Welcome to Metro.co.uk‘s The Big Questions, where we ask, well, the big questions (and the smaller ones too), and this week, we’re diving deep with Dame Laura Kenny.
Dame Laura is a British track and road cyclist who specialises in track endurance events. She’s a real powerhouse in the world of sport, with six Olympic medals, to her name, making her both the most successful female cyclist, and the most successful British female athlete, in Olympic history.
But she’s also had her other half there to share her big wins as husband, Sir Jason Kenny, 34, a fellow British track cyclist, holds the same national and Olympic achievement on the male side. Basically, they’re the sporting equivalent of Beyonce and Jay Z, as the most successful married couple in Olympic history.
As for her personal life, Dame Laura received the prestigious title in the 2022 New Year Honours list at the age of just 30. She’s also a mum to five-year-old Albie.
Now, Dame Laura is working with Dried Fruit Alliance (DFA) to raise awareness of the benefits of dried fruit and show the versatility of dried fruit beyond the standard breakfast and snacking occasions.
She spoke to Metro.co.uk about all things health, female representation in sport, body image – and why she’d never do Strictly Come Dancing.
Tell us about your Dried Fruit Alliance campaign – what is it and why was it important for you to get involved?
The Dried Fruit Alliance have done a lot of research into how many adults and children actually have their five a day and the percentage rates are quite shocking. 95% of adults don’t get their five a day in so, for me, it was really important to champion something that I believe in. Not only that, it actually made us as a family look into whether we were having our own five a day and, the majority of the days, we don’t. So, I thought doing the Two Before Ten challenge was the perfect opportunity for us to have a target.
The campaign has an Instagram page (@EatMoreDriedFruit) and it has loads of recipes and simple ways to change your breakfast. It’s been a really good way for us to change small things.
Albie, my little boy who is five, he always says, “Oh, I’ll just have sparkling water,” with his breakfast and he’ll have toast, and I’m so for an easy life, if he wants toast, he can have toast! But it wasn’t until we started doing this that I realised his energy levels have been so much better. Now he’s having smoothies and this has loads of good values in. His sugar intake is higher, his calorie intake is higher, which means he has a lot more energy. It’s been brilliant.
He’s also such a snacker but that has stopped now too. We’ve seen the improvements.
In sport, there’s a big conversation around health and body image, have you ever experienced pressure to look a certain way?
I’ve never really, as an athlete, felt any sort of pressure around body image and, to be totally honest, sport actually gave me more confidence around my body. I know lots of people say, “Oh you look too muscly,” and I have had comments in the past, but I’m quite happy. I like what I look like. Sport almost gave me the confidence to be like, yeah, I am strong and I would rather look strong.
I do actually think social media can be quite bad for putting out negative body images that essentially lead to young girls starving themselves because they can’t physically achieve that!
We are all made up so differently. Even my sister, Emma, she puts on weight quicker than I do and as an athlete she gained muscle quicker too, which is an advantage. But it was healthy because it was natural. My sister would not be able to achieve teeny, tiny skinny legs because she is not made like that and the only way she could is to be so unhealthy that she wasn’t eating, and I do not agree with that in the slightest.
You were recently made a dame – congratulations! It’s fascinating that you received the honour at such a young age, do you feel this comes with a lot of responsibility?
I’m one of the youngest people, along with Andy Murray, to get knighted. I never thought about what it would feel like but I remember getting the letter and being really nervous at first – I saw the pile and it said, “Official, strictly confidential” so I thought I was in trouble! When I opened it, I rang Jason straight away and I just remember being so, so happy.
When we go out and ride our bikes, we never go for these other achievements that you get given in the background, but the feeling you get when you do get them is overwhelming. It’s such a special and nice feeling.
The day we actually went to go and get them at Windsor Castle in early May, I honestly felt as happy as I did on our wedding day. Everything about it, I had the same hairstylist, the same make-up artist, and they made me feel incredible. We got to share it with our families and have photos and I just loved it.
But I only ride a bike! I don’t go out fighting for my country, I don’t feel like I do anything that special. Dames are really famous actresses – I never thought I’d be a dame!
Of course you’ve had your husband, Jason, by your side, is it nice being able to celebrate your achievements together?
I wouldn’t feel the same if one of us was way more successful than the other. It’s nice that every big achievement that we’ll ever have, we’ve done it together. From the Olympics, our wedding, having our child, getting knighted… every big event has been shared and it’s been brilliant. I cannot imagine it any other way, having a big life event and Jason not being there.
