Jessica Ennis-Hill: Thank You, Mum

When we asked Jessica Ennis-Hill to be part of this year’s Thank You Mum campaign, despite being busy with her Rio training schedule and one-year-old Reggie, she didn’t hesitate. You see, Jessica knows only too well what a vital role mums play: cheering us on, believing in us, always being on our team. Here she talks about her own mum, Alison Powell, and explains why she’s got so many reasons to say thank you mum.

1. How central to your success has your mum been?

My mum and dad introduced me to athletics when I was ten. So for my mum to be on this whole journey from start to finish, is so important.

She’s such a key part of why I’ve been so successful. She’s there to support me, just as a mum to say “everything is going to be okay, you’re going to be great” - but of course I also want her to enjoy the experience. The Olympics is such a unique, amazing, special occasion and she’s been such a huge part of my athletic career.

My mum did athletics at school, like most people do, but never took it to the next level. She felt that sport is such a good thing for kids to do. You gain so much from doing sport, you’re out there being active and you’re meeting different people. I think a part of it was a way to get me and my sister out of the house, to enjoy the summer holidays and do lots of different things.

That was my first introduction to athletics, and I just loved it and never stopped doing it since.

2. What lessons in life do you call upon to get through tough the challenges in your career?

My mum taught me that the key to success is belief; to believe in your abilities and to believe in your own talent. When I had three stress fractures in my foot in 2008 and missed my first Olympics it was a tough time. I really felt that I wasn’t going to come back as the same athlete (that I was before). I even worried that I wouldn’t be able to come back at all. I really felt that that could be the end of my career - I didn’t know that I was going to go on and be as successful as I previously had been.

My mum gave me the support and encouragement to come back even stronger and believe in myself, believe in my ability and believe my talent. She’s been absolutely amazing through really tough times, so thank you mum.

3. When have you looked to your mum for the most support?

During my athletic career there’s been lots of occasions where I’ve had injuries. When I was younger, things didn’t always go to plan during training or competitions. My mum would always be there to say “don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world, things can be put back in place and you learn from your mistakes when things haven’t gone to plan.”

Nothing was ever a disaster. My mum just always reassured me that things happen for a reason and I would come back stronger from this injury that I’m still that talented athlete that I was before, and I can come back and be even better. She always gives me really good advice when times are hard.

4. What kind of advice has your mother given you during your career?

The advice she gave me was that you learn from this and you take that to your next event or competition. Always enjoy what you do and don’t let it become a chore or stop enjoying it, because that’s the most important thing and that’s the advice my mum has given me from a very young age.

When I started athletics, I started with a group of friends and we all enjoyed it. We went down once or twice a week and gradually one friend would drop out and another friend would drop out, and something more interesting things would come up and they took up different interests. It got to the point where I was the last one, and even I felt like I should do something else.

At the time, the best advice she gave me was to stick at it, don’t worry about what your friends are doing, or that they’re doing different things, or that you’re missing out - just stick to what you’re doing and what you enjoy doing. That was good advice because I carried on training, I carried on going down to the track, increased my training - and eventually it got me to the pinnacle of my carrier winning a Gold medal.

5. Did your mum ever give you any life mantras to stick to?

My mum would always just say “believe in yourself, believe in your abilities and who you are as a person and as an athlete.”

6. Being an athlete can be gruelling physically, how did you cope with this growing up?

As a young girl coming into athletics I was very small quite skinny. The rest of the girls are tall and strong and I always felt like the little one. Even to this day, my mum always says to me before a competition “don’t let the big girls push you around”. She wanted to instil that belief that you are really strong and you can be a great athlete. It doesn’t matter if you are small and a bit skinnier than the other girls, you can be just as good as them, if not better.

7. What kind of character traits have you inherited from your mum?

The character traits I’ve learnt from my mum include competitiveness. My mum is very, very competitive, in a really great way, and I’ve obviously got that within me now and that’s something that I take into my sport. She’s always taught me to be determined, she’s a very determined and strong woman who’s really positive and successful in her own right, and that’s something I’ve taken on-board as well.

8. Do you credit your success to your mother?

I wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of my World, Olympic or European medals without the support of my mum. My family play a huge part in why I’ve been really successful, and my mum is really key to that. She’s always supported me, or been there for me when things haven’t gone to plan, or when I was beginning my journey through sport. She’s always given me that gentle encouragement while always being there in the background, supporting me as much as she can.

9. How has your relationship with your mother changed since you had your first child?

Having my son, Reggie, has been a huge change in my life, and obviously training and competing is very different now. My mum would come to the house and look after Reggie in the morning while I went training. I was able to get some really good training done and be in the best shape I could possibly be, and then I’d come back and spend time with Reggie. She’s just been absolutely fantastic helping with the grandma duties - being a wonderful mum to me and a really great grandma to Reggie.

10. How has your mum been there for you during the tough times?

There’s been lots of times in training where you feel ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore’. You’re really fatigued, both physically and mentally. Preparing for an Olympics is a really stressful thing and you’re thinking ‘can I do this’ or ‘do I want to do this’. My mum would always say - “you can do it, it is going to be hard, and if you have a hard journey to something and it’s not just all smooth sailing, then the end point is always much sweeter when you are successful and it does go well.” She just always said “enjoy what you do, you’ve got to enjoy your athletics, you’ve got to enjoy your sport, and if you do that - you’ll go on to do great things.”

In 2008, I had stress fractures in my right foot and that was such an awful time because I really felt this was going to be my first Olympics. It was going to be an amazing experience, and then obviously having that blow of an injury just two months before the Olympics was really hard to deal with. I had to stay at home, had my foot in a boot and was hobbling around the house. It’s just the little things my mum does that are amazing - like making sure lunch was in the house, and just being there to support me and tell me that everything is going to be okay. You have those days where you just feel like ‘I’m going to retire, this is not my time, it’s just not going to work out’, my mum’s always been there to say that it is going to work out and not to worry, your foot will heel and you’ll be back.

It’s just those little words of encouragement that make the biggest difference.

11. What are your favourite memories of your mum and family?

Lots of my favourite memories were going on lots of walks in the countryside, with my sister and my mum’s friends and their kids. We would go out in the Peak District and go on adventures in the countryside, take picnics, get lost and have loads of fun. We used to do a lot of outdoor activities, and it was really good fun. Those were my fondest memories of growing up.