by Reece Chambers
After the birth of two children, recurring injuries and major back surgery, Helen Jenkins would be forgiven for retiring from triathlon duties.
However, given that triathlon is an event dependent on grit, determination and resilience, very few people who would rule Jenkins out of a full return to the endurance sport.
The birth of her youngest child, Max, came just nine months ago and her eldest, Mali, just two years before that. Such life changing experiences, both mentally and physically, make her comeback to the sport all the more remarkable.
Jenkins returned to triathlon last weekend with a fourth place finish at the Dubai Ironman and has expressed her delight at being able to compete again.
“It was amazing to be back racing, I wasn’t sure I would ever race again after the back surgery in 2018 and I was nervous to even book the flights in case something went wrong last minute.
“So [I’m] happy to just have made it to the finish line,” Jenkins told Gair Rhydd Sport.
While Jenkins has enjoyed a career competing at the highest level of triathlon and winning medals, her recent return should be seen as an incredible achievement. Pregnancy comes with a host of challenges and for the 35-year-old to have overcome that is a testament to her character.
There are challenges [coming back from giving birth]… the biggest after my second pregnancy was lack of fitness, I didn’t do much exercise after some early scare in the pregnancy so I was the most unfit I had ever been.
“Having two young kids is a bit of a juggling act and my husband Marc does a lot of the day to day stuff so I can train,” said Jenkins.
Having represented Wales at the Commonwealth Games in 2008 and winning the Triathlon World Championship in the same year, undergoing back surgery ten years later presented a different challenge for Jenkins.
Recovering from major surgery can be tough for any athlete, but giving birth to her eldest child Mali added further doubt over her future in professional sport. Jenkins spoke about the challenge returning to triathlon and the obstacles in the way.
“Mentally is always much worse than the physical pain, I would try to give myself a period to be upset, mope about and be a bit angry and then it’s time to focus on improving as much as I can without affecting the injury,” said Jenkins.
The 35-year-old also boasts a unique coaching set up with her husband, Marc, being her coach. In addition, the arrival of two young children in recent years has added to the importance of them working as a team.
But, with a familiar set up and the benefit of working together for several years, Jenkins believes that they work well as a team, both inside and outside of the triathlon sphere.
“Marc has coached me for years and it works well for us. He always has me doing less training than I’d like to avoid injury, and he knows whatever training he sets I will give it my best, and follow the program.
“We have had hard times in sport and we have learnt from them and try to work well together… [but] we leave the triathlon at the door at home… when home it’s about us and the kids.”
After a career at the top level of triathlon, Jenkins now faces a totally different challenge in trying to compete on the circuit again.
Regardless of what she goes on to achieve in the latter stages of her career, her recent return at the Dubai Ironman illustrates that she has the resilience to compete again.