Swim Star - Rebecca Adlington
Natalie Anglesey has breakfast with Rebecca Adlington to chat about life after the Olympics and the challenges next on her agenda.
We are used to seeing double Olympian gold medal winner, Rebecca Adlington OBE, collecting medals for her chosen sport of swimming or, more recently, as a television sports pundit- commenting on athletes who have impressed her. Even more delightful in person, when we meet Becky laughingly reminisces about her past and present achievements.
“I thoroughly enjoy broadcasting, particularly when my swimming colleague Mark Foster is with me. We’ve been friends for years as he is one of the few people who knows about dealing with competitive sports stress. Much as I loved swimming, I don’t miss those early 5 o’clock in the morning starts,” Becky laughs.
“Scraping the ice from my windscreen every morning before driving to training and then going on to school, was just part of my regular day. When I was seventeen, I even learnt to drive and passed my test within three months just so my dad could have a rest from driving me around every day. But it was worth it to me because I was dedicated to winning and going for Olympic gold.”
Today it’s another early start for 'breakfast with Becky' as we meet at the 8 am launch of the UK Challenge 2019 at Café Grande in Manchester. Luckily she doesn’t have far to travel as she’s swapped her hometown of Mansfield for Stockport.
“Don’t get me wrong I’m really proud of all my medal wins in a sport I still love. But people forget that I was training seriously from the age of eight because I was truly dedicated to swimming and even then was determined to get to the Olympics. I spent years training, working out and dieting to achieve my goals. In the end, I just got fed up with living on pain-killers when I sustained an injury. “
Becky won two gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in the 400 and the 800 meters freestyle, breaking the 19 year old world record. She was the first British Olympic swimming champion since 1988 and the first British Olympic swimmer to win two Olympic gold medals since 1908. She repeated her triumph at the Commonwealth Games while in the 2011 World Aquatics Championship she won gold in the 800 meters and silver in the 400 metres. Later she won bronze medals in both the 400 and 800 meters freestyle in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Becky’s new-found celebrity status saw her name on a train, a pub and her local swimming pool. But the icing on the cake was when she was awarded the OBE by HRH The Queen. Becky blushes when she describes how excited she was by that honour. “I’d met Princess Ann on several occasions as she’s a superb horsewoman who has won medals herself and she handed me my trophy when I was voted Sportswoman of the Year- as she’d won it the previous year. I’d also met Wills and Kate.
“But to be awarded the OBE by The Queen was such a highlight for my family and me. However, when I finally decided to retire from the competitive sport, you would not believe the reaction I received. People still ask me- what do you do all day if you retired at twenty-three? Well, I can tell them now. A large part of my day is spent looking after my three-year-old daughter, Summer, who loves swimming - but its early days for her yet so I’m not pushing her.
“I have my own swimming project called the Becky Adlington Swim Stars which I set up because I was horrified to learn that over a million children can’t swim. Because of the unusually hot summer, we had more people going into deep water without realising how strong the underwater currents can be so- so I hope to educate them as well as teach them to swim. Weekly I get letters from people saying that their local pool has closed or they can’t find a swimming club to join. There are fitness centres here in Cheshire as well as all over the country with pools, and if you ask there, they’ll give you the details. But we really need the government to get behind local councils to regenerate an interest in swimming because it should be a life-skill so that lives can be saved.
“But on the bright side, I also enjoy helping to launch worthwhile projects like the UK Challenge 2019. I did this challenge myself last year, and although I’d never met my team-mates before, we soon became firm friends, and we had a ball making money for charitable causes. Although we did have one mishap on our way home when a wheel on our bus was damaged, and we had to be rescued by a wonderful RAF team. I’ve told my team if we do the UK Challenge this year- I’m booking the bus myself this time!”
The CEO master-minding the UK Challenge 2019 is award-winning, business expert David Moran who, with his equally enthusiastic wife Suzie, organises the whole of this nationwide enterprise which sees contestants participating from all over the country. Referring to Becky’s transport problem he adds: “ I had a wonderful email from the RAF team which I will precis: It’s not every day your doorbell rings and Rebecca Adlington is standing there with a crate of beer to say thanks to us for mending her wheel!”
A sportsman in his youth David was Navy under 23 Squash Champion and also played rugby. A Chemical Engineer by training he started his career in the nuclear industry before moving into healthcare. He spent 25 years in various roles as either an MD or CEO. Fifteen years of those were spent overseas working in European countries like Poland, Portugal and Spain as well as Malaysia, and Thailand.
