WHY I: DOUBLE OLYMPIC CHAMPION DAME KELLY HOLMES
There are certain people you meet in your life who proffer those serious pinch me moments. As an ardent and voracious little runner when I was a child, and having grown up in Greece, home to the 2004 Olympic Games, Dame Kelly Holmes always stood out to me as someone of incredible inspiration, someone on that lofty pedestal of athletic ability and success, physical and mental prowess.
I am so excited to share Double Olympic Champion Dame Kelly Holmes’ WHY I interview on the Mad To Live Blog. If you’re finding yourself at the beginning of 2017, ruminating on setting out on challenges, physical or other, Kelly’s advice on challenge and goal setting, surpassing obstacles, is truly both motivational and also practical: these are words of advice you can apply to your daily life. Settle down for a read with the awe-inspiring Dame Kelly Holmes.
Kelly breezes into our hotel where we are meeting for the 5k run a lucky bunch of us are doing with her as part of testing out the new Garmin F35. You can expect some champions and legends of her level, of which there are few, to have certain airs, graces, or a difficulty with talking to. Not so with Kelly. She is incredibly warm, charming, someone you immediately feel that you can talk to and shucks, want to be friends with. She is also still in incredible shape, and as we take on the 5k route around London’s finest, St James’ Park, fresh kit and watches tweaked to our personal preferences and live in action, we pretty much are pinching ourselves at the fact we are out for a run with the illustrious athlete.
It’s no surprise that in the wake of her highly impressive athletics career in which she won multiple accolades including, of course, her crowning glory of 2 Olympic gold medals in the 2004 Athens Olympics in the 800 metres and 1500 metres, multiple golds in the Commonwealth Games, records smashed and beaten, and being awarded the honour of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, she has taken on a role where she seeks to inspire the younger generations through initiatives including founding the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, a charity that supports athletes as they transition from sport, and uses their skills and experience to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people through mentoring programmes.
Considering her achievements to date, which aside from the above include being awarded the 2005 Laureus World Sports Award for Sportswoman of the Year and being inducted into the the England Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010, it could be hard to try and quantify what she considers to be the races that meant the most to her. When asked this, Kelly reflects for a moment before responding “I think the first one was actually breaking the British record…it stood for 12 years by a young girl called Zola Budd … I ended up breaking her record in Sheffield in front of all my family …there’s only a few things like that … that stand out like that”.
Kelly had “always dreamed of being an Olympic champion”. Having left the junior international circuit to join the army, her time spent at the army near acted as a prepatory boot camp for developing an elite level of strength, fitness and endurance to propel her to the world stage. She had always been incredibly strong, “for a female I was very strong, I was a physical training instructor and in a male dominated career you have to prove that you’re as good as anyone else you know, there’s no leeway so I got myself very very strong and that was almost the benefit of me coming back into running because I was powerful and at that time I didn’t really care who was in the race who beat me, I was just gung ho go for it.”
After using her holiday time to compete, seeing a former junior athlete Kelly used to race against in the 1992 Olympics on the TV spurred her on to take running more seriously, entering the UK championships and quickly defeating the existing field to become British champion and be catapulted to the world stage, taking the Commonwealth Gold.
In terms of relating to an Olympic champion with regards to goal setting and understanding how they approach targets, it can seem impossible to us mere sporting mortals. But Kelly has an incredibly pragmatic approach that I can quickly relate to, and absorb as brilliant advice.
“I think having a goal is really key. Knowing where you’re going is so important because it gives you the driver and the ability to work out how to get there. If you don’t have the end point then you just make rash decisions or give up really easily."
"So to me, having a goal to be Olympic champion is obviously such a big goal, but you have to break it down and every year there was a championship that I was competing for, so commonwealth games, European champs, world champs…the mountain of the Olympics became less of a mountain by breaking down every year”.
The beginning of a new year often heralds a plethora of promises in terms of fitness targets. We’ve all hit the turkey, pigs and blankets and booze hard over the Christmas period (guilt free I might add, family feasting is epic). It can be daunting, setting a goal like a 10k race if you’re fresh out the gates in terms of fitness and training. Kelly adds that “you can break it right down to people starting out in the gym or starting running for the first time, all they look at is oh my god I have to do 10k, they think about the mileage, they don’t think about the day to day progress and actually how that should be the driver you know."
"If you’ve never done anything before that day you start to do something that’s a massive achievement because yesterday, you were thinking about it. Today you’re doing it. And then so I think for me its breaking it down, making it attainable and sensible in your life”.
