Rachel Kirkwood is a World Champion Triathlete and all round supportive and inspirational person. I met Rachel through Pro Ride Mountain Bike coaching and have always admired her ability to do anything she sets her mind to, with a calm approach and a sense of fun and joy thrown. The interview was an hour long, but I have handpicked the key parts for the research here and have summarised them at the bottom of the page too, if you are really short of time!
Rachel; “Adventurous means at the edges of things – not mainstream, challenging yourself, whether that’s physically or whether it’s psychologically. It’s doing something I’ve wanted to do, or something that I didn’t think I could do or ‘should do’, something that takes me somewhere unusual. Something that just makes me think ‘WOW’ or makes me take a breath in – that’s what adventure is to me.”
When Rachel said that being adventurous is something that makes you go ‘WOW’, it gave me goosebumps because it felt like the most all encompassing description I have heard so far. The ‘wow’ could be doing a scary presentation at work, walking a new route near your home or climbing Mount Everest – it’s whatever ‘wow’ means to you.
I asked Rachel what happened in her childhood that may have made her adventurous as an adult?
“I think I think things that that gave me licence to consider Adventure in the way I think of it. I did a lot of sports as a kid – very focused on swimming and a little bit of running. Swimming was quite hard and quite intensive, so it regularly challenged me in what I was able to do and where it took me. At one stage I was probably training 11 times a week as a kid and that became, you know, what I was able to do and sort of created very early benchmark for me. My dad is quite an outdoorsy person, and took me walking and hill climbing and that sort of thing and always encouraged that sort of curiosity.
We lived close to the beach in Southport and Southport has the most enormous beach and the sea is many, many miles away in the distance, but to access the beach, from where we live, we used to walk through the sand dunes. So even as a little girl, I was encouraged to explore and before I left junior school I would take myself off to the beach on my own and dump my bike somewhere and just go for a wander. Back then, that was considered okay and normal. I suspect it would be much more challenging for current generation of kids to do that sort of thing.
But I wanted to take myself off to places, because I was curious if I could ride there or I could walk there so that was okay, but I’ve always had that independence. It was encouraged by my parents. Why did I do that? I think because I had the had the confidence to do it, or the ignorance not to think of the worst case scenario or something like that – with children there is that naivety.”
“So I carried on swimming through my senior school. I didn’t like the usual running, but found the cross country running a bit more interesting. Swimming took me to other countries and I saw things different perspectives, which was nice. I got reasonably good at swimming so it then meant rather than just swimming in a club I swam in squads so had to travel. I used to leave the house, half past five in the morning to get to the next best Club, which was 45 minutes drive and my dad used to drive me at that time in the morning to swim. But the rule was I had to get them up – if I slept through or I didn’t feel like it, that was it, we didn’t go. Nobody woke me it was me getting him up and getting myself sorted I did my breakfast and my snack. He dropped me at the pool and I’d swim and then I’d get the train home and my mom would pick me up.
And so, I liked, I think from an early age I liked testing myself so that’s what it gave me. It gave me a bit of an inherent need, and I think doing sport as a kid, and certainly through adolescence, creates a need in my body. So, if I haven’t done exercise by the end of the week then I need to go for a run.”
Rachel and I then began talking about other things in childhood that may have influenced her personality when she was older.
“My mum is a very difficult person to please in terms of food – she’s an awful eater doesn’t like this doesn’t like that. So I deliberately chose to not react that way, so I eat everything. I think I didn’t like how I observed it constraining her, so I wanted to, and I was in a position to, actively choose. So I chose to be curious in life, as opposed to conservative or cautious.”
Super interesting that sometimes children can mirror their parent’s approaches, but at other times the approaches of our parents can send us off in totally different directions to them. I think that sometimes we underestimate children’s ability to make their own choices based on what they can see, and this is a brilliant example of that.
I then went on to ask Rachel about competing, particularly about entering the Triathlon World Champs on several occasions. Once being ‘nudged’ (read barged) off her bike by a male competition and ending up with an inch of sugar cane in her bottom that she went on to complete the bike and the run with in place!
“I was able to qualify for World Championships again and it was in Spain in April. So, we trotted down there in the camper van and, oh, yeah, I got norovirus three days before.
On the day of thought, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen, you’re going to finish it, you put your training in, you have done everything you can. Take it as you find it.’
What I do remember is putting my wetsuit on on the day, and I’d lost so much weight (from the norovirus), my wetsuit was like putting on a pair of jogging bottoms. Anyway, it just went really well, I was one of the first women out of the water, had a really good cycle. I just got my head in a good place. And when I came to rack my bike I knew I was the first one back in my age group. So I just knew I had to go for it and I did.
I didn’t know that you don’t know you’ve won when you finish. When you finish, you get given a token medal and a drink and what have you, and then there’s an athlete’s area and I’ve gone to have a shower – it’s a significantly less glamorous setting – it was in the school changing room shower. One of the women said, ‘Where did you come?’. I said, ‘Absolutely no idea!’ She said, ‘Oh, there’s a father and son sitting over in the corner in the eating area, they’ve got the results up on their phone go and find out from them.’
So I had to troll the eating area first, I got some nice snacks, but it was all healthy it was oranges and apples and no hydration drink and no treats – I wanted a chocolate milkshake and chips! I found Mr. And Mr. Simpson or whoever they were and said, ‘Hi, how are you, lovely see father and son combo. Did you enjoy it? And somebody told me you’ve got the results. He said ‘oh yeah what’s your number?’ He said, ‘Oh, really well done, You’ve won!'”
Rachel said that she hoped that with a good wind and a bit of luck she might scrape a medal, but it shows just what the right prep, the right mindset and some incredible training can do to help you push your body.
Thank you so much for sharing so openly and honestly with me Rachel. There are some really useful insights into some of the key influences on making your life adventurous, or at least allowing you the opportunity to use those influences as you have chosen to do
Key Learnings for me:
Independence at a young age helped Rachel become adventurous
Pushing her body and finding ‘that feeling’ after exercise helped Rachel to stay motivated and understand what her body could do for her
Rachel’s parents’ encouragement of independence and support of her sports allowed Rachel to push herself and know her own limits (or lack of!)
Rachel didn’t necessarily follow her parents footsteps in everything – she made her own choice to be adventurous with food in opposition to her Mum’s own choices to be cautious and careful.