Today it is our privilege to bring you an interview with former GB Olympic Athlete, Rio 2016 Olympic Silver Medallist and Personal Trainer, Chris Walker-Hebborn.
We discuss Chris’ journey from learning to swim as a “life skill” to competing at two Olympic games, how he has continued his passion for fitness after retirement, his advice on getting started in leading a fitness lifestyle and much more…
How did your passion for swimming begin and develop?
My love for the water came when I was just a little boy, my parents always wanted their kids to be able to swim as a “life skill” and ultimately this is what led to my passion for the sport. There was just something about being in the water that I found so relaxing, even to this day, there is nothing more peaceful that having your head under the water. In 2000 the Sydney Olympic Games were on TV and I remember sitting down with my parents and watching the swimming and from that moment realised that I wanted to swim in the Olympics as well, and thus forth becoming my childhood dream and ambition.
What are your personal highlights from your swimming career?
There are so many personal highlights throughout my time as a swimmer, but there are a few that stand out and will stay with me forever. Obviously competing at 2 Olympic Games is something I will always be proud of, and lucky that one of them was in my home city, London. Not only this but I was fortunate enough to come away with an Olympic Silver medal in 2016. We get to travel the world, meet some amazing people all while doing something we love, and if you are good enough at it you can get paid for it to! For me there is one ultimate memory that will always be my favourite, 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow it was my first ever International senior gold medal, I had a lot of doubters over the years and many people saying I never fulfilled my true potential. So, at the ripe old age of 25 I became Commonwealth Champion. Not only was it a huge personal achievement, it also solidified the fact that I was good enough and I did have what it took to go all the way. It’s also a Commonwealth Games record that still stands today 5 years later!
What advice would you give to someone who is demotivated or doesn’t know where to start with getting into sport and fitness?
Whether its sport or fitness that you are wanting to get into but are struggling to find the motivation, it always comes down to goal setting or a plan. Making sure you have goals is key to longevity and making sure there is always a reason to be getting up. This was something I used day to day in my sporting career, getting up at 5am every day and training twice a day can be exhausting, and tat times I questioned whether this is something I really wanted to do. But once I had goals set in place it was much easier to stay motivated and keep my head in the game. So the tough days became more bearable.
What are the priorities that you have towards the way you approach your life?
A common question I get asked a lot is what has changed the most between life as an athlete and now. In all honesty, not a lot. The hardest thing for me was finding a way to replicate the ability to push my body to its limits without a swimming pool, which ironically is quite hard. This is why I found myself in the gym every day, it became my sanity. Not only does it help declutter your mind, but it gives me the opportunity to push my body to its limits daily, before walking back out into the rest of the day! So, my principles as an athlete haven’t changed at all, every day I push myself and chase goals, if anything my principles as an athlete have helped my transition into the real world!
How have you continued your passion for sport and fitness following your retirement from swimming?
Without repeating myself to much, my passion hasn’t wavered for fitness at all, its honestly what I look forward to everyday and I am lucky enough to work in the industry as well. I was always told that if I enjoy my job I’ll never work a day in my life, and without it sounding to cliché, it’s absolutely true. It’s sad but as I came towards the end of my career I fell out of love with swimming, and think I walked away at the best time and more importantly it was my decision, some athletes are forced into it due to funding cuts etc. It’s almost been a year now and I think I have swum twice. Although it’s not all doom and gloom as I do love it from a teaching perspective. I started my own business called WH Elite-Training which covers a few bases, online coaching, 1-2-1 PT sessions and Master class swim clinics up and down the country.
What do you think are the most important characteristics to develop in order to pursue your ambitions?
I think there are many combinations of characteristics that are required to be an ambitious person, but I think personally for me it was dedication, resilience and confidence. Dedication because without the mindset of striving to chase your dreams and ambitions I feel you will forever fall short. Resilience is a huge one, throughout careers and life there will always be setbacks, and it’s so important that you have the ability to stand up, brush yourself off and get back to chasing that dream. You can’t just give up every time something goes wrong. Finally, confidence to me is right up there, there were so many instances where I was told I wasn’t good enough but I had the confidence and self-belief that I could do anything I wanted to, and didn’t stop till I achieved my goals and dreams. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something, they are 100% wrong.
What are you goals and plans for the future?
My goals for the future are pretty broad as I have a few ideas. I currently work at two fantastic boutique gyms in Bath, while promoting my own business for PT/Swim Clinics and online coaching, the plan is to continue growing this for a few years and then ultimately open my own gym/studio. I spent a lot of time in Australia as a swimmer and fell in love with the country and feel that one day I will definitely head back over there on a permanent basis. I do some work with Swim England as an athlete mentor, helping other athletes and this may lead to bigger opportunities within the sport. I strongly believe that the transition from elite sport to the real world is one that is not taken seriously enough and would love to be a part of breaking that stigma down and helping others step out into the world with confidence that there is more to life than the sport they have lived and breathed.