Michelle Griffith Robinson © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Michelle Griffith Robinson – Olympian, speaker and women’s rights ambassador
“ Don’t watch the person in the next lane, slay in your own lane – because you’re in control of where you’re going!”
Michelle Griffith-Robinson OLY is one of those people who has an incredible presence, and you can literally feel the good vibes radiating from her. She is a strong, independent, and successful woman with a truly motivating story. Michelle is a Life Coach, Ex-Olympian, Personal Trainer, Women’s Aid Ambassador, Diabetes UK Ambassador and Menopause Campaigner – as if that wasn’t enough to juggle, Michelle is also a Mum of three children, Reese, 18, Eden 16, and Elijah 8. We could have listened to Michelle’s inspiring stories and words of wisdom all day. Her thirst for life and desire to succeed are certainly strengths to be admired, but another quality that we took away from our interview with Michelle was her refreshing approach to dealing with the curve balls that life inevitably throws at you, and how she seemingly takes everything in her stride, with her words “they’ll be alright” echoing throughout the interview.
Although Michelle had a successful athletics career, with 15 years at the top of her game, personally she was involved in a couple of toxic relationships before meeting her husband, Matthew, at the Commonwealth Games in 2002, where they were both competing. Just a few months later when they finally got together, Michelle knew Matthew was the man she wanted to have a family with.
Have you always wanted to be a mum?
“I think I’ve always known I wanted children from about the age of 25 but being an athlete, you often think ‘oh is that just a dream, is it pie in the sky’, you know, because you are so dedicated to your craft and your childbearing years in the main are spent competing. I also went through a few difficult relationships in my teenage years and into my early twenties as well, so having children then was not something I even considered. I had made a conscious decision that when I had kids it had to be with the right person. Then I met Matthew, my husband, it was in a dining hall at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and there was around filled a thousand people in the room. He was representing Wales for Rugby 7’s and I was doing the triple jump for England. I was with my best friend when I spotted him, and I said ‘God that guys good looking. I’ve to go and tell him!’ and my friend said, ‘you can’t go and tell him!’ And said ‘no I’ve got to, I’ve got to go and tell him!’, she laughs. “I said, ‘Hi I’m Michelle’ and he said ‘I know who you are I saw you in newspapers yesterday’ – and I had been re-enacting a series of Gwyneth Paltrow shots, they were quite revealing. And he was a really nice guy. I asked for his number, and he said you’re a lovely girl, but you can’t have my number. But can I have yours as I’m in something [relationship] at the moment.’ So, I thought he was a bit of a cheeky git, but I gave him my number anyway. And that was the July and at the end of October he called me. Three months later! Keeping me on my bloody toes he was! I must say I wasn’t there waiting though don’t worry!” She laughs again, “And as they say the rest is history! We’ve been together for 20 years now, and I often say, ‘God is not sleeping, and God doesn’t give you more than you can bear.’ So, you know it was just about timings, and I’m lucky that I managed to meet my knight in shining armour, and he is you know. I had children very quickly after we got together, it was literally months later that I fell pregnant and we had our first daughter Reese, she was born premature, five weeks early, in September 2003. Having your first child is life changing for anybody, and for me I went from being this athlete that’s sponsored, and where the phone never stopped ringing and always having lots of people around me, to then suddenly after making that transition into parenthood, the phone stopped ringing and I was no longer the nucleus.”
Michelle Griffith-Robinson © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Michelle Griffith Robinson. IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY for BROOD
So how did you deal with that, both emotionally and financially?
“Fortunately for me I had already set up a PT company in 1999, whilst I was still doing track and field, as I always tell people that in anything you do, most jobs have a shelf life, and you need to make sure that you have something to fall back on. So luckily, I had built a great reputation within that industry too. And I was at an Aids Charity Event in 2001, and I met Mel B (who is now the patron of Women’s Aid and I’m also an ambassador for the charity) and I remember meeting her and in her very Northern Leeds accent she said, ‘I want abs like f**king yours!’ And a couple of weeks later her agent rang and I started to train her, and I did so for two and half years, until she went to America. So obviously aside from the platform I had as an athlete, to train someone that is as high profile as a Spice Girl completely propelled my business and I ended up with a lot of attention in the press. So, it’s about taking those opportunities when they come and doing a good job when you get them. I always say to people ‘Grab your opportunities because those opportunities will only knock once! So, take them and gamble.’”
So, after Reece was born, did you managed to compete again or did becoming a mother mean that part of your career ended?
