It’s been over 30 years since she first represented Great Britain as a prodigiously talented swimmer but Sharron Davies, remains one of the best known female names and faces in British sport.
A full international at 11 and an Olympian at 13, Sharron Daives went on to win medals in all major Championships including an Olympic silver (she was pipped to gold by an East German later proven to be on performance enhancing steroids). Staggeringly she also accumulated more than 200 records.
Her appearance on the national and international swimming scene was without parallel. Already earmarked for success at the age of eight, she was Devon Senior Ladies Champion at 10 and a GB swimmer
a year later. But it was her emergence as an Olympian at 13, a Commonwealth Games double gold medalist at 15 and Olympic silver medalist at 17 that firmly placed in her into the national consciousness.
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However, at only 18 she was starting to feel the effects of burnout and needed six months off, “Something that was just not done in those days”, admitted Sharron. After a short spell on a scholarship at Berkeley University in San Francisco she returned to find things had got even more difficult. She was in serious hot water with the authorities after falling foul of one of the many anomalies attached to amateur status sport in those days.
On the same day her good friend Sebastian Coe collected a six figure sum for a clothing contract she received a £40 TV appearance fee. “Track and field athletes had ‘Trusts’ which the money could be placed in, so they weren’t technically being paid directly,” explained Sharron adding, “But swimmers didn’t have such an arrangement.
To take money based on what you might have done in the pool – however tenuous – was tantamount to being professional and that was punishable by elimination from competition. It was a great shame because technically speaking the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 would have seen me at my peak. Drug cheats had been weeded out and there were no East Germans, but I didn’t go”.
Her new found and enforced ‘freedom’ gave Sharron time to explore a variety of media work, modelling, acting, TV presenting, writing, and even powerboat racing! After eight years away and at an age when many elite swimmers were retiring she did return to the pool for as she puts it, “Some unfinished business”, adding more medals and acquiring another Olympic experience in Barcelona in 1992.
And whilst she is forever thankful for everything swimming has given her, she does not regret turning her back on competitive swimming for the second and final time after Barcelona. It was her third Olympiad in three different decades.
A full international at 11 and olympian at 13, Sharron went on to win medals in all major championships including an olympic silver
Now in her 40’s, Sharron has three children aged between 16 and three. Sharron’s life has been dominated by high-level training, elite sport and an on-going desire to set a good and healthy example to her own children and others.
Her days of rising at 5am and training for six hours every day – originally round her schoolwork – maybe some way behind her, but she still works hard to maintain great shape and a high level of fitness. And there is little doubt this helps explain the remarkable longevity of a successful career and sustained popularity decades after she first came to public prominence.
Like most retired athletes she did not make life after competitive sport an excuse to put her feet up. And she has never been under any illusion that an element of her ongoing success and popularity in broadcast and print media and all her speaking jobs and personal appearances come down, in part, to how she looks.
“I hope that doesn’t look like a conceited or shallow admission, it is just the way it is,” she commented. “I can’t very well endorse health and fitness or talk to school halls full of children about my life in sport and beyond if I don’t still look in decent order. In the same way I wouldn’t expect people to trust a hairdresser with terrible hair!”
She speaks regularly to all kinds of groups from enthralled schools to captive corporate audiences and the fact she still looks like a fit, trim and sporty woman allows her to deliver a positive and energising motivational message
Evidence of her sustained conditioning lies in the fact that at 1.8m (5ft 11), she weighs 68Kg (10st 7lbs) – the same as her competitive swimming weight at the time of retiring and the same as her days as ‘Amazon’ on TV’s
Gladiators. Not bad for a busy mother of three! Unlike most people Sharron is in the fortunate position of having her own well equipped gym at home which is made up of numerous items of CV machines and fixed weight kit and racks of free weights and accessories such as resistance bands and Swiss balls.
“My workday is not predictable in a routine sense and can involve TV, radio appearances, motivational speaking, photoshoots and public appearances. But I try to build my days around my children and when all of that is in place I attempt to get into my gym at least three times a week and do the best I can with the time I have available.
