Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Chrissie Wellington was already a four-time Ironman World Champion, now she’s a four-time published author.
The Great British triathlete, who stormed the Kona stage to win on debut in 2007, retired as a pro—unbeaten over the Ironman distance—after a historic 2011 victory when she fought back from a pre-race bike crash to make the start line and win an epic battle with Mirinda Carfrae.
Her best-selling autobiography, A Life Beyond Limits, was released in 2012, with a second book, To The Finish Line, a guide to training and featuring personal takes from Wellington’s time in the sport, following in 2017.
But now, in the wake of a global pandemic, she’s turned her hand to two short, illustrated books that are less about making us faster swim-bike-runners and more about developing us as better humans. We caught up with Chrissie to get the lowdown.
Triathlete: Hi Chrissie, so you’re becoming an author again. What are the new books called and what are they all about?
Chrissie Wellington: The books are called You’re So Amazing and You’re So Strong and they are the first two in what we hope will be a series to encourage and inspire children and families to take simple steps to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.
Both Susie [Bush-Ramsey, co-author, illustrator and former international athlete] and I feel passionately about empowering families, including our own, as we start to emerge from the coronavirus crisis and address some of the entrenched health and wellbeing problems that are affecting us all but especially children. I think children risk being among the biggest victims of the COVID restrictions.
Susie and I thought books were an amazing vehicle to convey messages to give children confidence, self-belief, to accept and learn from failure, to work with others, and be the best versions of themselves. The books finish with seven simple steps, which offer ideas on how families can make changes to improve their own lives and the world around them.
Triathlete: When and where did the idea originate?
Wellington: When I retired from triathlon, I knew I wanted to get involved in promoting physical activity—especially among children, which is how I segued into Parkrun, and we rolled out the junior Parkrun series of events.
I’ve had thoughts on children’s stories bubbling away and have put pen to paper but never found time to make them a reality. Last year, I was introduced to Susie. She’d developed a ‘seven simple steps’ program and thought I’d really benefit from it. She then shared the concept of the books with me and, although raw, they were the basis of the books you see today.
It was Susie’s idea to use nature to convey the life messages in the books. We thought it was a simple and easy to understand way of engaging children. That’s how the books came about.
Triathlete: Why are the books in black and white?
Wellington: I believe it makes them stand out from other children’s books that are typically in color, but it’s also aligned with the concept of simplicity.
They enable children to use their creativity and imagination precisely because there isn’t any color. We don’t tell you what color the flower is, what color the children’s skin is, you never see the children’s faces—they can use their imagination to fill those gaps.
We feel it’s a way of stimulating creativity among the children to be as inclusive as possible. Susie has mixed race children and felt there weren’t enough books that resonated with her children, so it was a way of redressing that balance as well.
Triathlete: It’s been nearly 10 years since your last triathlon and that famous last stretch along Ali’i Drive. Do you miss it, and do you still keep active?
Wellington: There are elements of my former life I really miss: the thrill of competition and that single-minded focus on a goal. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the performance or the amazing opportunities that come from having that platform. It’s an incredible part of being a successful athlete.
But I feel there has been enough water under the bridge. I achieved more than I thought I could in the sport and the time was right. Life is about new challenges and being out of your comfort zone, and retiring from sport was definitely out of mine.
I feel fortunate to have carved a path that builds on my passion for physical activity, health and well-being, and empowering others to make positive changes to their lives. And I feel fortunate that I had the career as a pro athlete because it gives me the opportunities I have today.
But life is a lot more balanced and varied now. My competitive nature has softened, and my drive and determination are channelled into different pursuits. Projects like these books, my career with Parkrun, and being with friends and family—when we’re allowed—are now more important than setting sporting goals. I’ll always be active, but I no longer feel the need to go out on a five-hour bike ride. My desire to prove something through sport has lessened, but my desire to achieve things beyond sport has increased.
I’ve also realized that my health isn’t measured by whether I can run a 2:50 marathon. I think I sacrificed my holistic health— emotional connection to others, mental health, and some aspects of physical health—at the altar of performance, and these books are a way of me saying: We might be fit and strong, but we need to take care of all areas of our health, now more than ever.
Triathlete: Finally, what next? Is it really a life without limits?
Wellington: For me it’s prioritizing connection with family and friends again at a time we’ve been disconnected and deprived of that. I’ve realized there is nothing more important than reconnecting in a rich and meaningful way. My goal this year is to do just that.