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AMAZING MACHINES

James Cracknell talks to Eds Up

A double Olympic gold medallist and World Champion oarsman, a fearless adventurer and a father of two young kids, James Cracknell knows only too well how important the science of the body is to understanding how far you can physically and mentally push yourself within the realms of biology and physics, how you can keep healthy and fit and how you can train your body to become one of the most amazing machines in the world.

He’s been there, he’s done that. He’s had to rely on the strength of his body and the resilience of his mind to hone the machine into an effective tool to achieve his goals.

Through his rowing career and his adventures he has undertaken years of endurance training, fought against temperatures as low as -40°C and frostbite in his trek across the Antarctic icecap during a race to the South Pole, and overcome blisters, dehydration, sunburn and hallucinations to reach the other side of the Atlantic.

But, surprisingly, he is not solely focused on his own goals and dreams. James is now also well known for taking part in numerous events, races and activities to raise the profile of kids’ charities and money for those most in need. What’s more, he is keen to spread his knowledge, not only to his own kids but to kids throughout the UK. His most recent venture to achieve this is his involvement in a fantastic new book called Body Science which explains in graphic and brilliantly imaged detail how science makes the human body perform.

The reason for his involvement is that, for him, it is vital that children have something which inspires them: “Learning has to be relevant to kids. They have to get the link between their world and, for example, the science behind everything they do. It is essential to give them the hook in now otherwise they will be turned off it for life.”

“Learning has to be relevant to kids. They have to get the link between their world and, for example, the science behind everything they do. It is essential to give them the hook in now otherwise they will be turned off it for life”


James’ own story is certainly inspiring and something that today’s kids can look to. Though sometimes even he admits you can gauge kids’ interest wrong. On one of his many visits to schools, James shared his experiences of his journey to the Olympics, the training he did and what it was all like once he was at the Games: “At the end, I asked if anyone wanted to ask me anything, expecting queries on what it was like winning, whether they could see the medals etc. One little boy eagerly jumped up and I was met with the question: ‘Have you got a cat?’ I think I had pitched that talk a little wrong!”

Spending time together with kids is key to engaging them in learning. Whilst James doesn’t lead the normal nine-to-five life, he understands that it is extremely difficult and relates to dads, in particular, who are stuck at work all week and have little time to be around the children until the weekend: “At the weekend, dads are often expected to do the active things with the kids. It is very easy to slip into the stereotype of the dad doing the sport and the mum sitting and helping with homework.” He doesn’t believe that time spent together should always be active - what counts is being able to just be there, giving the kids your full attention whatever you are doing.

“It is very easy to slip into the stereotype of the dad doing the sport and the mum sitting and helping with homework”


James has had this same dilemma as many parents missing out on time together but to an extreme on his lengthy adventures abroad. During his row across the Atlantic, his son, Croyde, was just two years old, and while his wife is famously quoted as saying: “I married a rower – I didn’t marry Sir Ranulph Fiennes,” his son was similarly not very forgiving. Now he is older, has more of an understanding and is able to see photos and videos of his dad he is able to slot back in to family life much easier. With a young baby in the house now, James gets to spend more time than ever before with his son: “There’s a time when they are little that kids just want to be with their mums but, at 5 years old, he is now at an age where he wants to be with me and do stuff together.”

He may be an Olympian and a fearless adventurer but James has the same concerns as the rest of us. He is conscious that his kids grow up fit and healthy and that they understand from very early on about their bodies and what they eat. It’s not easy: “At the moment, Croyde is really into chips and chocolate . . .” Education is also a topic of conversation: “My wife, Bev, and I are having lots of education debate at home at the moment.” Where to go to school, what type of school, whether a big city is a good environment to bring up children in, what the options are looking forward to secondary education are questions that affect us all and the Cracknells included.

Of his hopes for his children, he says: “I’m not trying to push my kids into sport. At the moment, my son is really into his ‘Am Dram’ and that’s fantastic. I think the most important thing is to be there, to support them and let them follow their own interests rather than drive them towards a goal they may not want.”

So, what’s next? James is extremely excited about his new role within the Olympic Committee for Sustainability. The Committee’s task is to oversee all aspects of sustainability from recycling or reusing demolition waste, to creating a sustainable food strategy during Games time to promote healthy living. London 2012 is the first summer Games to develop such a comprehensive and integrated approach, which goes beyond being ‘green’ to include key socio-economic issues such as leaving skills, employment and business legacies in east London – and boosting sport participation throughout the nation: “Its going to be very exciting to be in London in 2012 and it’s all coming round so quickly!

“There’s a time when they are little that kids just want to be with their mums but, at 5 years old, he is now at an age where he wants to be with me and do stuff together”


But back to the book. Body Science is a beautiful, widescreen book with bitesize facts and easily digestible explanations, perfect for today’s generation who can assimilate so many things all at once, great to read together with your kids or let them explore it themselves. You may well find yourself pawing over it in your own time too as I found out when I left the book on the coffee table at my thirtysomething yearold brother’s house recently, only to notice that it had disappeared and he along with it . . . and I can only guess where he was sitting, reading it . . .

LINKS
James Cracknell’s Body Science LINKS Body Science by James Cracknell, published by Dorling Kindersley ISBN 978-1-40533-737-3