“I believe in a ‘something is better than nothing’ principle these days and if I can only grab 20 minutes on the bike then so be it, but I aim for a 60 minute mixed workout. My body has years of physical exertion and training ‘in the bank’ and there is no doubt that it has a good memory. I find it quite easy to top that training up these days rather than feel like I am ever starting all over.
“Before I was 10 I was training every day and was doing so for six hours a day by the age of 14. I’d rise at 5am and train for two hours before school six days a week. My father was my coach but that certainly didn’t mean special favours, in fact quite the opposite. I fell out of a tree once and broke both arms but rather than put me ‘off-games’ he just wrapped them in plastic bags and got me straight back in the pool.
Same with a serious knee injury when his response was to tie my legs together and stay with the training programme. Maybe that resulted in the butterfly being my favourite element of the 400 IM (individual medley)! I’d not recommend it and would certainly never adopt that kind of approach with my kids, but I suppose it worked for me”.
Sharron’s stay in shape training and diet
Rather than rebel she put in the remarkable effort being demanded of her – the benefits of which she still enjoys today. “I’m well aware that I have a great life, the origins of which can be traced back to those 5am starts, relentless miles in the pool and a daily programme that barely allowed me to relate to what the other boys and girls were doing.
‘Normal’ life had to wait and I caught up later! “But I’ve always believed you don’t get something for nothing and if sporting, business or artistic success were easy everybody would achieve it.
Although we live in a different era of easy celebrity and instant notoriety supported by an insatiable gossip media, where some have become famous for their lack of talent and skill, I still believe real longevity and influence lies with those who have worked hard and succeeded.
“Anybody who has ever got themselves into good shape before knows what it takes and they also know their body will respond well to further exercise even if it is some years later. I get frustrated when some women appear to use having had children as an excuse to ‘let go’. There really is no need for that as the body will respond and you can get pretty darn close to pre-pregnancy
shape with a bit of effort.
I know time counts against us busy mums, but if nothing else you can always find time and space for some sit-ups, lunges and push ups – and that don’t cost anything!” “The large part of what I do is cardiovascular based,
mostly static bike as it does not irritate my problematic right knee too much.
The days of pounding out miles on the treadmill are probably over, but good paced walking with adecent incline setting does a great job of getting the heart rate up and working the legs, while a good rhythmic arm swing with light weights works the upper body.
“With free weights I prefer to use 10kg dumbbells for a number of arm exercises such as curls, flys, extensions and presses to keep good arm tone and functional strength. This is combined with general upper and lower body work on various resistance stations from squats on the Smith Machine to leg curls and extensions.
I only use lighter weights with my resistance work, as I’m not after ‘bulk’ or too much strength, but good functional conditioning and tone.
“All of this is only truly effective when combined with a decent diet. And whilst I’m not overly puritanical I keep an eye on what I eat and enjoy a largely healthy diet. I certainly like a biscuit with a cup of tea and a chocolate here and there, but my meals and the meals I prepare for my family are certainly at the healthier end of the spectrum.
Lots of low fat, high protein foods. It is a good way to create healthy habits for the kids at an early age. As with physical activity the onus is on parents to take a lead when it comes to setting an example and formulating good habits in their children.”
It has certainly worked in her household. Elliott and Grace might have been born to two British Olympic athletes (their father is former 400m runner Derek Redmond) but Sharron has made no attempt to steer them in a sporting direction. “I will support them whatever they do, whether that is acting, mathematics, writing or sport”.
But their genetic heritage does seem to be playing a part. Whilst having wide ranging interests and hobbies both are showing sporting talents. Grace is a budding athlete whilst Elliott has won a rugby scholarship to the renowned Millfield School and has already won a prestigious cup final at Twickenham. And Finlay may only be three but he was walking at nine months and that could be a clue to future athletic achievement!
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