Rebecca Adlington is one of our greatest athletes. The swimmer famously won two gold medals for Team GB in the 2008 Olympics, as well as numerous others across a glittering career. (Including World Championship gold in 2011.)
Yet away from the pool, Adlington has been relentlessly attacked by online trolls (combined Olympic medals: 0) due to her appearance. It's a sickening trait of modern society and one that we still seem unable to control.
"I was constantly worried," recalls Adlington. "Even when I was going to an event, I didn't want to be photographed because I was so worried what would get written about me or said."
Thankfully motherhood helped her drown out the noise and therapy further alleviated her anxiety.
Enjoy our conversation with a truly inspirational woman.
On the 2002 Commonwealth Games
My parents bought me tickets to the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. I was only 11, 12 years old and didn't see myself doing it professionally. It was the first time I'd ever experienced live sport – my dad had taken me to a football game but that's it. I sat there and I got goosebumps on my arms. It was that first moment that drove me to be way more dedicated to the sport.
On the atmosphere
As a swimmer, you're massively aware of the atmosphere. Yes, I can't make out specific things that people are saying but you can hear the volume of noise. It's like an aeroplane: you put on those awful headphones but you can still hear everything else. It's exactly the same in the water: you can hear the atmosphere, the crowd. It massively makes a difference; as soon as you hear that elevation in noise, it gives you that extra 1%.
On drowning out the trolls
It was so based on my appearance, I was constantly worried – like, what am I wearing? I would kind of want to hide. Even when I was going to an event, I didn't want to be photographed because I was so worried what would get written about me or said. There was a period of my life when I just said no to everything. Having kids definitely help – a couple of years ago, I just stopped caring. I was like, I want to go to an event – if you don't like my dress, if you think I look fat, if you think I look ugly, that's on you.
On coping with her divorce
The press was so negative: it was all, you're a mum and you're getting divorced, how dare you! I was so scared what they were going to write about me and things like that. That was the moment that I really doubted myself because I was going through something incredibly personal and incredibly heartbreaking. When you go through something like that, you don't know where to go next.
On the press
The press get 99.9% of things wrong. They can spin it any way they like, put a spin on it, exaggerate your words. A lot of stuff being reported was just total lies. Even now it still happens. It was reported that I spent lockdown with my ex-husband. Totally did not! Not even a day. We were co-parenting, dropping the daughter off so she could spend time with both of us. We didn't live together through that period!
On conquering anxiety
I went to therapy for eight months for having panic attacks and anxiety, going through that whole process. I stopped having panic attacks within a few months of having therapy but there's still so much you want to work on, develop the tools that you need. I felt like I graduated when both of agreed in therapy that I didn't need to come back. I loved the direction that I was on in my life – the worried, anxious feeling that I had all the time started to disappear.
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