You say you don’t feel worthy of being a dame, but you’re a big inspiration for young girls. Why is female representation in sport so important?
Everything should be equal, I can’t express that enough. It’s taken such a long time for us to get to this point where we have the same minimum wage as the men and last year was the first year I’d actually seen a massive change.
We have female role models, like the Lionesses, and they provided a huge step forwards as people were seeing sport for sport, rather than seeing it as men’s sport and women’s sport. Football became football. And for the second year in a row, Sports Personality of the Year was won by a female. These things are important because without these role models, the next generation… when I look back at when I started in the 1992 year group, I was the only one who went forward and carried on because these people didn’t have the role models. The funding also wasn’t there.
I’d love to sit here and say it’s never been about the money, and it hasn’t in terms of my enjoyment, but it has in terms of my lifestyle. Without the sponsors I’ve had, I wouldn’t be able to do it for a living. I’d have to do something else on the side.
There have been so many people who slipped through the net who would’ve been on the road now had the funding been in place, but now we have better representation, more girls staying in sport, and more funding which allows them to be successful, and that is the biggest difference and what has made it such a happier environment, as a sportswoman, to be a part of.
Is your son, Albie, showing an interest in sport and would you like him to get into cycling?
I’d love it if he was into sport. Not necessarily to a professional level but we try and expose him to as many sports as possible. We were talking about starting tennis with him, at the minute he loves basketball, but his friends are obsessed with football so he says to me, “I’m gonna be a basketball player and a footballer!” which is cute. But I would never push him, I just want him to stay active, which is what my parents did with me and my sister.
We would never say we want him to be a professional athlete – if he wants to be, great, because if he could experience half of what we have, I’d love that for him, but I just want him to be active and to not get sick of sport. I don’t want him to feel pressure to match anything that Jason and I have done.
You’ve undoubtedly learnt a lot about yourself throughout your career, what’s the most important thing sport has taught you?
When I was at school, I never really liked it and it was because I wasn’t really confident or in my comfort zone, whereas sport gave me the confidence that I couldn’t express in a classroom. The minute that the English teacher said to me that I was reading the next chapter, it would feel like my worst nightmare! Having to stand up in front of people, it is so far from me and I would dread it. But, sport brought me completely out of my shell. I wasn’t scared to tell people I felt like we were doing stuff wrong and I was captain of quite a few teams, but if you saw me in a classroom you’d never believe I was that kind of person.
That stuck with me then. I’ve become more and more confident, to the point where things like this, doing interviews, would’ve terrified me, but now I can stand up in front of thousands and I’m not scared.
Well, you mention confidence so we have to ask – would you ever do Strictly or I’m A Celebrity?
I’d never do Strictly because I do not have a musical bone in my body! The thought of having to remember a dance routine? I’ve got no chance! I would be so bad, stiff as a board. The others though, possibly! I’d be up for something else.
Dame Laura Kenny is taking part in the #TwoBeforeTenChallenge to raise awareness of the health benefits of dried fruit. For more information on the campaign head to the @EatMoreDriedFruit Instagram page.
What does Dame Laura Kenny’s weekend look like?
What’s your typical Saturday?
I get up and try and train as early as possible because Saturdays are when Albie’s at home so I want to spend as much time with him as possible, but it’s just mayhem! He has clubs galore! All his clubs are in the same place, which is 15 minutes away, but they’re 30 minutes apart, so it’s just enough time to come back and go again.
How have your weekends changed over the years and since becoming a mum?
Sunday used to be Jason and I’s day of rest, in a typical Sunday fashion. Saturday used to be a day of training then we’d spend the afternoon together, and Sunday we’d have a cooked breakfast and do nothing all day, maybe watch a film, then have a roast dinner and take the dogs for a walk. Albie came along and now it’s so different. If it’s not a party, it’s a club, if it’s not a club, it’s homework that we didn’t do with him in the week, or six books he was meant to read, or we play. But I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world. I actually prefer the chaotic weekends.
Whenever you do get time, what’s on TV?
I don’t know whether I should admit this, but I’ve started watching Waterloo Road. I watched it when I was a kid and the new one just came out. To be honest, first episode I was like, this is bad! Exactly what I remember it being like, but now I’m well into it! I’ve bashed them out, going through the lot. And it’s quite good now.
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