(Helen Glover/PA)
(Helen Glover/PA)

Gold medal rower Helen Glover on how training for the Olympics was an exciting lockdown ‘project’ after twins

After coming out of retirement to row in her third Olympics, Helen Glover explains how she juggled training with looking after three young children.

Lisa Salmon
Friday 17 September 2021 08:30

The pandemic has meant many terrible things to many people. But every cloud has a silver lining, and for one of Britain’s greatest-ever rowers Helen Glover the up-side of the pandemic was that it gave her the chance to row at her third Olympics, despite just having had twins.

Glover, now 35, retired in 2016 after winning her second Olympic rowing gold in Rio and then marrying the wildlife presenter Steve Backshall. The couple had their first son, Logan in July 2018, followed by twins Kit and Willow in January 2020.

But any thoughts that Glover might settle for a quiet(ish) life as a mother went out of the window after the pandemic began and she decided she needed a ‘project’.

“A couple of months into the lockdown,  I started to think whether I was going to go back to rowing or not, and it gave me a really exciting project,” she recalls. “A lot of people found projects to do through lockdown, and for me that project was getting fit enough to see if I could make the rowing team. That gave me a lot mentally through the lockdown.

“There’s no getting away from the fact that it was tough for everybody, for different reasons, but for me, having something outside of the babies and our little home was really nice to hold on to.”

Asked if she’d have gone back to rowing if there hadn’t been a lockdown, the double Olympic champion and three-times world champion’s answer is a resounding no.

“No way! I’d gone into 2020, the year of the Olympic Games, about to have twins. If Covid hadn’t happened, the Games would have gone ahead and I’d have watched from the sofa with my newborn babies and I would not have ever gone back, never,” she says.

Glover and her partner Polly Swann just missed out on the bronze medal in the women’s pair final in Tokyo, but Glover says she had “a really great experience”.

After so little training (she only announced she was coming out of retirement in January), and being the first mother ever to row for Team GB she says: “I was really, really proud to make the final. We came close to the medals and we had a good race and raced the best we could on the day, so I was really proud.”

But training for an Olympics is surely hard enough without looking after three children under three – how on earth did she juggle all that?

“I didn’t set my expectations too high,” she explains. “You could look at it from the outside and say the Olympics was setting them quite high, but I never made it a make or break thing that I had to do –  I just thought, ‘If in a few month’s time I’m still enjoying it and the kids are happy, I’ll just keep going’.

“I’ve had quite an open approach to it, I guess, whereas before when I was training without children, it was really set, and I had to have this end goal. I think also, because I retired for four years, this was a massive opportunity for me rather than anything else.”

You might think that juggling such huge training commitments with three young children would at least mean Glover’s life would have been dictated by strict routines for her and the children – but far from it.

“I think if I’d tried to have a routine, it wouldn’t have worked,” she says, “partly because I’m a massively disorganised person, so whenever I try to stick too much to plans or routines I’m more likely to fail –  it’s not my strong point.

“I have a more relaxed attitude of going along with the kids’ routine and fitting in training when I can. I almost live in my kit, and as soon as the babies go down for a nap I’m ready to do some training. If I’d planned to do a session at 12pm when the twins had their nap, that might be a day they don’t nap until 1pm, and I might get stressed or frustrated, so I think going with the flow is definitely key for me.”

Impressively, Glover was still breastfeeding her twins when she came out of retirement in January, and weaned them a few months later when they were 14 months old.

Play time: Helen Glover plays with her son Logan (PA/Babybel)

“Logan weaned himself at one, he just loved food, so I thought the same would happen with the twins,” she says. “But they got to about 14 months and I was about to go away to the European Championships and I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to leave them, I can’t still be feeding them!’

“But I was really lucky, they all love food, and they were fine when I stopped feeding them.”

Happily, it all worked out well – Glover won the coxless pair title with Polly Swann at the European Championships.

So is she going to retire again now?  “I don’t really know,” she admits. “I haven’t retired, but I also haven’t planned to go back. It’s a tricky one, because after Rio I really didn’t see myself going back, and then when Covid happened I’d just had the twins and the Olympic Games was delayed so I saw this year as an extra opportunity.

“I never saw myself doing it again before, so my eyes have opened up a lot more to the potential of going back to something. At the moment I’m not rowing, I’m not training as a rower or anything, but right now I’m not closing the idea of Paris off totally…

“I always think I want a rest, but as soon as I’ve had a rest I seem to want the next thing – but whether the next thing is rowing or not, I don’t know.”

Helen Glover has teamed up with Babybel (babybel.co.uk) to help feed parents with innovative ‘hack to school tips’ and ‘snackspiration’ to liven up lunch times. For more information visit the Babybel Hack Hub @Babybel.UK.