Usually when you interview athletes you get between five minutes and an hour with them and this can be whilst walking with them as they are going somewhereor are having a coffee. With Dame Kelly it has been very different. I was given access to the athlete mentors and Dame Kelly’s team, as well as exclusive
time for an interview with her. I was also invited on the Athlete Mentor away-days and the Golf fund raising day. This enabled me to observe and listen
to Dame Kelly Holmes on a number of different occasions, in various places and with different people.
So much has been written about Kelly’s achievements on the track that I won’t go into it - but it is safe to say that she is one of Britain’s most successful
female athletes ever and as such is a household name.
Six years ago Kelly set up the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust to enable and empower disadvantaged young people across the country. Since then they have
reached over 170,000 young people; of those on their ‘Get on Track’ programme, 70% moved into education, employment or training within three months of
completing the programme.
This is a charity with huge success that it can be proud of - yet Kelly isn’t about to sit on her laurels. She wants to grow the partnerships, grow the
reach of the program; she is so passionate about it. As Kelly says “...if you see the night and day difference between a young person on day one of a course
and the one on the stage after the course…that’s what makes me get up in the morning.” Kelly is committed, keen and completely passionate about
the young people and seeing them enabled to overcome life’s challenges and have a better life. “It’s about opportunity for change,” she says.
“...if you see the night and day difference between a young person on day one of a course … that’s what makes me get up in the morning.”
Kelly comes across with a genuine knowledge, passion and desire to see young people enabled and in watching her and listening to her you can hear the
passion and the moments where she is touched by people’s stories. This is an athlete and a person who lives and breathes her vision.
One of the key things that have stood out for me in all the time I have spent with Kelly and her team is that there is zero sugar coating. This doesn’t
mean that she, the athlete mentors and her team are in any way unhelpful or unsupportive: on the contrary, they call a spade a spade and use sporting analogies
and experiences to show people that actually there are many challenges in life - and then also show them how to deal with the challenges. As Kelly says,
“...it will all be a fantasy if you don’t do something about it yourself.”
There are no free rides here, the young people and the athlete mentors need to do things for themselves, to take responsibility and change. The way in
which this is done is one of support and information: the athlete mentors letting the young people know that it can be done and that although life isn’t
always easy or going to go their way, showing them what they can do about it.
This is in so many ways at odds with the world we live in, where there often is a lack of direction or reason for doing anything, with many excuses or
possible reasons given for young people not achieving and the negatives focussed on. The DKHLT however are doing the exact opposite and in doing so they
are enabling, encouraging and empowering young people and providing a sense of self-worth to a younger generation.
All of the above has to come from somewhere. So often well known athletes are figure heads of campaigns, charities and initiatives and yet aren’t really
involved or know what’s going on at a grassroots level. In the time I spent with Kelly, the team and the Trust it has been fascinating to observe and listen
to them. For me one of the best ways to sum Kelly up is the fact that in a large room full of people, whether it’s a talk or a presentation or a workshop,
you wouldn’t know she was in the room. She isn’t up front, sitting on the stage, she is at the back watching and listening. She wants to make sure everyone
else is at the front learning and that she is just another person there. This is the way in which Kelly conducts herself: there is no fanfare or spotlight,
she is just there.
The athlete mentors are the spearhead of how the Trust works with young people and so Kelly holds training days and workshops for all the athletes and
equips them to do the job - but more than that, she also enables them to get through their personal challenges of transition out of full time sport and
into other fields. Again, when you watch her interact with people, you can see that she is genuinely interested and wanting to help.
More so, she thanks each athlete for giving their time and for all they do with the trust, she talks with each athlete one on one over the two days, getting
to know them better and imparting her vision and passion. There is no athlete who goes away without a sense of value and having been inspired by Kelly.
This is a humble person wanting to enable others to succeed, rather than be treated like a celebrity.
This in turn leads on to how she interacts with those around her. Kelly actually listens to people and much to my surprise when she sees young people
at an awards ceremony or an athlete mentor she knows who they are and their story. She connects with each one of them and makes them feel special. It is
an incredible gift and each person is affected by her. There is gentleness with Kelly, she wants to listen, understand and help.
For those who regularly interact with her - from the teams to the athlete mentors to the sponsors and supporters of her charity Golf day - there is a
warm embrace and greeting, smiles and chat, like friends. There are no airs and graces; you wouldn’t know she was a Dame of the British Empire. Why? Because
in her eyes she is just Kelly, and she is reaching out and connecting with people on a level, she has no desire to be better than them. She knows how far
she has come and what she has achieved, but she also knows what she wants to do now: enabling the next generation whilst also helping athletes transition
into new careers.
Kelly is a smiley, jovial, chatty person who is achieving great things in her third career (after the Army and international athletics), by being down
to earth, humble, passionate and focused on what she wants to achieve, whilst also being very real about the challenges of life. It is this combination
that enables her and the athlete mentors whom she has put huge amounts of time into to produce such amazing results. It has been a privilege to spend so
much time with and around Kelly and the team and I look forward to seeing the Trust grow and its impact spread further afield.