The news that Helen Glover, mother of three and double Olympic rowing champion, is targeting a return to the British team for the delayed Games in Tokyo was always going to thrust her back into the limelight. So perhaps it was rather fortunate then that the 34-year-old last week got a helpful reminder of being the centre of attention, on account of turning into a viral television story.
"At least people can understand the kind of chaos that's going on in the house!” laughs Glover from her home near Maidenhead when the subject of that live BBC Breakfast interview is raised; the one in which she attempted to show how parents can perform easy workouts from home, only for her one-year-old twins Bo and Kit to wail disruptively on screen, leave presenter Naga Munchetty in hysterics and the subsequent internet clip garner attention from as far away as Australia.
Glover was so petrified of the reaction that she initially steered clear of social media.
She need not have worried. Upstaged as she was by her children – two-and-a-half year old Logan was also off camera along with dad and Glover’s husband, the wildlife television presenter, Steve Backshall – the overwhelming reaction was one of understanding, relatability and reassurance. Here was Glover showing that even gold-medal winning, world-record breaking sports stars find parenthood challenging. By that same measure, she wants her latest endeavour – becoming the first woman in British rowing history to make an Olympic team after having children – to similarly help inspire.
"When I went on social media I was blown away,” explains Glover in her usual affable manner. “Lots of parents were saying 'I love seeing that Olympians go through this too.' That's what I'm saying about this journey. Making the Olympic team is not just easy and it might not happen.
"But I hope through seeing it people can be inspired. At least just not feel like having children should mean an end to something that they are passionate about."
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) January 23, 2021
It was in 2016 that Glover last rowed competitively as she and Heather Stanning successfully defended their coxless pairs Olympic title in Rio. They will forever be the golden rowing double act: Team GB's first home champions at London 2012 , owners of an unparalleled five-year, 39-race unbeaten streak too.
That was, however, until last summer. Simply keen to regain her fitness and energy following the arrival of the twins in January, Glover had already returned to the rowing machine for the first time in four years. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic narrowed down life’s activities, restricting travel options, but also delaying the Olympics by 12 months.
And so, with her performance numbers starting to improve, the “cogs started to turn” for a remarkable comeback. "It was the combination of starting to feel fitter and added time with the Olympics postponement and it made me think: is it ridiculous to think that I could do it in about a year, with just having children?" she says.
"Maybe before I had children I would see that the toughest obstacle was being pregnant and physical changes but actually it's just the day-to-day of working out how they are never affected negatively by this. All the while trying to be the best athlete I can be."
Glover may still be shorn of a wider family and friends network due to ongoing lockdown restrictions but in Backshall, she has her rock-solid pillar of support – even if news of her Olympic return, delivered casually while feeding both the twins, did take him by surprise.
The well-known television personality, who was caught lovingly 'blubbering' on screen when his wife won in Rio, whisks the children out for a walk each morning to allow Glover to fit in the first of three daily training sessions. The second session, and main one of the day, is fitted around the babies' nap time, with the third dependent on family life and if necessary, often incorporating the children. It sounds exhausting just thinking about it, but Glover is so far managing the challenge – with some added mother’s perspective.
"Whereas before I wouldn't even dream of dropping a session, now it's something I accept, maybe there will be a chance to make it up in another part of the week. But if there isn't, that's time I've spent with my children."
Make no mistake, chasing another Olympics is something Glover fully intends to tackle with all her might. This is, after all, the individual who won the 125 mile Devizes to Westminster ultra-endurance kayak race in 2017. And then six days later ran her first marathon in three hours five minutes. But now family comes above everything.
“We're talking about the Olympics but what used to be all encompassing is just a part of my life that is ticking along outside the most whirlwind, all consuming part, my children."
Glover rejoined the British Rowing set up at Caversham over Christmas with Olympic selection based on a combination of trials and performances over the next few months, the first major competition being April’s European Championships.
According to her, the numbers are slightly off where she was at her peak, but she sees no reason why they cannot be back by July’s scheduled Games.
She is still to test herself in terms of flat out sprinting and ascertain whether her core strength has fully returned post-childbirth but she has made sure to lean on those that have tried to walk a similar path, including Anna Watkins, gold medallist at London who came up short in her own comeback for Rio following the birth of her two children.
"Anna was one of the first people I called," says Glover, who has also spoken to Dame Sarah Storey, mother of two and five-time Paralympic cycling champion. "She was like, 'I'm going to give you all the information from what I learnt from my attempt.'"
Glover says eldest son Logan already thinks it is normal that people do this amount of exercise. Similarly, the two Olympic gold medals, currently on a window sill, are in danger of becoming a toy for the inquisitive twins and will need to be moved. Not that Glover would have things any other way.
"Getting selected and to the start line will be a huge achievement," she says. "But the children will come ahead of everything. I never want them to feel like there's anything more important in the household or in my life than them."
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