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For Helen Glover, motherhood means that ‘every inch of happiness’ doesn’t rest on Olympic success

By George Ramsay, CNN

(CNN) — When she posted a photo of her hand on Instagram – bloodied and blistered with pale, dead skin hanging limply from a cut – it offered a gruesome snapshot of what British rower Helen Glover is putting her body through ahead of this year’s Olympic Games.

The photo was taken while Glover was midway through a training camp in Portugal – a brutal, friction-induced side effect of the hours she has spent on the water or on a rowing machine.

How Glover dealt deal with her battered hand was sometimes by taping the fingers, she explained, and other times by just gritting the teeth. But these kinds of ailments are just one consequence of training for what will be her fourth Olympics.

“The hardest bit is the day-to-day of being exhausted, but getting out of bed and going training again,” the 37-year-old Glover tells CNN Sport. “Physically, it’s kind of like Groundhog Day: every day getting up knowing you’re going to do it again.”

Glover is an Olympic veteran, a two-time gold medalist at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics in London and Rio. However, her fourth-placed finish in Tokyo three years ago was arguably just as impressive given her abbreviated preparation for the Games.

It was January 2021, a year after giving birth to twins and four years after announcing her retirement from the sport, when Glover embarked on a bold plan to compete at the Olympics with just six months of serious training under her belt.

That she even got to the starting line, let alone finished marginally outside the medal places, was testament to a superhuman act of juggling childcare with a demanding training schedule.

Glover announced her second retirement after Tokyo only to once again have a change of heart. Preparation is more straightforward this time around, particularly having acquired so much more racing experience.

Competing in the coxless four at Paris 2024 is the next, and likely final, step of her Olympic journey.

“In London and Rio, I experienced the success,” says Glover. “In Tokyo, I experienced the fact that I can ask those questions of whether it can be done as a parent, can it be done in really difficult circumstances with Covid?

“This time around … it’s less worrying about whether it can be done with families and more about kind of getting it done and doing it well and doing it properly, trying to make sure that both sides of my life, being a mom and being an athlete, are prioritized in the right way.”

Glover has a five-year-old and three-year-old twins and is now accustomed to balancing motherhood with her rowing schedule. She spends more time training at home than her teammates and is a full-time athlete with the help of funding from the National Lottery – a long-time sponsor of Great Britain’s Olympic team.

Having won just one gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Team GB started receiving National Lottery funding the following year and has accumulated 1,053 Olympic and Paralympic medals since then.

For Glover, who has three world and European titles on top of her two Olympic gold medals, becoming a mother has altered her outlook on her rowing career.

“When I was in my 20s and I was aiming for London and for Rio, it almost seemed like everything – every inch of happiness – was going to depend on the result and the success that I got at those Games,” she says.

“I think the perspective definitely shifts when you become a parent, and I could have the worst day at training, but I get back and if my kids are happy, then I’m happy.

“This is more of a choice: I choose to do this and I choose to do as well as I possibly can in the knowledge that my whole life and outlook is not defined by my growing success.”

Glover has become good at integrating training with childcare, whether it’s doing push-ups with her kids on her back or making Bolognese in between weight sessions.

Her family joined her for a training camp in Italy last year – watching her practice on the water from the safety of a small motorboat – and she hopes that they will be in Paris for the upcoming Olympics. If they’re lucky, they might even see their mom win a medal, a target on which Glover has firmly set her sights.

“Last season, we were on the podium every time we raced,” she says. “And right now, I think a really challenging but realistic goal for us would be to come away with a medal. That’s definitely what excites me and motivates me.”

Competing in a four, rather than a pair, for the first time at an Olympics, Glover adds that she is grateful to have “more people to pull me down the rowing course” on this occasion.

And after four Games and two previous retirements, you wonder whether this really will be her last time competing at the pinnacle of her sport.

“I’ve learned not to worry about what happens next,” she says about her plans beyond this year’s Olympics.

“I’ve been wrong twice now – I’ve thought about retiring and, here I am, coming back. I can’t see myself doing another Games after this, but I have learned to never say never.”

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