Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes is on a mission to educate and inspire the next generation to be happy and healthy. As she comes to Abu Dhabi to host an exclusive competition with Abu Dhabi World readers, we chat with her to find out what life was like after retirement and why she wants to reach out to the youth of the UAE…
You retired from athletics in 2005. What was that like?
It was hard to start because I never really thought about retiring. It was strange to go from having a massive goal like the Olympics and being extremely focused and structured towards that target, and then when you retire there’s a feeling of being at a loss and you’re not sure what the next phase holds.
Some people may not know you’re a petrol head. Is motoring something you’ve been able to spend more time doing since retiring?
I just like the thrill! I haven’t done loads but I did get to go around Yas Marina Circuit, which was really cool. If I ever get the chance to get behind the wheel I do.
You said that the two things you aspired for when you were younger were to be in the army (tick!) and be an Olympic champion (tick!). Once you’d accomplished both, did you set new goals?
I didn’t really have a goal after athletics, I just put myself into situations and made sure I did them well. And now motivational speaking is my main thing.
In 2008 you set up the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust to help disadvantaged youngsters get their lives on track. What is your biggest goal with this?
Our aim is that by 2020 we’re in every region of the UK. We’ve now gone into Wales and are already in Scotland, but there are so many regions to continue to work in. The trust has already helped over 300,000 young people around the UK, and we want to offer more programmes, in more areas, to affect more children to help them make life-changing decisions.
You suffered from a lot of injuries before your gold medals in 2004, and you’ve been very open about the mental health issues that this led to. How did you find the will to overcome?
People that quit never fulfil their full potential and I never wanted to be in that place, especially when I had this dream from the age of 14. That’s what kept me going. It was so hard with the injuries there’s no doubt – it’s not all roses! Your body is your career and you learn a lot about what it can do and how it can adapt. Just because I had injuries didn’t mean I couldn’t train, I just had to train differently (from others) and by doing that I felt I could still train as hard as everyone else. Getting back from injury wasn’t easy, nothing really is in life, but if you’re willing to put in the sacrifices and commitment it’s those people who become champions, I believe.
You’re coming to Abu Dhabi as part of your role as an ambassador for national health insurance company Daman’s ActiveLife initiative. What’s your goal through this placement?
The main objective is to encourage young people to have a focus in their life and how they can achieve great things. There’s a big diabetes problem in the UAE; it’s important to show that having an active life is more productive and conducive to feeling happy and good. It doesn’t matter what your background is, we all have lives to lead, but getting that right balance of exercise and healthy eating is so important.
With this programme, we’ve got to a place where young people on the programme are peers within their friendship group, so they go back and pass on the right messages. This also goes to their parents too with regards to nutrition and goal setting. Each year I do this it’s clear that it keeps getting stronger and stronger. And with the ActiveLife events being so regular, it’s seeing more people get involved, get educated on the issues and see progress within themselves.
WIN! WIN! WIN!
We’ve teamed up with Dame Kelly and Daman to offer an exclusive competition for our young readers.
On Sunday 5th November, five youngsters aged ten to 16 years old will get to train with the former Olympian. The one-hour session will include a talk on nutrition, a fun workout session and a Q&A with the athlete. The session takes place at 5pm at Zayed Sports City.
All entrants must be available at the specified date and time. Click here to enter. Competition closes on Wednesday 1st November.