Love means more than the Olympics to ex-international sprinter Kristie Edwards

Ex-international sprinter Kristie Edwards and boyfriend Nyle Challinor. Picture: Andrew Roe
Ex-international sprinter Kristie Edwards and boyfriend Nyle Challinor. Picture: Andrew Roe
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Barcelona, Paris, New York.

It used to be Loughborough, Bedford, Hull.

The medals came thick and fast as sprint prospect Kristie Edwards won England vests by beating records set by a certain Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill.

But the grind of race days representing Sheffield AC on windy tracks at many of England’s less-glamorous outposts has given way to romantic holidays in some of the world’s most spectacular locations.

She’s the teenager who turned her back on her Olympic dream and hasn’t regretted it for a second.

She had potential. She had more international calls in the offing. She had her eye on Tokyo 2020. She’d also had enough.

Running for England

Running for England

Worn down by injuries, the pressure to perform and a training schedule at Sheffield’s Institute of Sport which allowed her no life, the Sheffield Hallam University student walked away 18 months ago.

“The love went,” she says. “I was fed up of standing on the start line wondering what muscle would hurt next or what time I’d run.

“Sometimes, I stood there and wondered if I’d even finish the race. I was just tired of living by the saying ‘no pain, no gain’.

“I was working the hardest I’d ever worked just to run through the finish line with yet another injury and another rubbish time that would be on the internet for everyone to see.

Winning feeling

Winning feeling

“I see a lot of my competitors doing well now. Their names are getting bigger and they are all getting sponsored. But, at the end of the day, you only get one life, so do the things you love.”

Do the things you love with the one you love. She and golf-professional boyfriend Nyle Challinor are just moving into their second year as an item.

“I enjoy going to little coffee shops or going out shopping for the day,” she says. “And I like booking little weekends away with Nyle. Or big weekends, as he calls them!”

She’s great company, speaking as fast as she used to run, with a ready, cackling, unselfconscious laugh louder than the starting pistols she grew to hate.

With mum Wendy and dad Dave

With mum Wendy and dad Dave

Her conversation goes off in a hundred different directions at once. Friends. Fashion. Her gym workouts. Dogs. Meadowhall. “Ooh, can you mention Nyle’s golf website? He’s an online golf coach. He’ll love me if you can. Go on, please.”

She combines her studies on physical education and school sport with part-time jobs offering sporting guidance to under-12s, serving and spilling coffee at Starbucks and selling clothes at Hollister, relishing the fact she now has time to earn money and spend it.

“I’m busy, busy, busy,” she says. “I’m not one of those people who can stay in their room all day. I need to be up and about doing things. Sitting in the house drives me crazy so I ensure that I always have something planned for the day. Before, whatever I did had to end at 4pm so I could get to training.

“Most people thought I’d quit athletics because I’d found the ‘university lifestyle’. I still haven’t touched a drop of alcohol.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’ve met the love of my life. Part of me wishes he’d seen me run. I met him after I decided to call it a day. He still wants me to race him! That’s never going to happen!”

Away from the interview, I meet them together. Her chatter is still incessant. He is calmer, likeable, filling the few gaps she leaves, laughing with her and at her. They obviously adore each other.

With Grandad Tony and Nannan Carol

With Grandad Tony and Nannan Carol

Later, she texts me. All in capitals, exclamation marks everywhere. Just like she talks.

By the way, www.nyle.golf.co.uk. A promise is a promise.

I ask her, what was the best thing about being an elite athlete?

“It’s going to sound so big-headed, but it was telling people what I did,” she replies. “I felt a sense of pride when people asked. I liked seeing my dad’s face light up when he told his friends how I ran at the weekend.

“I miss the friends I made, the bit glory I had and the extensions I was allowed on university assignments!

“I wish I’d known my final training session was going to be my last, just so I could have said goodbye to the place. I’ve still yet to step foot on an athletics track since I packed in. I doubt I ever will.”

Then she says something quite lovely.

“I don’t need the Olympics. Grandad still tells me he’s proud of me every day, even though half of the time I feel like I’ve not even done anything. If he says that, that’s good enough for me.”

This is one happy girl. She has a bloke who sends her heart racing - sorry, I couldn’t help it - and is completely at ease with a decision made less daunting by the support of her family.

Mum Wendy was an international gymnast in her day. Dad Dave was an accomplished cricketer and now, with no help from Nyle, plays golf to a decent standard.

“I think they were just as relieved as me,” she says. “They could see how upset it was starting to make me.”

Her Twitter page is full of smiling images of her and Nyle on their most recent trip, to the Big Apple. Barcelona was a blast, Disneyland Paris just as good.

The pair have also been to Middleham and Whitby, but those places aren’t quite as good for headlines.

She gives one more telling insight into how she suffered when a suspected stress fracture in her back also led to hamstring, shoulder and neck problems.

“The winning or losing are the only things most people see,” she says. “Very few witness the hard work you put in, the tears you shed, the frustration you feel.

“You have this intense hunger for running a certain time and being on top of the podium and the injuries stop you achieving it. It’s mentally draining. The medical people think it actually affected my nervous system.”

It’s her 20th birthday today. She’s hoping her two uncles have chipped in together to buy her a pair of Doc Martens, mainly because she’s wanted some for years, partly because she knows it will wind up her mum. (Spoiler alert: they have).

“I’ll be able to celebrate!” she smiles. “No training, no stress, and I can eat any food I want. That’s one of the best things, eating what you Iike and not having to worry about competing the next day.”

With that, she’s gone. Off to meet the love of her life.

Who cares about Tokyo when there’s next month’s little/big weekend in Tenerife to discuss?

ROLL OF HONOUR:

11.75 seconds personal best in the 100 metres, set as a 16-year-old.

23.98 seconds personal best in the 200 metres, set as an 18-year-old.

Kristie, who lives in Bramley, Rotherham, started out in athletics as an eight-year-old at Rotherham Harriers before moving on to Sheffield AC.

She represented Great Britain when she was 17 years old and competed for England on several occasions.

She was UK 200 metres age-group champion in 2015.

She was UK School Games 100m age-group champion in 2013.

She was Yorkshire 100m and 200m age-group champion six years running from 2009, setting new under-17 and U-20 records. Her 200m U-17 time broke a mark which had stood for 32 years.

She broke 100m and 200m Sheffield AC age-group records set by Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill.

She was North of England 100m and 200m age-group champion six years running from 2009 and broke the U-20 200m record.

She was North of England 60m and 200m indoor age-group champion six years on the trot from 2009.

At the front of the field

At the front of the field