Britain’s greatest ever female track cyclist Victoria Pendleton opens up about life after cycling. interview by Lisa Salmon.
Victoria Pendleton could be excused for taking it easy. In the last two years, she’s won Olympic medals (and the nation’s hearts), she’s competed in BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, she’s worked on advertising campaigns, she’s organised her wedding...
Someone who’s capable of all that in the first place is unlikely just to sit back and relax - and Pendleton, 33, is now learning to be a personal trainer.
“I’ve enjoyed it all being about me,” she admits, “but at the end of the day, I will find it equally rewarding for it to be about somebody else, rather than focusing on myself and winning gold medals.”
Of course, it wasn’t only her two Olympic golds medals (one in 2008 and 2012). In her illustrious career, Pendleton also won nine world cycling titles (in 2005 she became the third British female cycling world champion in 40 years), including a record six in the individual sprint competition.
“I wouldn’t change all that for the world, but I’m glad to be embarking on a new career, which I feel is a little less of a burden.
“I always put myself under a lot of pressure and it’s nice to be in a different place now.
“Before, it was always about the need to be doing and giving my best, and I placed high expectations on myself, and I struggled to live up to them most of the time.”
It doesn’t seem like she struggled to anyone else, but Pendleton is repeatedly modest about what she achieved, and how she achieved it.
She insists there’s nothing special about her physically - she’s simply a real trier. As perhaps demonstrated by crying on Strictly Come Dancing, she is also passionately emotional about doing her best.
“I think if I was a less emotional person and I cared less about what I did I would never have achieved what I have - it’s only because it meant so much to me that I kept pushing through.
“If I was blase and it didn’t bother or affect me, I don’t think I would ever have won at the Olympics.
“Because I’m not physically gifted, I just tried really, really hard to get there. It was tenacity, it was purely what was on the inside rather than what was on the outside, and that’s draining.
“It takes a lot of energy to be something you’re not naturally.”
This enormous physical and mental challenge inevitably did take its toll - in 2012, Pendleton revealed she had turned to self-harm while battling the pressures of competing.
However, rather than being angry about what her commitment to the sport made her do, she stoically insists she doesn’t look back and think she should have done things differently, she just accepts life is a learning curve.
She said: “I think now I’m a stronger person for it. I can’t change the past, so I think it probably gives me a lot more understanding of other people and their situations, which I don’t think is a bad thing.
“I have felt low in the past, and I’ve had the highest highs as well, so its just part of who I am, I guess.”
Now, however, things are on a more even keel. While she feels no regrets for anything, she does, she says, also feel “free” for the first time in her life.
“I don’t resent by any means having been in that sporting environment and being very, very disciplined and restrained. That’s what you do when you do that job.”
She added: “At times it’s very limited, but I don’t resent or regret it, although it is really nice to do something a little bit different, and do what I want to do.”
Pendleton reflects that perhaps the gritty times she’s been through are actually what helps her appreciate this ‘niceness’ more than anything.
“Before it was always pushing forward, head down, going for the next goal, the next competition and it was all about being the best I could be,” she says.
“But now its nice to step back and realise how fortunate I am, and how lucky I am to have had the opportunities I’ve had. I guess I just feel lighter.”
Making this light even brighter than ever is, of course, Pendleton’s “fab” husband, Scott Gardner, the former Team GB performance scientist, who she wed in September 2012.
The couple faced huge controversy from the GB team when the romance was revealed in 2008 - it was considered a conflict of interests - and Gardner was forced to resign from his job.
But undeterred, the couple rode out the storm, and just became even stronger. Now, they live very happily in Cheshire, with their “two great dogs”.
“It sounds a bit sickly perhaps, a bit like a fairytale but that’s how I feel.
“I’m so lucky because I’ve had so many great opportunities, even this personal training was something on my list of things to do and now I’m in a position to do it... it’s brilliant.”
It seems success is just the beginning for Victoria.
For others keen to follow their dreams, Pendleton - who hopes to finish her qualifications as a Fitness First trainer this summer - has a word of advice.
“Don’t let other people put limits on your potential - if you want to do it there’s no reason why you can’t.
“I was always told I was too small, too skinny, I didn’t have the right mental attitude, but I did it and it just shows there’s more than one way to get to the final goal.
“Listen to yourself at the end of the day. It’s just your opinion that counts.”