If there is anyone who could survive lockdown, it’s Jessica Ennis-Hill. Or to give her the full title, one she’s far too modest to be known by: Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill. ‘I’m used to having a very structured, regimented life,’ she says, talking from the Sheffield home she shares with her husband Andy – a construction site-planner she’s been with since her teens – and their children.
Because, of course, 34-year-old Jessica is one of the greatest athletes this country has ever produced. And the Olympic and World Champion heptathlete spent over 20 years dedicated to training to be the very best.
‘Every day you’d go to the track. Everything was focused on winning. Though it’s very different now that kids are thrown into the equation!’ she says of five-year-old Reggie and two-year-old Olivia, who they call Liv.
Born and raised in Sheffield to Vinnie, a painter and decorator, and Alison, a social worker, Jessica’s early promise was spotted at an athletics camp at 13 years old, by Toni Minichiello, who would go on to be her coach throughout her career. One that would see her claim gold at the 2009 World Championships and again at the London 2012 Olympics.
The entire world was gripped when she climbed the podium on ‘Super Saturday’, which marked Team GB’s best Olympics performance in 104 years, with Jess being one of three gold medal winners that day. But, in fact, that wasn’t actually her proudest moment. That came when she claimed silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics, only two years after giving birth to Reggie.
Warm, open and astonishingly grounded – something she puts down to keeping her feet firmly in her hometown roots – Jessica explains how motherhood altered everything for her.
‘Before I had Reggie, I didn’t have any idea how I would feel – how I would be physically and mentally. Up until that point in my life I was very driven and single-minded. Everything was about me and my performances – whatever was going to get me onto that podium. It was the same for everyone around me. It was all about me winning medals.
‘But when Reggie came along, it changed in an instant. All I thought is that I have to be the best mum in the world and make sure he has everything he needs. I had that constant battle of guilt – should I go and train or should I be with him? It was a really strange time, but equally the best time because Reggie motivated me in a way that I’d never been motivated before. It all became about achieving for him. I’d go down to the track for short, sharp quality sessions and then back to him. I made it work.’
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