How Helen Glover does it
Champion rower, mother, partner to Steve Backshall and all round marvel - Muddy meets Helen Glover to talk fitness, family and breaking her Olympic gold medal (oops).
Helen Glover is a two time Olympic Champion, triple World Champion and European Champion and quintuple World Cup Champion, and the world-record holder alongside rowing partner Heather Stanning. Could it get better for the Cornish rower? Yes actually. She’s impossibly lovely-looking, is married to Steve Backshall, has a gorgeous toddler and another baby due in January.
Luckily she’s also dead nice and is local to the area (we’ll forgive her being just over Bucks/Oxon borders in Cookham), so there’s only one thing for it – a Muddy catch up.
You’re getting ready for baby number two – how are you feeling?
Fine actually! It’s due in mid-January but I still have energy – I spend most my time running around after my toddler Logan which makes the days go quickly.
Have you given up competitive rowing now?
I haven’t formally retired, but after Rio, I knew I was going to take time out to get married to Steve and having our family has been a lovely part of the plan. I have loved-loved-loved the last 15 months being Logan’s mum and that has made the transition away from professional sport much easier.
Is it true you had to ‘de-train’ after Rio?
Being a professional sportswoman leaves little space for anything else. As a rower, I started at 7am, doing three sets of training throughout the day until around 5pm, but then it was a question of also having physio, or analysis or speaking to the biomechanics team. So you can’t go from that to nothing, you have to gradually knock back your exercise. I was still training 2-3 times a day for a year after Rio. In fact a couple of months afterwards, I ran a marathon, and did a half iron man. At the time I didn’t consider that to be that big a deal! When you carry so much finess, you have to keep doing something – if I had a day when I was busy an I didn’t’ train I felt awful, I needed to do a training session, so psychologically I had to change too.
I’ve seen seriously impressive videos of you doing pull ups heavily pregnant with Logan? How’s your fitness this time round?
Well I still exercise daily but it’s a different type of exercise! I feel much better if I’ve done exercise for the day, but it’s different for everyone and also depends on your level of fitness when you get pregnant. I do mostly weights at the moment, and I sit down between each set! I consider it as conditioning – getting ready for birth and post birth. It’s not about me getting fitter, it’s what’s going to help me and my baby come recovery. My mentality is ‘be fit enough, not fitter.’
Tell me about #sherows
It’s an initiative set up by British Rowing to encourage encourage women into the sport and support the growth of indoor rowing for fitness. Every gym has a rowing machine, but women don’t tend to use them, but you don’t just have to sit down and go hard for an hour, you can incorporate it into circuits, do HIT training, or try it as a way to give your body a break from the pounding of the road, as it’s easier on the hips and knees.
Are you rowing’s greatest fan?
I’m so grateful to the sport now, but I didn’t even pick up rowing until after university when I was 21 and when I started I didn’t care if I enjoyed it or not, it wasn’t a factor. I’d applied to the Sporting Giants initiative for people of a certain height (I’m 5ft 10), and I had a dream to go to the Olympic Games and just had to take it. 3000 girls applied, and 30 of us were accepted, so even then we were told it was unlikely we’d succeed.
But I felt a sense of desperation that it was my last chance to do something incredible. I threw myself into it like I’d never done anything in my life before. Something shifted in me, and I knew I’d do whatever I could do make it. I didn’t love rowing at all in my first year, as I working as a teaching, juggling work and training, and was absolutely shattered. But by year four I’d met my rowing partner Heather and my coach Robyn and we started this journey together.
That kind of drive is so unusual – describe your personality
Well yes but the person I am in rowing isn’t who I am away from the river. I’m really disorganised and I’m not particularly driven or focused. I grew up enjoying the wild outdoors lifestyle in Cornwall, and have always loved sport, but at university was a bit of a party animal, I’m very laid back by nature.
Where do you keep your medal?
Our house doesn’t even a hint of rowing apart from a few photos in the downstairs loo of me winning and the medal wrapped around a cactus that Steve and I found on a beach during our honeymoon. I’ve actually lost my medals many times and I’m ashamed to say it was broken a week after the Olympics too – it was dropped on the concrete floor and I had to take it into the jeweller in Bourne End to mend it.
Take us through a typical day
Typical family stuff. I give Logan breakfast, and read him some books which he loves – and then we go to the gym, as there’s a creche there. Then we go swimming. We live by the river in Cookham so I’m paranoid about him being a safe swimmer. Workwise I’m doing a lot of public speaking so I’ll maybe prepare while he’s sleeping. Steve and I are keen on making sure Logan is getting outside a lot – there’s a lot of wellies across fields! If Steve’s home we take him out on the canoe. It’s a very simple, normal existence.
You’re from Cornwall – but does Cookham now feel like home?
Steve used to tell me off for saying I was going home whenever I went to Cornwall. But we’re more integrated in Cookham now and this is definitely home. When you bring children up somewhere you get to know it better and make those connections.
Where do you like to hang out locally?
The river for us is a hub of activity – we use it for paddleboarding, rowing, kayaking. My favourite stretch is by Cliveden and Cookham Lock, it’s just so beautiful and tranquil. For breakfast and coffee, I love Coopers in Marlow, and for Sunday lunch we walk across the field to Bel & the Dragon in Cookham.
Give us some insider tips on where to head in Cornwall
I’m from Penzance originally and Steve and I got married in Prussia Cove which just the loveliest spot, it’s one of our favourite places in the world. Lands End and the Lizard are beautiful – we just took six friends on a three-day kayak around there which was amazing. For beaches, you have to head for Porthcurno. And make sure you don’t forget to stop for an ice-cream in Newlyn at Jelberts– that’s my dad’s shop!
You can see the ‘Unbeaten Boat’ that took Helen and partner Heather Stanning to 2016 Olympic gold in London without losing a race at a new display celebrating the impact women have had on British rowing at Henley’s River & Rowing Museum.