In December 2004, Sally said she woke in the night knowing something was wrong with her daughter.
She rushed into her bedroom to find she was trying to swallow a handful of paracetamol pills. She said: "I instinctively knew I had to go to her. Luckily, I caught her in time."
Sally pulled her daughter out of school the next day and called the council to ask them to find her a new school.
But she said they just told her they would investigate what had happened and sort out the problem.
Sally said: "They weren't willing to find a new school for her, so I did it myself."
Ashleigh enrolled at Balwearie High School a month later and for a while things seemed to improve.
Sally told the Record: "Ashleigh was so happy at her new school and had lots of friends. We thought we had really turned a corner.
"On her 16th birthday last April, we had a big party and she was smiling and laughing for the first time in ages."
But the bullies soon found out where Ashleigh was and they began going to her running competitions to taunt her.
Sally said: "At the Fife junior championships in Dunfermline last year, the girls turned up at the track.
"They stood by the track as she lined up to start and shouted cruel jibes at her.
"They told her they hoped she tripped up and said they would break her legs afterwards.
"But she didn't let them get to her. She just looked straight ahead, focused on running and won the event by a huge stretch. We were so incredibly proud of her. She said afterwards that their comments had made her push even harder to win."
Ashleigh began focusing all her anger at the bullies on her running.
Her mum said: "It was the only thing she felt she had control over.
"She also over-studied because she was scared to leave the house.
"She was physically and mentally exhausted and eventually she started collapsing."
Ashleigh was taken to hospital after a teacher told her mum she had been cutting her wrists.
Now, almost four months later, she is recovering well and starting to rebuild her strength.
Sally said: "She watched the Scots athletes at the Commonwealth Games and it has really inspired her.
"She has set her sights on the Olympics and is determined not to let the bullies win."