Athletes are commonly plighted by injury such are the stresses the body is placed under, and with Kelly being injured 7 out of 12 years which was according to her, understandably “demoralising”, her approach towards obstacles is refreshing. Many of us (myself included in the past, especially with injuries) can tend to focus on the negative outcome. But what if we focus on the positive that comes out of this?
“You can go right I got injured, then maybe I need to work on something else so you have to find the positives out of the negatives.”
It was this approach that despite being injured 7 out of 12 years of her career, Kelly was clearly able to surpass the physical obstacles to achieve the levels of success she has as an athlete. It is interesting to ask Kelly about the differences in opportunities for men Vs women in athletics, often a contentious subject. She believes “ its evolved a lot. I think it my sport of athletics we are pretty much on an even par. I think there is as much opportunities for women as there is for guys, I think it’s really for females to want to do more, and to realise that there are so many sports out there, and activities out there now. I mean you can do literally anything."
"The Olympics is a great platform to show young people if they are into sport, that you can do anything”.
The Rio Olympics were a resounding success for Team TB athletes, and also for showcasing the diversity of sports on offer. As Kelly attests, “when you get medallists in trampolining to diving, to rowing to swimming to cycling…there’s something for everyone, and if you take it even lower than that, and go into fitness, look at all the outdoor boot camps, the tough mudders, the running events, the mass participation cycling, there’s so much for you. This is a brilliant time for people to get involved and get active.”
With a huge surge in the mass participation of fitness events of the Tough Mudder persuasions, Kelly is correct in that there has never been more on offer to individuals across sport, the Olympics providing a critical platform for the younger generation to find inspiration. With regards to female athletes and opportunities, she believes it is up to “women have to take them up and not be afraid to give something a go and challenge themselves, they might not like it so what, you’ve give it a go, it’s better than to think of if only I tried it out”. Mental strength clearly plays a big role in Kelly’s psyche towards sport, and it is refreshing to see that an Olympic champion can attest to the psychological benefits and virtues of living an active life on the day-to-day.
“Sport should yes be a physical element but it should be a psychological mental element, … that emotional well-being is really important these days, and the mind set to feel more in-tune with you and to feel happy… like you’re doing something for yourself. I think that’s a really positive way to look at sport and fitness.”.
Along with the rise of a profusion of accessible sport facilities and events currently on offer is the abundance of high-quality kit and tools to enhance sporting experience and assist in the monitoring of progress. Elite level athletes fine-tune and hone their performances down to every last nitty, gritty detail, especially in terms of kit, which can literally make the difference of winning or losing.
Kelly advices that “having the right equipment and clothing to start with is really key…it can make a big difference…also down to the tools, we’ve been talking about Garmin today, the Garmin F35 is a really great tool for people starting out… when I started out, there weren’t all these tools, so my coach would just grab me round the neck with his hands and take my pulse with his big old stop watch and then go GO you’ve recovered!... when tools like the watches came out, they’ve allowed people to really progress their running".
"If you start as a beginner, your beginning point has to be your baseline. You have to know where you’re at so what’s your pace, what’s your average pace, what’s your distance that you run and the time you’ve done it In, your heart rate, the calories, because then that…sets you milestones…I think people need to know exactly where they are going,I used to write it down, I had a diary for every single year of my athletics career, because it gave me a point where I could write in how I felt, you know what the time of day was, what the run was, so I could look back, when I was getting injured or not feeling motivated I could look back and be like well actually this time last year I was there or I was worse".
"Having guides of tools to help you, keep yourself motivated is really critical.”
Kelly’s career now is incredibly active, and has solidified her place in sporting history. One can wonder how an Olympic champion, who maintains consistent drive and motivation, takes time to switch off. With her guilty pleasures including a very normal and down to earth combination of “chocolate and x factor or…whatever on the sofa...Chinese or Indian takeaway, that’s it, that’s my guilty pleasure”, it’s good to hear Kelly also takes moments for down time. And that in the wake of her competitive athletics career, it is her standing as a figurehead of sporting inspiration, across generations, that keeps her progressing and propelling herself forward:
“I want to better myself. I won 2 gold medals yes, but it I don’t want it to define my life… I hope that I’ve got a healthy life ahead and I think more importantly for me is to inspire people to be the best for themselves that they can.”
With thanks to Dame Kelly Holmes and Garmin.
I have a SIGNED photo by Kelly up for grabs for one of you lucky souls! To win, just share this blog post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at @SophieMadToLive, winner will be chosen at random!
Next up, I speak to prodigal super-talent, fearless downhill mountain bike Junior World Champion Tahnee Seagreave, who is currently tearing up the senior circuit and a regular face on the World Cup podium.