“I’ve also established businesses in Japan, Brazil and the US and led various international acquisition projects. My career has afforded me great opportunities to work with different cultures and help on various international delegations as a business expert. When we returned to this country, I just felt the time was right for me to give something back.”
David’s passion for building and leading effective teams led him spear-heading a team to take over the UK Challenge. “ It’s unique in many ways and gives forward-thinking companies the opportunities to test and develop their people in a way that is just not possible in a work environment. Wellness in the workplace is an increasing priority for businesses. We work on simple values which can be summed up in one word “HIPPY” which identifies the following values: Humility; Integrity; Professionalism; Passion; and (being) Yourself. “
The main beneficiary of The UK Challenge this year is The Teenage Cancer Trust, represented at the launch by Annmarie Carey, Corporate Account Manager, who told me the shocking statistics that around seven young people, aged between 13 and 24, are diagnosed with cancer every day here in the UK.
” They need expert treatment and support from the moment they hear the word cancer,” Annmarie explains. “We are the only UK charity providing specialist nursing and emotional support to young people with cancer. The Teenage Cancer Trust’s life-changing care and support for young people before, during and after cancer, provides them with the opportunity to build their self-esteem and meet others living through the same experience.
“Every young person with cancer should have access to this kind of care, but at the Teenage Cancer Trust, we simply do not have enough nurses. Right now, we can only reach half of those who need them, so we need support to fund more world-leading nursing care. UK Challenge & The Teenage Cancer Trust will work closely on many fundraising initiatives with the goal of raising £300,000 which is enough to fund six Teenage Cancer Trust specialist Lead Nurses for a year. “
Becky is aware of how important charitable fund-raising is as she also supports another charity which is of personal significance to her. “I’m still an Ambassador for the Encephalitis Society as my sister was diagnosed with that condition many years ago and many people are unaware of how debilitating that can be. It made me want to train even harder, and I still help to raise awareness of this condition.”
Aware that she has inspired other young men and women to swim, I wondered who had inspired Becky. ” Sir Michael Phelps. I’d stop dead in my tracks just to watch him swim as he was so driven. You can’t teach motivation or work ethic. I think I inherited it from my dad, but the rest was already inside of me. I just knew I wanted to win at the Olympics from an early age.”
However, Becky’s also enjoyed more entertaining challenges because of her celebrity status. “I was lucky enough to be invited on several television programmes and popped up on A Question of Sport, and The Chase: Celebrity Special, among others. But the programme I enjoyed the most was I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! I enjoyed every single minute in the Australian jungle. I was also supposed to do The Jump but had to pull out because I dislocated my shoulder during training - although I’m even thinking about having another bash!
“However, the programme I’m proudest of was Celebrity Masterchef, and I managed to get through to the last four. Since I stopped training, I’ve rediscovered my passion for food. I love cooking and particularly baking with my 3-year-old daughter Summer. Cakes are our favourite! No doubt we’ll soon be baking in our new home as we moved house before Christmas and I’ve decorated her room first.”
This is a happy time for Becky and her daughter with her ex-husband, sportsman Harry Needs equally besotted with their daughter. There’s also a new man in Becky’s life. “One of the down-sides of celebrity is that social media got hold of that story, so it’s no longer private. But there’s nothing you can do about that. He’s not moving in with us as it’s still early days, but yes, life is good,” she beams.
CEO David Moran interrupts to remind us why we are all here. “As a business, we are very busy organising other international challenges. But right now we are focussing on the UK Challenge 2019. Last year we raised £400 thousand, and this year we are aiming to exceed that amount.
“The 30 years of heritage of The UK Challenge is important, and we can legitimately say the world’s number one corporate team building event is based here in Cheshire. Entry requirements are simple: basically, it requires a team of 6 + 1 with an optional senior exec to join in during this UK Challenge in Snowdonia. Entry includes all accommodation in single en-suite rooms, all food, running suits, essential equipment. The challenge takes place from 4th - 7th July 2019. Although you don’t have to be super-fit, the challenges do require a mixture of physical and mental challenges and please bear in mind that we are hoping to give as much money as we can to the Teenage Cancer Trust.”
Our very own team from The Cheshire Magazine is bravely headed by Scott Illingworth-Harrison who will be keeping us in touch with their progress, and we’ll be cheering them on. I did notice that he didn’t touch any of the breakfast provided- so no doubt training has already begun! If you’d like to take part in this worthwhile venture, then more information is available on the UK Challenge 2019 website.
Becky Adlington’s Swim Stars
t: 0161 979 0499