Is Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill slowing down in retirement? No chance
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 April 2017
Joan Russell Photography
Sheffield Olympian on her life after athletics success.
Fun-runners jogging round their local park don’t often get a chance to test themselves against a three-time heptathlon world champion, but a group in Sheffield did just that. And won.
‘I was determined to take it easy and just jogged round with my friend chatting most of the way,’ says Steel City superstar Jessica Ennis-Hill. ‘But there were loads of people on Twitter saying they’d just beaten an Olympic champion, and I was like, “I was only jogging, I wasn’t really trying!”.’
As a gold medal-winning Olympian, national record holder and – just for good measure – a Dame, she really has nothing left to prove. But it’s not always easy for athletes who have hit the heady heights to come back down to earth in retirement. For some, it’s a bit of a bumpy landing.
‘So many sportsmen and women struggle when they retire, and a lot of them get depressed because it is such a change in their lives,’ the 31-year-old explains. ‘When you’ve had that structure in your life, of training and competing for so many years, it’s such a massive change.’
Thankfully, Jessica has had plenty to keep her occupied, most notably her son Reggie, who keeps her on her toes from morning till night. Born in 2014 between her incredible 2012 Olympic victory in London and her exceptional comeback at the 2015 World Championships, this little bundle of energy has helped his mum avoid the pitfalls that so many recently retired athletes encounter.
‘If I didn’t have Reggie I’d feel a bit lost because I’d have a lot more free time,’ she says. ‘He’s just like 100mph every day from six o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock at night, so I don’t really have time to think about what I was doing before, like training and all those things. It’s a great distraction – the best kind.’
Since retiring from professional sports, the Team GB superstar has embarked on a whole new career as a celebrity mum, appearing on TV shows like CBeebies Storytime (other hosts include mums’ favourite muscle-man Tom Hardy, actress Maxine Peake and national treasure Derek Jacobi who, incidentally, read a Hairy Maclary book) and writing a seven-part series of children’s books, Evie’s Magic Bracelet, the first of which, The Silver Unicorn, was released last month.
‘You’re just kind of thrown into that world of children, which is really lovely,’ says Jessica. ‘I thought children’s books would be something I’d enjoy doing, but I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever have the opportunity to do them. When the chance came along, I grabbed it with both hands.’
Writing The Silver Unicorn also gave her the chance to take a welcome trip down memory lane.
‘I used to love going on adventures with my friends after school,’ she explains. ‘One bit that’s captured in the book is when I was around eight-years-old; we used to go to the botanical gardens in Sheffield, and my mum would always say there were little fairies in the trees. We’d all put our heads to the bushes and, I swear, I could hear ringing bells and things going on in there. It’s that innocent, magical side you have when you’re a child that I tried to capture in the book.’Jessica hopes that one day Reggie – now nearly three and ‘a proper little adult’ – will be able to look back on her memories of Sheffield and get a whole new perspective on their shared home town.
‘I’ve lived in Sheffield my whole life and I love the city,’ she enthuses. ‘It’s a great city, the people are great and we’ve got the Peak District right on our doorstep. It’s just a beautiful part of the world.
‘I have great memories of growing up here and it just seems like a lovely place to raise children. I think Reggie is enjoying it so far so I’ve got no plans to move anytime soon.’
Sheffield is renowned for its sports facilities; something that Jessica is keen for her son to make the most of. So, could it be that one day we’ll see another Ennis-Hill on an Olympic podium in the red, white and blue of Team GB?
‘Reggie is really active and sporty already, but I want him to try as many sports as possible rather than specialising in anything just yet. I want him to enjoy being active and enjoy taking part in sport first,’ she says. ‘If he’s great at one, that’s brilliant, but I’m not going to be one of those parents who’s like, “right, you’ve got to train every day and you will be a champion”. That’s where it all goes wrong. And anyway, it’s just not me.’
The first book in Jessica Ennis-Hill’s new Evie’s Magic Bracelet series, The Silver Unicorn, is out now, priced £5.99