25 May 19
The Scottish Sun
FOR some elite athletes, after a lifetime of routine and training, retirement can come as a shock to the system.
But not Jessica Ennis-Hill. In fact, when asked if she feels even a pang of wistfulness while watching athletics now, she lets out a hollow laugh.
Jessica Ennis-Hill says motherhood made it easy for her to walk away from athletics
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“Hmm, not so much! There’s the odd occasion I remember the buzz of being on the start line with everyone rooting for you. But then I also remember the training, the stress and how much it takes out of you. So I’m more than happy to sit and watch.”
It’s been nearly three years since heptathlete Jess, 33, hung up her spikes and packed away her javelin after a career that saw her crowned world champion three times and bag gold in that unforgettable Super Saturday at London 2012, which is still – seven years on – capable of setting off spine tingles.
Incredibly, one of those World Championship golds came in 2015, just 13 months after she had given birth to her first baby Reggie, who turns five in July. The following year she won silver at the Rio Olympics, before bowing out with grace and relief, completely ready to give it all up.
“By the end I was actually motivated by wanting to retire,” she says. “I set myself a challenge after Reggie of having two more years, getting to the Olympics and back to the top of my sport, and thankfully I managed that.
Jess says having children simply meant she no longer had time or energy to train or compete
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“I can see how a lot of athletes find it hard. You spend your whole life training and everything is about this one purpose. It’s how you sleep, eat, everything. And then when that routine stops I can imagine it’s a massive shock.”
The challenges of motherhood meant there wasn’t time to dwell on the past – the next chapter of Jess’ life was already up and running. And things were made busier still by the arrival of daughter Olivia in September 2017.
“Being a mum takes so much time and energy that I didn’t really think about what I’d stopped doing. And then Liv came along and I was like: ‘Wow, now I really don’t have any time to worry about anything else!”
Jess says even her own coaching team didn’t expect her to come back after Reggie (she recalls the “dreaded” moment she told her famously tough-talking coach Toni Minichiello that she was pregnant and he responded by getting up from the sofa in silence and loading up the calendar on his iPad to work out when she could come back. He eventually said “congratulations” as an afterthought). But back she came – and then some – although she often wondered why on earth she was putting herself though it again.
Jess reveals she back training just four months after giving birth to Reggie
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“That was the only time in my career where I actually questioned what I was doing. I remember thinking: ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to get my abs out again! Look at them!’
“I kind of wanted to quit because I’d already achieved so much and I was in a different world with all this mum guilt. I wanted to train and come back strong but I didn’t want to leave Reggie and I felt so bad about that.
“I was just rubbish. I couldn’t get to the same level I’d been at. I wasn’t running the times I wanted to and I was constantly comparing myself to the athlete I was in 2012.
“I spent a lot of time crying. And my worst fear was spending that time training trying to get to the World Championships and the Olympics and then getting injured and having that feeling of: ‘What a massive waste of time and energy when I could have been with my baby.’”
[quote credit=”Jessica Ennis-Hill”]All the time I doubted myself, Andy has been there[/quote]
She says the phenomenal achievements of sportswomen who come back after having children is all too often underestimated.
“Women are amazing. It’s so good to see more and more women like Serena Williams, Lizzie Armitstead and Jo Pavey all having families and coming back so strong. It’s really inspiring.
“It was a battle for me. My body had changed so much. I had to work incredibly hard to get back to that same level of fitness, and then you have the mental challenges of being away from your baby and the sleepless nights, being up three, four, five times through the night.
“But once you get to where you want to and achieve what you set out to, it’s the most amazing feeling because you know how hard it was to get there.”
Jess says ‘mum guilt’ contributed to her decision to retire as she didn’t want to leave son Reggie
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After having Reggie, Jess was back in training after four months of maternity leave and continued to breastfeed until six months. There was less pressure to get back to fitness after Olivia was born, but that came with its own set of challenges.
“With Reggie I had to get back to a certain point by a certain time. But I had a coach and a team and people directing me and getting me to do all the right things. After Liv I was like: ‘OK, I’ve got to motivate myself now.’ And that wasn’t always easy.”
She’s still in extraordinary shape, although says she can’t help but compare herself to when she was at her peak. But back then she used to worry that she was too bulky.