“No, after I had Reece, Matt started to train me, along with my coach Frank, and I just missed the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Then I carried on training for another two years and I made it to the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. When I look back at that transition of training and competing after becoming a mum, it was hard because I was having to leave Reese to fulfil my dream. And I had to go to Cuba to train – Cubans are excellent triple jumpers. My grandmother was actually Cuban, so it was extra special to get to go and see where my grandmother grew up, but leaving Reese for two weeks felt like 22 years to me! She was only 8 months old at this point, but my husband who is very pragmatic said, ‘if you want to make the Olympic games, why would you not want to go and train with the best in the world? Because if you’re doing it, then DO IT! You’re either in or you’re out.’ And he was right, so I went to Cuba. I left Reese behind, and she didn’t even bat an eyelid when I came back, she just started saying ‘mama, mama’. We all know the juggle is hard, but you’ve got to do it for yourself. Parenting is a struggle, you’re permanently juggling, but it’s been the biggest joy to my life and feel exceptionally blessed to have my three children.”
So now you have three children and various career roles, how do you juggle everything now and how did you adapt over the years?
“I’m a very proud 50-year-old mother of three children. My eldest daughter is 18, our other daughter is 15 and our son, our youngest is 8. And I often look back at times where it’s been a struggle, and I still say it, ‘They’re going to be alright!’ If they stay in your bed until they’re ten, ‘They’re going to be alright!’ If they are still in a nappy by 5, ‘They’re going to be alright!’ Generally, no matter what, they are going to be alright. I think we just put so much pressure on ourselves to ‘Mrs perfect’ or ‘Mr perfect’, but I’ve let that go.
So, when did your athletics career end and your passion for coaching begin?
After I had Reece and I had completed the Commonwealth games in 2006 I retired. I fell pregnant that night in Melbourne. I went onto have Eden and we were living in the middle east at the time, my personal training company was still going strong, and it was around this time that I started mentoring young people, as I had always had a passion for developing the growth of the future. Helping people with their mindset, it’s all very well having all the GCSE and A Levels in the world, but you need to have the skills to manage yourself. At this point joined a company called the Dame Kelly Homes trust, which Kelly founded on the eve of her retiring, and I’m still a mentor for them now, working with 16–25-year-olds. I’ve worked with some really deprived young people, and all some of them really needed was an arm around them and for somebody to say you’re going to be alright, but question them as to why they keep demonstrating the same destructive behaviour time after time? We often forget if we keep doing the same things time after time, why would you expect a different result? You need to switch it up. Change it up. But fear can prevent us from switching things up, people like to stay in their comfort zones.
And it was about 4/5 years after starting that, that I went into Life Coaching. I recognised that through training with PT my clients, I was also coaching them as well. Because when you’re a PT people open up – you here all their shit and then some! So, I enrolled to do a degree in Counselling, Mentoring and Coaching, but then the trust kindly offered to pay for my diplomas in Life coaching, performance coaching and coaching in education, so that’s what I choose to do.”
“I’m big on affirmations. I’ve got things stuck all over the walls, because sometimes you still need those reminders to say I am enough!”
Having had such a successful athletics career, you must have had to develop a very strong mindset yourself, do you think this gave you the perfect foundation to become a Life Coach? Equally it must help you in your own approach to life and that as a parent too.
“Yes, I always think about the main things that I have learnt through sport and that is you’ve got to have the mindset of a working at a high-performance level every day. You’ve got to know that sometimes you’re going to hit the floor. You’re going to get injured, but what are you going to do? Put the cover over your head and go on a downward spiral or are you going to choose to take the cover off your head, except that you’re injured and find a way to bounce back. And this applies to the curve balls that life throws at you. So, resilience is key. I’ve past that on to my kids and my mother past that onto me. My mum is the most amazing resilient women I know.
Another one I would say is your authentic self. People find out if you’re a fraud, just be you. You can be at peace with yourself when you are your true self. Stop comparing yourself to everybody else. As parents, we do that too much, comparing whose child has done what first – just get rid of all that and focus on what works for you and your circumstances. No one else is in your position or a part of your household. For example, my eldest daughter took the longest to walk in her Montessori group, she was 16 months old before she started walking, and I was begging her to walk because she was the last one, but now she’s forth in the country for triple jump. So, let’s put it into perspective they are going to be alright.
And lastly, I’ve learnt that you need to manage your own expectations – do what works for you. Because the more you keep comparing yourself to others, the more you are going to be unkind to yourself. You’ll end up not feeling good enough – but you are enough – and you need to be able to say I am enough. I can say I’m enough, you know, these 32F saggy boobs are brilliant! They’ve fed my three children! I don’t give a shit about how they compare to other peoples; I’m not interested. But that comes with age.”
You have such a positive outlook; do you do anything to help you maintain that?
“I’m big on affirmations. I’ve got things stuck all over the walls, because sometimes you still need those reminders to say I am enough. I think the best you can do though when you are having ‘one of those days’ is to look at your progression and the trajectory of where you are and where you have come from. Having children, running a business, etc and then when you break it down, you’ll think, bloody hell – I’m proud of me! Just focus on slaying in your lane. Don’t watch the person in the next lane, slay in your lane – because you’re in control of where you’re going!”
