CALM sat down with the world-beating hurdler to talk about the pressures of competitive athletics, his charity Go Dad Run and how ridiculous blue Y-fronts can help men take their health seriously.
It’s been 24 years since Colin Ray Jackson set the 110m hurdles world record in Stuttgart. And 14 years since he retired from running, so it’s startling to meet him in the flesh and see that he could pass for about 32.
This is in both appearance and demeanour. He’s chatty, unassuming, laughs easy and is full of energy. At a guess, this youthfulness might be down to the ‘residual fitness’ that comes from decades being the absolute best in the world at jumping over stuff really fast (he still holds the record for fastest indoor 60m hurdles).
As you might expect from such an upbeat sports personality, Colin has remained a public figure since retiring. A regular athletics pundit for the BBC – we’ve seen him cover the Olympics in Athens, Beijing and London, he’s also coached several Olympians, written three books and even made the final of Strictly Come Dancing.
But today we’re here to chat about Sanlam Go Dad Run, a series of 5K and 10K runs for men and boys that Colin founded with friends in 2013 to raise awareness and funds for important men’s health charities.
TWO OF MY UNCLES SUFFERED FROM PROSTATE CANCER. THE UNCLE THAT DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT PASSED AWAY AND THE ONE WHO WAS VERY VOCAL SURVIVED.
“We wanted to get men to talk about their issues. Two of my uncles suffered from prostate cancer. The uncle that didn’t say anything about it passed away and the one who was very vocal survived – he spoke to my mother who was a nurse and they got the ball rolling” says Jackson.
After learning the shocking fact that 1 in 4 Afro-Carribean men will deal with prostate cancer, Colin wanted to use his influence and unique experience to help men to feel more able to talk about their health.
“In the world of sport, getting advice about anything is easy.”, says Jackson. “If you’re stressed or strained you can always talk to somebody. That was part of the provided services for you. If you were physically injured you can go to see a doctor at the drop of a hat and you’re continually having blood samples. It’s very natural to seek help.”
“But as soon as I came into ‘civilian life’ I realised how much more difficult it is for men to think about themselves and approach somebody. We’re terrible at going to the doctor’s – it seems like it’s set in us that we find it hard to step out of the box and do something. There’s also that sense of being slightly scared of what results you’ll get, nervous that you’ll be on the bad side rather than the good.”
“And with anything that involves ‘downstairs’, men are hopeless. They’re happy to brag about one part of their anatomy but anything else, not so much.”
Hence the attention-grabbing extra to the traditional charity run ensemble: Go Dad Run’s famous over the trouser blue y-fronts.
WITH ANYTHING THAT INVOLVES ‘DOWNSTAIRS’ MEN ARE HOPELESS. THEY’RE HAPPY TO BRAG ABOUT ONE PART OF THE ANATOMY BUT ANYTHING ELSE, NOT SO MUCH.
So in the four years that the Go Dad Run team had been jogging about in blue pants, had those ‘suck it up and get on with it’ ideas started to shift?
“I do feel a real shift,” says Jackson. “We’re hearing more messages on men’s health all the time. We’ve got to keep driving that. I think sometimes people think because it’s men we should just leave them to it, but we still have work to do. When it comes to your health I think it should be one of the things that we take absolutely seriously. A problem aired is definitely a problem shared.”
Thinking back over bumps in the road with health, dealing with multiple injuries was part and parcel of competing at world-class, but he’s also frank about the huge mental pressures.
“I came out of a council estate in Cardiff. I grew up just very normal like everybody else and then at a very young age without preparation there was a huge amount of expectation. People expect you to deliver strong performances, to win medals and not just once but continuously. The pressure really has an effect and can knock your confidence. If you’re super successful it’s obviously really positive, but nothing is ever certain in sports, you can suffer a lot from the negative side, when you feel constantly under pressure and like nobody’s got your back. That’s an awful feeling.”
I CAME OUT OF A COUNCIL ESTATE IN CARDIFF. I GREW UP NORMAL LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE AND THEN AT A VERY YOUNG AGE WITHOUT PREPARATION THERE WAS A HUGE AMOUNT OF EXPECTATION.
The pressure got so much that Colin dealt with an eating disorder at the peak of his career, when he felt he needed to lose more and more weight to cut his time. He admits he was bordering on anorexia and ‘a control freak’ when he smashed the world 110m hurdling record in Stuttgart., but thankfully had a good support network of people around him.
“The key thing for me when I was in that situation was to listen to the people around me. Listen, listen, listen. People would say to me ‘you’re too thin’. And when you hear that you need to look at things differently. It’s all about communication and having friends that look out for you.”
It’s that same support network of family and friends that Colin drew upon when he hit another very tough point: losing his friend and fellow athlete Ross Baillie, who died suddenly after an allergic reaction to nuts.
“Ross died when he was only 22. We knew he had a nut allergy and we tried to protect him. But he made one mistake and it cost him his life. It was really difficult for us. But what was really good in our friendship group was that when one of us with struggling, the others were strong and we really supported each other. Again it’s about having that support network. And most importantly, never be afraid to show your emotions, it doesn’t make you weak.”
MOST IMPORTANTLY, NEVER BE AFRAID TO SHOW YOUR EMOTIONS, IT DOESN’T MAKE YOU WEAK.
We couldn’t agree more. I almost felt motivated to go for a run myself after our chat, so I asked Colin if he could help me get past the biggest hurdle of all, actually getting out the front door.
“Walk. It’s important to start off with baby steps. That’s the most important thing. Leave your ego outside the gym or sports field. It’ll be more enjoyable. Start right at the beginning with the basics. You’ve got to learn your trade well, and then progress in a safe manner. And you always want to feel like you could have given a little bit more so you go back and do it again.”
And what does he stick on the headphones to get pumped up? “I was just playing a bit of a grime with the lads. Skepta!”
So there you have it. The key to looking forever young and all the inspiration you need to get off your arse and into a Go Dad Run near you.
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