Vicky Thornley: One body, one life

Olympic silver medallist Vicky Thornley talks to Rebecca Charlton about holistic health in an exclusive new series for Rowing & Regatta magazine


Vicky Thornley pictured at Caversham (c) Nick Middleton

We sit down for a cup of tea with 30-year-old Vicky Thornley on a sunny afternoon in Henley-on-Thames and it’s clear why the Olympic silver medallist loves living in the area. Not only perfect for Tokyo 2020 training, the clement weather highlights just how stunning this setting is and we’re immediately chatting away about property locations as well as her new health and fitness column, which starts in the next issue of Rowing & Regatta.

Her active approach to life started at the age of just three when she began riding horses.

“When I was born I basically loved horses. My mother put carousel horses around my room when I was a baby so she thinks that’s where it stemmed from!” she laughs infectiously.

“I finished horses when I was about 17. I’d achieved so much more than I’d ever dreamt of – I’d won big championships so it felt like the natural time and I’d always known I wouldn’t do it forever,” she explains.

The physical side of showjumping, she found, was very different to rowing, the sport she first discovered through the Sporting Giants talent identification programme in 2007, aged 19, but she made fast progress. At 1.9m tall, and showing great physical promise and drive, she made the perfect candidate for the scheme launched by Sir Steve Redgrave on behalf of UK Sport.

Two years later, Vicky was the first graduate of the initiative to win a medal when she secured gold at the 2009 World Rowing U23 Championships and the rest is history.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics she took an emotional silver medal in the women’s double scull alongside Katherine Grainger.

Vicky now has her eye firmly on Tokyo 2020 but she also has a huge passion for holistic health. As well as her equestrian days, she is a former model and sees a huge difference in the way she used to approach her health.

“I used to go to the gym to be a model, not to be strong, so I was really weak [before rowing] and skinny. I wasn’t the picture of health, it was all aesthetic. As I read more about nutrition, food and holistic health, I’m fascinated by it and I want to help other people be more aware,” she explains.

Vicky is already a qualified personal trainer and went on to study nutrition after Rio. In January she began an online health coach course with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

“The more I learn, the more I question what we’re all doing. In western medicine it’s incredible how we can solve all these things but so many of our chronic diseases are lifestyle driven. We often need to look at lifestyle changes rather than a quick fix.”

You only get one body to live one life in, so look after it the best you can and it will reward you

Despite being in sport for so long and incredibly clued up, Vicky admits there’s elements of nutrition she had misconceptions on.

“It’s things like how much sugar taxes the body; how it causes inflammation. I’ve always had a generally good diet but I’ve definitely taken it to another level now.

“I always used to think it was a case of calories in and calories out, but it’s not the case at all. We’ve been told for years ‘fat makes you fat, it gives you heart disease’ well actually, it’s sugar and people are now addicted to that kind of food so we’re trying to make a whole cultural shift. It’s not going to change overnight,” she stresses.

If Vicky could sum up her philosophy on health and fitness, what would it be?

“You only get one body to live one life in, so just try and look after it the best you can and it will reward you; you will feel better and the world will seem like a brighter place,” she replies.

We couldn’t agree more.

>Follow the next chapter with Vicky, in the August/September 2018 edition of Rowing & Regatta, published on 31 August.