Fatima spent the first thirteen years of her life in children's homes until the Whitbread family adopted her. Margaret Whitbread was the National Javelin Coach and discovered that her daughter had a raw talent and flair to become a javelin thrower.

Developing these gifts, Fatima became the first British thrower to win a European Junior (Under-20) Championships title in 1979 in Poland. A bronze medal at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, at the age of 19, set her on the trail to become the most successful female javelin thrower in British history.

The 1983 World Championships saw Fatima lead the competition until the very last throw, when the Finnish heroine, Tiina Lillak, snatched victory with the final throw of the day.

Later that summer, Fatima became the first British thrower to win a European Cup "A" Final competition, competing for her country at Crystal Palace. Illness hampered her preparations for the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles but despite medical advice, she travelled to the games and won a Bronze Medal.

1986 was the pinnacle of her career, when Fatima set a World Record in the qualifying rounds of the European Championships in Stuttgart, with a throw of 77.44 meters; she then came back to win the final with a throw of 76.32 meters, which was farther than any other women had ever achieved.

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