“It’s funny – I was always really paranoid about my arms being really muscly when I was training and now I’m like: ‘Argh, I need to keep my arms, they’re not muscly enough!’
Jess is still in fantastic shape despite retiring from athletics nearly three years ago
“So I have this constant ‘didn’t want that then but I want it now’ thing going on, but I’m pretty happy and confident with my body after two kids.
“It can’t not change after pregnancy, and although I do always compare myself to what I looked like in 2012, I’m still strong and I want to keep that. It’s not quite what it used to be but I was an elite athlete back then, so it’s never going to compare. It is what it is!”
Jess’ journeys back to post-pregnancy fitness have helped inspire her latest venture. Her training app Jennis has been a year in the making and gives subscribers access to workout videos with different options for all levels of fitness. There will be plans for pregnancy and post-partum training as well as → content on nutrition, mental health and wellness.
Before our interview, Jess is wrapping the filming, which has all been carefully scheduled around school runs and childcare. She’s a natural in front of the camera – warm, engaging and gets it done in a single take.
Jessica Ennis-Hill after she scooped gold at London 2012’s Super Saturday
“The idea was to create something for pregnant women so they could have a full plan and a journey back to fitness,” she says. “I wanted to put the way I train into a really easy format, not just for mums but people who have busy lives and want to stay fit in a simple way.
“I have no time to drive to the gym, do a session and come back, but I can do a 20-minute blast of a circuit at home once the kids are asleep.”
It’s a project Jess has clearly put her heart and soul into, and she jokes that it’s given her “a few sleepless nights”. She hopes there will be something for everyone.
“The fitness part of the app is for men and women, definitely. It would be challenging for anyone. My husband does the workouts with me as well!”
Jessica with Reggie and Olivia
Husband Andy has been a constant by her side since they got together in their late teens. He’s been the stability and security Jess needed in her personal life, despite coach Toni’s initial disapproval.
“He’d say: ‘You need a boyfriend who’s in athletics. It’s all about athletics!’ But I was always: ‘No, what I need is separation.’ I want to go home and not talk about athletics, and being able to switch off has been a massive part of my success.”
How key has Andy been to her achievements?
“Well, he would say he’s been vital and that I wouldn’t have done it without him! But seriously, he really has been through everything with me from the days I was still a junior athlete.
Jessica says husband Andy has always given her confidence whenever she doubted herself
“All the times I’ve doubted myself and felt I couldn’t do it, he’s been there putting everything into perspective. I needed him to have that confidence in me. He was never bothered about being at the forefront of anything – he was just there all the time, and I knew he had my back.”
Andy has always had his own career, progressing from project manager to planner in the construction industry, and hasn’t stopped working despite Jess being worth a reported £5million.
“I’m sure a lot of boyfriends or husbands would have been like: ‘Right, let’s chill out, happy days!’ But he’s absolutely not like that. He works so hard. He’s such a driven person. He gets up at 5am and is at work until six every day. We have a comfortable life, but he still wants to work and he wants the kids to see him working. He’s really passionate about what he does and he’s climbing a ladder, and that’s why I love him so much.”
Jess says sport is “always on” in the house. She hopes events like the upcoming Women’s World Cup will help encourage girls to take up sport – statistics show that there’s a huge drop off once puberty hits, and by the age of 13, only 8% of girls are doing the recommended daily 60 minutes of physical activity.*
Jessica is passionate about getting our nation’s girls interested in sport
“It’s hard for girls when they get to that age,” she says. “There are so many different things going on in your life and with your body. I remember being at school and most of the girls didn’t want to do PE. My sister, for one, hated it and would do anything to get out of it.
“We’ve definitely created a lot of great female role models, and there is much more emphasis on female sports at the moment, which can only be positive.
“We need to help women and girls feel confident in who they are. It’s not necessarily about losing weight or changing your body – it’s about enjoying sport. It gives you so much mentally and energy-wise.”
She’s aware of the recent debate around transgender women who may have gone through male puberty, and whether they should be eligible to compete in female categories. The likes of Martina Navratilova, Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe and Sharron Davies have all voiced concerns about the potential impact on safety and fairness, but it’s not a subject Jess feels comfortable wading into.
