Being a double Olympic champion is clearly not enough for Dame Kelly Holmes, who has never stopped trying to achieve, even in retirement
Dame Kelly Holmes will always be remembered for her epic 800m and 1500m double at the 2004 Athens Olympics. After two Commonwealth titles and a whole host of minor medals on the global stage sandwiched between years of injury heartbreak, it really was the Briton’s time to shine.
The 2000 Olympic bronze medallist and twice world silver medallist cemented her place in the history books in Athens, becoming the first GB athlete since Albert Hill in 1920 to win the middle-distance double at the Olympics.
However, since hanging up her spikes, Holmes has played a pivotal role in helping the next generation of athletes, her On Camp with Kelly (OCWK) scheme arguably contributing enormously to the huge strength in depth that has graced GB women’s middle-distance running in recent years. As part of our ‘Where are they now?’ series, we caught up with the 45-year-old to find out what she had been doing since her moments of glory in the Greek capital 11 years ago…
“It was one of the most rewarding experiences to found On Camp with Kelly and see the young athletes grow into remarkable adults with immense talent”
Holmes describes her life in five words: busy, unpredictable, exciting, challenging and adventurous. But that is how the former army physical training instructor and British 600m, 800m, 1000m and 1500m record-holder likes it and she is always looking for the next project to get her teeth stuck into. After the OCWK initiative ended in 2012, Holmes’ latest development has been the opening of Cafe 1809 in the village of Hildenborough in Kent.
You may ask, “why Cafe 1809?”. There is a simple answer. 1809 was the number on Holmes’ bib when she struck double gold in the Olympics, the image of her crossing the line, arms in the air, eyes popping out of her head with disbelief, which became a truly iconic athletics moment.
With the cafe already proving a major hit, Holmes is next looking at creating a chain. What is even more special is that the menu often includes items named after her Olympic days such as “Final Kick” and “Pacemaker”. Holmes explains the building of a cafe was not completely out of the blue. She reveals: “There used to be a sweet shop that I worked in when I was 16. As an athlete, I tried to buy the building, as I wanted something that would bring the community together and add a bit of sparkle to Hildenborough.”
Since retiring from athletics, the 2005 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year continued to run the On Camp with Kelly initiative, which ran for nearly 10 years with the aim being to provide an all-round education programme to help young athletes learn what it takes to become world-class and assist them to achieve their dreams.
Holmes believed that athletes could learn from her life, with its mixture of successes, setbacks and disappointments, and hoped that she could assist them to develop their own careers. The project supported more than 50 athletes, many going on to enjoy international success in athletics, as well as Non Stanford moving to triathlon and becoming ITU world champion.
“It was one of the most rewarding experiences to found On Camp with Kelly and see the young athletes grow into remarkable adults with immense talent,” said Holmes.
In 2008, Holmes set up the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust to help disadvantaged young people make positive changes to their lives with the aim of getting them back into education, training or employment through personal development programmes. They utilise the skills from athletes to do this. As part of her pledge to the charity, Holmes participated in the Powerman UK duathlon in 2014. She said: “Duathlon was hard! My legs in the cycling felt like they were exploding, but I did enjoy the challenge and may do them again next year.”
“Duathlon was hard! My legs in the cycling felt like they were exploding, but I did enjoy the challenge”
In addition to helping others, Holmes has been involved in other broad-ranging activities in the past few years. In May 2009, she added to her list of accolades when she was named as president of Commonwealth Games England, succeeding Sir Chris Chataway, and in 2010, she was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame.
In November 2010, Holmes took part in the ITV game show The Cube. Losing on her second game, “Gradient”, she was defeated, but still took away £1000 for her charity. Other TV shows Holmes has appeared on include Dancing on Ice, Superstars, Moneyforce – a programme run by the Royal British Legion to deliver money advice to the UK Armed Forces – and Bear Gryllis: Mission Survive, where she was one of the three finalists to make it to the end.
“Mission Survive was a challenge that I really wanted,” she said. “Even though I was petrified most of the time as water was a massive part of the programme and if anyone watched they would know how much I hated it. I think I coped well with the experiences and would do it again.”
Although she emphasises that there is no typical day in the life of Kelly Holmes, she does like to train whenever she can. “I generally do a mixture of training throughout the week,” she said. “Cardio could be either a 30-60-minute run on various CV equipment, especially the stepper. I really enjoy doing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or circuit training for an all-over body workout.
“I train about five times a week, which is very different to when I was an athlete training twice a day six days a week”
“I also do weights mainly for the legs and a lot of core sessions. I train about five times a week, which is very different to when I was an athlete training twice a day six days a week. I used to hate cold wet mornings and ice baths but I loved circuit training and 200m reps on a track.”
Does she miss her days as an elite athlete? She responded: “I love what I do now so I don’t really miss it, as I worked so hard to get where I did and I was an international athlete for 12 years. However, I do miss having a training schedule and something to go for with my fitness.”
As well as being the owner and director of her cafe and interacting with customers, she is the chair of her Trust, does motivational speaking around the world and carries out mentoring work in the United Arab Emirates. Therefore, it begs the question of whether she ever just puts her feet up and reflects on what she achieved.
“I feel like there is still more to achieve in life,” she said. “While I am so proud of my military background and athletics achievements, I still want to learn and get better at what I do now. If I ever won a business award one day, that would be the icing on the cake.”