How lucky am I that I can finally add my friend to the inspiring interview series one. Michelle and I were put in touch with each other through our mutual friend, Steve Backley OBE.
Steve had told me that I simply must meet Michelle as that he was confident we would 'hit it off'. He was right and we now speak almost every week about everything from business, to motherhood and the ongoing questions of whether I have been doing any exercise...or not as the case may be! Being in Michelle's company is infectious and so in this interview, it was my pleasure to ask her story with you.
Michelle, please start by introducing yourself?
I am a former athlete and an Olympian who represented GB for over 15 years in the women’s Triple Jump. A mother of three, I met my husband a former Rugby player at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. Over the last nine years I have been mentoring and coaching whilst collaborating with other women.
2. Not a lot of people can say this but how does it feel to be called an Olympian and who did you aspire to be like when you were young?
I guess its only since I retired from athletics 12 years ago, that I pinch myself and say ‘I am an Olympian’. When I do my motivational speaking, that’s when you really understand the impact of the word by people’s reactions. When I was younger, I was inspired by a German Long Jumper - Heike Dreschler. I admired her speed, determination and sheer grit.
3. It must be hard for people to really understand what commitment it takes to compete at an Olympic Games. How gruelling was your training regime and can you give us an insight into a typical day?
As you know, the Olympic games is held every four years. The training that goes into that one performance is unbelievably challenging! It is a build up of years of training and forming a team around you, who helps you to perform on that chosen day. A typical day for me back then was:
Work in the morning from 10am until 2pm. I was fortunate enough that in 1994 I was sponsored by DHL (yes sing that song ‘ain't no mountain high enough’) who gave me a job and supported me financially for 4 years.
- Go and see my physiotherapist or massage therapist
- Try and rest for 30 mins and have a light snack before training
- Train from 6.30pm until 9pm
- Go home, Ice my body (which aids recovery for the next session)
- Have my dinner and go to bed.
Some days I would have to train twice, once in the am and again at night.
4. You love your fashion, style and vibrant colour. Who is your style inspiration and why is body confidence so important for women?
From a young girl, I have always had a love for fashion. I know, I get my passion for clothes and fashion from my mother (who is 78, and still loves receiving her gift vouchers from River Island and Topshop) and my grandmother. I am not really inspired by one particular person, but admire lots of women who dress well and don’t use age or size as an excuse.
I love wearing bold bright colours. I am always encouraging my friends to rock colours and wear clothes with confidence. I think it is time for women to start embracing who they are. Inner and outer confidence is so attractive.
5. Getting children active and involved in sport is important for a healthy lifestyle and children's mental health. What was your first experience of getting into sport at a young age and why did sport become your sanctuary?
As a person who started their sporting career at age 11, I would say first hand that sport lifts your moods. I am blessed to have children who love all sport. Daily, I can see how much more alert, happier and positive they are after doing a physical activity. With all the stresses that they will encounter throughout their teens and beyond, I think it is essential to encourage an active lifestyle to maintain a healthy mind and body.
As a teenager, sport became my sanctuary as my home life broke down.
6. Many of us struggle with criticism or set backs in our careers. I'm sure you've had sport injuries which put you under pressure to get 'back to fitness'. Can you give you an example of that?
It is definitely fair to say, that we have all had setbacks in our lives. The most important thing to remember is how you managed to overcome these. One of the most gruelling injuries I had was in 2005, when I snapped my Achilles tendon in South Africa.
The road to recovery was tough on my body but even more difficult mentally. There were days that I wanted to simply give up. My husband, who was my Strength and Conditioning coach at the time, kept saying ‘you don’t want to be remembered for giving up from this injury’. I did keep going and placed 7th at the Commonwealth Games the following year….
7. You competed just nine months after having your first daughter and I've seen the photographs. You look incredible. I can only imagine the sweat and tears involved in that training. How pressured did you feel competing again after being a mother or did that make you feel more determined?
Interestingly enough, I felt less pressure to perform, because I had a little person who was more important than any Olympic games. I think when you take the pressure off your self, you find you are more relaxed so you perform even better.
If we look at Jessica Ennis Hill, she came back and won the World championships nine months after having her son. Also, Serena Williams was runner up at Wimbledon after nearly losing her life after giving birth. Us women are certainly made of some ‘great stuff’.
8. What is your advice for helping teenage girls with body confidence, the reality of social media and the 'perception of perfection'. There are so many great female role models out there, but equally, many who are not so good. What is your view?
Being a mother of a teenager daughter, I often emphasise that a lot of the people she follows on her Instagram seem like they are perfect but they are not! When, I look at some of the pictures on social media I roll my eyes and get frustrated that people think that you have to have this perfect body, with perfect eyebrows, perfect job and perfect life.
As parents, we are definitely up against it, and it’s about encouraging inner and outer confidence and helping your child to find what makes them feel great about themselves.
9. As a busy mum, you always find time for a quick workout so apparently I have no excuse! What do you recommend mums (and dads) could do to get their 30 minute fix of exercise every day?
From a personal trainer’s point of view, I think people should generally be looking to do at least 30 minutes of activity per day. This can be anything from a brisk walk to and from the station, or using a fitness app to help you through a basic circuit.
As you get older, its important for women to do resistance work (weight training) to keep your bones stronger leading up to menopause and during, and for men its important to maintain hormonal balance. Sometimes, when you make yourself accountable to somebody else, this encourages you to see your goal through.
Remember your ‘health is your greatest wealth’.
10. Last year, you and your family appeared in an Iceland Foods TV Commercial called 'The Power of Frozen'. So what's next for Family Robinson?
The Iceland advert was such a great thing to do for our family and I think it just highlighted the importance of health eating amongst families. I must say we still buy their salmon fillets and lobster tails. Who knows what’s next for us as a family. Maybe a TV show?
11. What advice do you wish you knew that no one ever told you?
A bit of advice I wish people told me was ‘one size does not fit all in life’. We are all different, with different flaws and qualities but that’s okay.
12. And finally, what life motto do you stand by?
My life motto is ‘a dream is nothing if left on the pillow’. Give things a go!!
Follow Michelle on Instagram - @michellegriffithrobinson