Jessica Ennis-Hill says she ‘can’t get her head around’ drug cheats in athletics
“It’s such a difficult area that I don’t even know where to start on it. I see both sides, but it’s a really complex issue. I’m thankful that I’m not on any panel where I have to make any decisions because I’d be absolutely terrible at it. But yeah, it’s tough.”
Does she understand the concerns of women?
“Yes, of course I do. Absolutely. Sport is so physical and hormones do play a massive part in it. But it’s complex and sensitive, so…”
She’s much more forthcoming on the subject of drugs cheats, which continues to blight athletics. Just this month runner Kseniya Savina became the latest Russian athlete to be banned, and international investigations have found evidence of widespread, state-sponsored doping in Russia.
Jessica Ennis-Hill admits ‘life changed’ after her 2012 Olympic win – but likes to think she hasn’t
“I can’t get my head around – and never will – how you can stand there and take all that praise and cry to your national anthem knowing you’ve cheated! I think athletes from certain countries… it’s so ingrained in their system, such a part of the culture that they have to tell themselves that everyone else is doing it and so it’s fine. They must be in denial. I don’t think they consider the repercussions on other athletes and how it’s affected other people’s careers and lives.”
Back in 2011, Jess finished second in the World Championships to the Russian Tatyana Chernova, who was later disqualified for failing retrospective drug testing. Five years later, Jess’ silver medal was upgraded to gold and a disgraced Chernova was stripped of her title.
“Me and my team knew something wasn’t right at the time, but it’s not for you to say because you can’t point fingers. You have to let it go and hope that things will correct themselves and people will be caught, and thankfully in that case she was.
“You put all that energy and time in, training every day and making all these sacrifices, and particularly in 2011, I was heading into an Olympic year, so when I came away with a silver medal it made me feel that I wasn’t where I needed to be to win gold in London.
Jess has proved to be a natural in front of the camera, starring in numerous adverts and TV shows since her retirement
“But I was lucky. A lot of my friends who are athletes have had one or two opportunities to stand on the podium with a medal and drug cheats have taken that from them. And when you see it’s a whole country – a whole federation – it’s incredibly disheartening.”
Is she hopeful that athletics can recover from its tarnished reputation?
“It’s becoming uncovered, and there are people trying to make positive changes. We do a great job in our country and although I definitely don’t miss the random drugs test – I’d be putting Reggie to bed and there would be a knock at the door – it’s an absolute necessity.
“I always knew it was the most important thing to keep the sport clean, and we have to make sure our system is standardised across the world.”
Husband Andy has been a constant by Jess’ side since they got together in their late teens
This is the fifth time Jess has appeared on the Fabulous cover since 2010, and while her profile has soared during that period and her confidence has clearly grown (she’s certainly more comfortable being interviewed), she’s as easy-going, kind and inherently likeable as ever. She’s remained in her hometown of Sheffield, although obviously, she points out, they moved to a bigger house after 2012.
“People who are closest to me I hope would say I’m still exactly the same,” she says. “Life changed, though.”
Indeed. It would be remiss not to mention that gold medal, but surely by now she must be sick of talking about it?
“No!” she refutes. “It’s lovely that people still want to say hi and congratulate me.”
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She remembers predicting to her agent that things would be “a bit crazy” in the wake of London 2012 for maybe a year, but that was a wild underestimation.
“How has it been seven years?” she asks in disbelief. “I say I enjoyed it but at the time I really didn’t. I felt I was holding my breath for the whole of the competition.
“But the memories are still so strong. Those key moments – the emotion, the adrenaline and everything falling into place on those two days when I needed it to happen – are so, so vivid.”
*The Jennis app launches on June 10. It costs £9.99 and is available on iOS and Android (Jennisfitness.com).
[boxout headline=”THE LAST…”]
TV series you loved? Fleabag – so funny. Game Of Thrones and True Detective as well.
Book you read? Kids’ books! Rabbit And Bear – it’s all about the potty humour.
Movie you watched? The Hurricane.
Time you cried? I used to cry a lot when I was training but not so much now. A good thing!
Time you lost your temper? Probably at Nyla the dog for rolling in fox poo the other day.
WhatsApp you received? My friends are getting married in August and there’s a lot of hen do chat going back and forth.
Time you were drunk? Saturday night, out for a meal with Andy. It’s so nice having a drink and not having to worry about training!
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