Being a woman is hard work. Even more so if you’re an athlete, model, businesswomen and student. That’s exactly what Gemma Dawkins found herself contending with last year, a lethal combination which she attributes to making her feel like she had failed 2016, despite having achieved the best running season of her life. As she now sets her sights firmly on medal placings at this year’s Island Games and being selected for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, I met up with Gemma to chat about what it takes to be a female athlete and a winner both on and off the track.
A fitness model and successful athlete at at the young age of 25, you’d be surprised to learn that Gemma has had a mental battle with failure. Having had the same running coach from a young age, she struggled to find a replacement when she left Jersey and found living in London and training with team GB isolating and lonely. This intensified when she returned home and embarked on establishing her own wellbeing business; alongside studying for a masters in Psychology, working with those on the Autism spectrum and continuing a gruelling training regime. Overwhelmed, her quest for perfection in all pursuits began to take its toll and Gemma’s performance reflected her fragile head space.
Gemma places huge emphasis on the mentality behind sport and freely admits that she struggles to adopt the right mindset to race competitively and is often “lost in her head”. Her business looks to bridge the gap between wellbeing and performance which draws on her own personal experiences; the highs and lows. She recalls the pained moment at the Jersey Island Games when she decided enough was enough and consumed by failure and disappointment she hung up her spikes for a whole two weeks (which in athlete speak is near to a lifetime).
Her turning point came with a chance meeting with running coach and Guernseyman Geoff King, who understood the approach Gemma needed to produce results and unlock her potential. “The trick was not to coach my performance but to coach my mind”, Gemma explains who now undertakes a lot of visualisation work and mental preparation before competing. A big believer in personality traits, Gemma finally feels comforted that she’s found the right fit for her in Geoff and has bounced back to being at the top of her game once more.
Jersey has a large part to play in Gemma’s return to glory. She counts it not only as a great base to train from, but where she is surrounded by the best support team which consists of her coach, her fellow runners and her tight knit family. Gemma is carving a career both through her business and her running founded on the understanding that you need to avoid stress and embrace what makes you happy to unlock your true potential. For her, these things are ultimately realised in Jersey and she has yet to experience any team spirit that would rival that of her Jersey running family.
Gemma’s journey and constant battle with herself is just one reason why she is compelled to help others with their wellbeing. Although this extends to other runners, what she does as a high performance athlete is exactly what she can help others apply to their job or life goals. She has given talks to corporate audiences about improving mental wellbeing and managing stress and can help with increasing confidence and getting people mentally strong in the face of any adversity. For her nutrition and even training takes a back seat to the wonders of motivation and a winners’ mindset.
Now Gemma is taking a step back from her business, working for the States to implement their wellbeing strategy and letting life wash over her. The structure of a full time job works well as it allows her to integrate training without the distraction and worry of being a small business owner. Most importantly Gemma is in love with running again; knocking out some personal best times, on the performance pathway to the Commonwealth Games and generally reaping the benefits of a calm and healthy mind. The last year has taught her some invaluable lessons about putting her own wellbeing first and how to take control of fuelling her mind and body to reach her potential.
She faces 2017 with some stout resolutions which should probably include topping the podium, but are more about learning patience and putting herself and her mental health first. Her story is all about how you find the motivation to pick yourself back up and carry on. If this sometimes feels too hard, rest assured that there are people like Gemma out there to be your guiding light because she knows that as a woman, sometimes it’s just so hard running the world.
Find out more about Gemma and her business LifestyleChoice on gemmadawkins.com.