Are there any standout moments that were particularly challenging in your life, where you have had to implement some life coaching techniques to help you through?
“When I reached 40, I wanted a third baby. I fell pregnant very quickly and unfortunately, I had a miscarriage at about 8/9 weeks. I think that made me more determined, but my husband thought it might have been a sign and seemed reluctant for us to try again. Upon reflection I didn’t really like the responses I was getting from my husband after I miscarried, and I spoke to him at length about it a little while. I didn’t feel he was being very supportive, but when I spoke to him, he explained that he didn’t know how to be supportive, that it was hard to know what to say and he was just so worried about saying then wrong thing. And I took that on board, but I said I still wanted us to try for a third baby. It turned out he was also concerned about me putting myself through that again, especially because I get very sick with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. So, once we had communicated properly it helped us. 5 months later I went to a fertility clinic, because I hadn’t fallen pregnant. And the doctor asked how old I was, and I said I’m forty, that I’d had a miscarriage and I hadn’t fallen pregnant since, and she just said keep trying. Just keep trying, one day I will bump into you in the supermarket, and you will be pregnant. And believe or not…five months later I bumped into her at the supermarket, and I was pregnant! And September 2013 my son Elijah was born. And I talk about that part of my journey as I know it’s something that can affect a lot of women and it can make you feel like a failure. It can really hard even when you are successful in every way, the one thing you just expect, or assume, that your body will be able to do it’s not doing.
How did bringing a third baby into the family change the dynamics within the family and do you do anything to help to keep the balance in such a hectic household?
“He’s an exceptional gift. He’s thoroughly loved by everyone, and his two sisters just adore him. He fit’s in perfectly. But one thing I noticed with the third baby I was like you know what this boy has got to get on with it. Life is not always ideal and perfect, and on busy days if he has to have a McDonalds, or a sandwich and a bag of crisps in the car – he’ll be alright. So, you need to recognise that, but you also need those moments of calmness where you can put things in place that look and feel magical. So, Wednesdays and Sundays are our days where have our family time. Where we sit down and talk, without phones, without interruptions, just us having fun together and being present with each other. And that’s something that I would recommend to everyone people, to find somewhere within your routine for that quality time with your immediate family. Because before you look around your kids are off to university etc, so you want to hold on to those magical moments and create lasting memories.”
Does that help getting through those fast-paced days where you are busy juggling everything and you might not feel like the best parent in the world?
“Absolutely! And I actually think that it enhances us as a family. People always say you guys are so good as a family and we are. We’ve been very strict with the kids learning and education, we make sure they do sport and music. We’ve given them the opportunities to flourish, and then what path they choose to go down is down to them. But they can’t look back and say well my parents didn’t give me this. Bearing in mind I came from a broken home, my dad was a plumber at Wembley stadium, my mum was a nurse. And I was a latch key kid, I feel bad as my older brother was kind of lumped with me, so when he wanted to go play football, he couldn’t he had to look after me. Whereas when I wanted to go to the track and train, I was able to do that. But those opportunities to train didn’t come from my parents – this is something that I say, you need to call on those around you. You have call on your friends, your neighbours, your teachers etc and don’t be afraid to do so. You need to learn to ask, ‘Can you please take my son to football, and I’ll return the favour.’ Once you create that community feel – because we’re all in this together, we’re all struggling and juggling – then there’s no shame in it. Once you realise you don’t have to try and do it all on your own and that barrier comes down, then you relax.
I’m away now for 3 days and there’s food in the fridge, there’s food in the freezer and I said to my eldest daughter who is now driving I said, ‘Reese if they need anything would you mind popping out.’ And she said ‘of course, but they’ll be fine.’
Do you think it’s important that we all accept that we can’t do it all ‘perfectly’ all the time?
“Yes, you have to think to yourself who needs to be where, at what time, and if someone has to miss swimming, they have to miss swimming – they’re going to be alright! When we relax and let that go and stop trying to be the perfect person, because there are no perfect people. I’m the imperfect perfect mother, I drop the ball plenty of times, but other times I lift the ball and I carry it brilliantly. You’ve got take the rough with the smooth. Sometimes we are very critical on ourselves as parents, and I think as long as we are role modelling the correct behaviour and attitudes towards our children – we’re doing alright. I think it’s more important than ever to teach it to our children, that perfection doesn’t exist, especially with all the extra pressure they have now from social media etc. ‘I can’t that picture because this doesn’t look right or that doesn’t look right’ they say to me, Mummy you can’t go on Insta looking like that, and I say why? Because we need to normalise being real.”
Do you have any tips for other parents that are struggling with ‘the juggle’?
“Vulnerability, Authenticity, and transparency – VAT I call it. Show them those three things and they’ll be alright. Don’t try and be something you’re not and recognise that we are all just doing our best. We are all WIPS – Work in Progress.”
Written by Lolo Stubbs
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD
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