Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Rebecca Adlington: 'Becoming a mother changed my life'

Olympian Rebecca Adlington's crash on C4's The Jump was traumatic. The swimmer tells Gabrielle Fagan how she's overcoming the pain and how having a baby transformed her.

Although two-time Olympic gold medallist swimmer Rebecca Adlington endured years of pain during her bid for sporting glory, nothing prepared her for what she endured following an accident on Channel Four's challenging winter sports reality show, The Jump.

"I've never suffered pain like that - it was worse than childbirth," says the 27-year-old, who's still recovering after she lost control hurtling off an icy 100-metre slope at more than 30mph while practising an air jump.

She dislocated her shoulder so badly she required an operation two weeks ago, and she's one of six celebrities forced to quit the show because of injury.

"I lost my balance and flung my arm out to right myself as I sailed through the air, which dislocated my shoulder. Landing on it made it worse," explains Adlington, wincing at the memory of what she went through.

"It was such an unlucky, fluke accident. The medics rushed up immediately to try and push the joint back into place and couldn't. I had to have gas to help me cope with the excruciating agony," she says.

"Later, an MRI scan revealed damage around the joint and two weeks ago I had surgery to repair it."

She's still wearing a sling, cannot lift her eight-month-old daughter, Summer, or drive, and will need six weeks physiotherapy before she's fully fit again.

Nothing, however, will stop Adlington - who lives in Manchester with her husband, former swimmer Harry Needs (24) - heading back to Austria this week for The Jump final tomorrow, even though she'll miss Mother's Day with their little girl.

"Harry's sending video on the day, so I don't miss out completely. I just have to be there with everyone for the end because we've all become such friends and I was so upset at having to pull out," she explains.

"I don't regret taking part at all because I love challenging myself. I'm used, as an athlete, to overcoming blows, so I'd happily compete on another show like this. I think all those injuries have just been down to bad luck because the professionals on the show are so careful and conscientious."

Her recovery is being boosted by acupuncture, which she's using to help relieve pain and swelling.

"I first used it during the run-up to the London Olympics," explains Adlington, who won two gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and two bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.

"My shoulders still flare up if I exercise too much or carry Summer around all day. Regular acupuncture helps with that and I had it after giving birth to help rebalance my system."

Happily, it seems she's enjoying an enviable balance in her personal life three years after retiring from sport, although emerging from the pool into the public spotlight hasn't always been easy.

The down-to-earth Mansfield-born girl was cruelly targeted by Twitter trolls, who made jibes about what they dubbed her 'fishy lips' and 'dolphin nose' in 2012, shortly after her Olympic glory.

Then there were unconfirmed rumours, which she still refuses to discuss, that a few months before her wedding in 2014 she had surgery on her nose.

Adlington credits motherhood for transforming her confidence and confides with a smile: "Your mindset changes when you become a mum and so do your priorities. All those doubts and worries about my appearance don't even enter my mind now. When I'm with my daughter, she's all that matters, and I have a different perspective and see all that other stuff for what it is -petty and totally irrelevant.

"Like most mums with a little one, I actually feel lucky if I manage to shower and do my hair and make-up."

She combines commentating on sport for TV - she's going to Rio as part of the BBC team for the Olympics - with running her nationwide Swim Stars swimming classes for children. Her husband runs a personal training business and is studying graphic design.

"It's busy for both of us, but we're a team. He's my best friend and we're totally in tune with each other and share the same views," she says.

"I feel guilty when I'm not with Summer, but Harry's such a hands-on dad who loves his time with her that I'm as happy as I can be when I'm away, although I miss her loads."

The strength of her maternal feelings initially came as a shock to Adlington who'd spent years as a driven, disciplined athlete.

"Summer's massively changed me as a person. I was never particularly lovey-dovey or maternal before I had her and for years had been this self-centred athlete.

"Suddenly, overnight, you feel this overwhelming love for this little baby. It was quite a shock at first to be honest, but I learnt very quickly that a baby rules everything. Just hearing her laugh melts my heart."

Her daughter's already a water-baby - the couple took her swimming from three weeks old - but while Adlington's relaxed about whether she'll ever compete, she'd love her to follow in her parents' sporty footsteps.

"Summer must follow her own path, of course, but I'd love her to be part of sport in some way because it's given me so much," she enthuses. "I've travelled the world, met incredible people, and gained so much from it.

"Even now people still come up to me because they recognise me from my swimming days, which is lovely. I don't ever think of myself as a celebrity, I'm just someone who achieved in something I loved and have gone to have a life which is just as fulfilling. You can't beat the thrill of being a parent."

Rebecca Adlington is supporting 'Acupuncture Awareness Week' (March 7-13) by the British Acupuncture Council. To find out more about traditional acupuncture

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