After winning two Olympic Gold medals of her own for sailing, these days Sarah Ayton OBE is enjoying being a mum … but she is still involved with the Olympic buzz, supporting husband and windsurfer Nick Dempsey in the 2012 games!
You have been sailing since you were six years old – do you still enjoy it?
Yes! Sailing is a great sport, and like any sport it totally consumes you. For the past ten years it has been my career, and I enjoy that side of it – having an end goal, being the best I can be, but I also like the healthy living side of it.
You have won two Olympic gold medals – what’s the toughest part of competing at that level?
Consistently performing: mentally it’s tough to stay fully engaged all the time – always looking towards the next goal – you are constantly fatigued. It’s actually one of the nice things about the Olympics that afterwards you do get time to switch off for a bit.
How did you stay motivated?
With an end goal like the Olympics it is important to have lots of little goals in between on the journey – it keeps you focused. Being part of a team really helps as well – you don’t want to let each other down.
Do you have to do a lot of other training aside from sailing to keep fit?
We do a lot of work on bikes and running – long duration exercise and low intensity. In the gym we also work on core strength, flexibility … it’s a real mix depending on where we are in the programme, and we try to make it diverse because it can be hard to stay motivated. I particularly love running though because you can do it anywhere – you just take your trainers and you’re off! I also love mountain biking.
Are you very diet conscious?
When you’re in a training phase it’s just important to realise that what you eat is fuelling you, so you need to make sure it’s balanced and have proteins after exercise. Even now with the children I am conscious of it – if I have a few days off eating healthily I feel it!
You have just had your second baby, how did you kept fit throughout your pregnancy?
I didn’t really do anything! Being fit is a part of my job, so I really admire people who fit it in around a full time career. As a mum I can only do it by incorporating exercise into my day – walking or running with the pram. I think the important thing is continuity.
You stopped sailing professionally when you became a mum, but do you sail at all for fun?
I decided to put sailing on hold when Thomas (now aged two) was born and concentrate on him, and I have no plans to go back to Olympic sailing – that was just an individual choice. I am looking forward to getting back on the water with Thomas though, and I have a National Championships with my old coach to look forward to, so who knows whether my competitive nature will take over?
You obviously enjoy sailing, and your husband Nick is competing in the 2012 Olympics windsurfing events – is Thomas showing signs of being a bit of a water baby as well?
Thomas loves the water and looking at the boats, and he helps Nick put the sponsorship stickers on his sails. Obviously we will give him every opportunity with sailing and windsurfing, but I want to try and avoid being pushy parents. We have both had wonderful lives through sport, so if that’s what he chooses we will always support that.
Nick is obviously competing in the 2012 games, do you ever offer him advice?
We have an interesting dynamic: I totally understand what he’s doing and why he has to be away for twenty-five days a month, and if he wants to talk we do.
During the Beijing Olympics you won a gold medal and Nick finished in fourth place – that must have been tough to deal with?
It was a really tough time for Nick, but he has dealt with that and is really hungry for these games. He was extremely proud at the time, and hid his disappointment well. It was a tough year for him, but you can only come back stronger.
Are you excited about the Olympics being in the UK this year?
I am very excited, it’s a major deal having the games in our home country. I guess where I am at the moment, I am still in a competitor’s frame of mind looking at what needs to be done. It’s a bit different watching though – I don’t know how parents do it! Watching events, you have no control over it!
What advice do you offer young competitors?
I have actually been mentoring first-time Olympians to help them prepare for the games. It’s such a massive event, so I try to help them understand how to deal with it all and concentrate on their performance. As a team we always concentrated on our own processes and routines and spending the lead up to events identifying all the things and people who make a difference – it’s all about being proactive.
Being out on the water is obviously very healthy, but can be pretty tough on your skin, did you used to do anything to protect it?
I am realising that now! My hands are still pretty rough, they make me look like an old woman! I regret not wearing more sun cream when I was younger, the Chinese girls were painted with it, and there we were with our two stripes across our cheeks!
Do you ever get the chance to go to a spa and have time to relax?
At both games I went to we went on an R&R camp with the sailing team – relaxation has always been part of our routine and it’s particularly important coming up to a big event. A spa is an ideal way to spend time to mentally prepare. Often in sport, relaxation is not given enough attention.
What have you been looking forward to most about the 2012 Games?
Watching my husband race and giving him the best support he needs – just to see him, and the rest of our team down in Weymouth. The Olympics is just a totally wild experience, I am looking forward to seeing how they do!
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