women

As I Turn 40, My Motto Is Look Fabulous Every Day!

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Denise Lewis, 39, talks to Lorraince Conway about her love of glamour, the importance of having a date night – and never losing that competitive edge.

“Winning a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics was the high spot of my career”

Denise live in Buckinghamshire with her husband, Steven O’connor, and three children, Lauryn, nine, Ryan, five, and Kane, three.

Description: As I Turn 40, My Motto Is Look Fabulous Every Day

My mum taught me to work hard. I was born when she was 17 and she brought me up her own. I never knew my father. My mother worked long hours in office jobs, but never complained and kept her worries to herself. Like any mother, she wanted me to do well at school, but she never pushed me.

When I was eight, I watched the Moscow Olympics on TV and decided I wanted to be an athlete. I love PE and was always racing my classmate in the playground. But before that, I had no idea there was this global sports competition where being the best meant everything.

I’d always enjoyed competing. I did ballet and tap, and I loved that feeling of taking exams. Back then, I didn’t recognise the feeling as adrenaline; I just knew that I had to do well. It never scared me.

Watching super-human Olympic athletes on screen in our living room was the turning point. I was mesmerized. I badgered my mum and, a few weeks later, she took me to our nearest stadium. It was magical to be in this vast space, seeing these athletes hard at work.

The coach told my mum I was too young to start training. I think he said he wasn’t offering a babysitting service! But he said if I was still interested, I could come back the following year. Twelve months later, to the day, aged nine, I was back there, ready to start training.

I was hooked on the challenge of getting better. It didn’t matter if I lost a race because I knew that next time I’d be better. I’d work hard and do something differently. That’s what drove me to make the three-hour round trip to Birmingham three times a week after school for training.

Winning a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics was the high spot of my career. But I’m happier now than I ever was in my competing days. Now, I channel my energies into new challenges, such as supporting the Olympics – and I finally have balance in my life. I turn 40 in August and what a year to be marking this milestone – I can’t wait. It has been a long haul to get here since we won the bid in 2005. Writing “2012” on a cheque or letter sends a shiver down my spine!

Lauryn was only two when I split from her dad, Patrick, but we both knew it was the right decision. We were living in Belgium, so I had to up sticks and move home to Wolverhampton. It took us a while to get to a good place, but Patrick is a great dad. We’ve worked hard at our relationship and I’ve gone on to marry Steve, and we have two sons. Now, Patrick pops in for a cup of tea or plays football with the boys while he waits for Lauryn.

Steve is the big love of my life. It was love at second sight. We first met years ago, but I didn’t really notice him. Then I bumped into him again in 2005 and he told me he’d been waiting for our paths to cross again. He brings out the best in me. We are both very competitive and whenever I take on a sporting challenge, Steve gets involved. He doesn’t let me stand still – he’s a great motivator. Last year, I was learning tennis, so Steve learned too. The sparks fly when we get on to the tennis court and we have a lot of fun trying to outdo one another.

I didn’t grow up in a nuclear family. I never ruled out marriage, but my mind was focused on athletics for so many years, I didn’t think about what I wanted from a relationship. When I met Steve, everything clicked into place and it made sense to be married. Steve has a son Joe, 24, from a previous relationship and I adore him – as do my three children. I love the term “blended family” and Joe adds a lovely extra dimension to our family.

Description: Denise Lewis

Marriage is hard work, and it’s not all romance and flowers. I’m sure there are fantastic couples out there who have romance every day, but for us, it’s always a struggle against time. We do have a “husband and wife” date night every week. We try to go to the cinema, but often it’s just a case of Steve preparing a lovely meal once the children are in bed.

Growing up, Mum and I were quite different. She was always very quite and hard-working, and there I was, this precocious eight-year-old kid who had decided she was going be an Olympian! Now I’m a mum and I have to accept that my nine-year-old daughter is very different to me. While she’s just trickling along, enjoying life, like most children, and that’s great. She doesn’t have a vision for her future and I don’t want to push her.

My grandmother was a great influence on my life. She was a nurse and it was in her nature to be caring. She also had incredible style. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through chemotherapy, she still looked radiant, even when she lost her hair and must have felt terrible.

Losing her to breast cancer in 2005 was the toughest thing I’ve ever faced. She deteriorated very rapidly. I’d had a difficult 2004; I’d been injured and had a really disappointing Olympics, and then we watched Gran lose her battle and I felt like I was staring into an abyss. I did my best to support Mum, who was desperately trying to be a tower of strength for everyone, but we both found it very tough. Throughout, the Breast Cancer Care team was a great support, and Mum and I will always be grateful.

I’m an ambassador for Breast Cancer Care and this year will be my fifth time taking part in the Blenheim Palace Pink Ribbonwalk. It’s an inspiring day, the route is gorgeous and it’s great fun. [To find out more, go to breastcancercare.org.uk]

It was shortly after my gran’s death that I decided to retire from athletics. I didn’t have a plan B – I just knew I didn’t want to be an athlete any more, and that had a lot to do with losing Gran and realising how short life is.

My mum is a perfect example of agelessness. She has blossomed in her fifties. Like me, she had a wake-up call when Gran died. She joined a gym for the first time at 50, and when I visited her recently, we went to Zumba classes together. She’s even learning to ride a bike.

My motto these days is that I want to be fabulous every day. I won’t save my favourite clothes for special occasions. Style isn’t something I thought about in my twenties, but now I have the confidence to say that I feel glamorous.

What do i love about w&h?

It’s such a real magazine for real women and it always hits home. It redefines what it means to be a certain age, embracing change and looking forward. w&h gives you the confidence that you can do whatever you want. It’s an institution! 

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