herald

Friday 19 December 2014

Fighting cancer was tough -- but nothing was going to stop me from joining the Olympic dream

FOR Clare Balding, life in 2012 was anything but quiet. As one of the key presenters for the Olympic Games, she knows that no other year will be quite like the last.

"I loved every minute, every second of it. If I could have put it in slow motion, I would have done. It was great," says the 41-year-old.

Despite being diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2009, she has refused to allow the illness to prevent her from doing all the things that matter to her the most.

Having gone through radioactive iodine treatment before receiving the all-clear in January 2011, she now continues to take medication daily but says that this has had little effect on her energy levels.

Instead, she attributes any exhaustion she has experienced to her very busy schedule.

"I love work. Having cancer certainly didn't make me work any less, and you can see what I've done since.

"Given the year I've had, the hours that I've worked and the amount that I've had to concentrate on, I don't think I've had any side-effects," she says.

"I think most people with an active, fully functioning thyroid would find what I've done exhausting.

"I've been having regular blood tests, and the last time I went in they said, 'You can basically forget that you have cancer'. Those are very good words to hear."

Impressively upbeat despite her cancer battle, the openly gay broadcaster claims that she makes every effort "not to be a cynical person".

She instead reveals that out of the illness came a close relationship between her family and her partner, Alice Arnold.

"I think it brought my family and Alice closer together because they were all going through it and I was slightly trying to pretend it hadn't happened.

"Alice and my mum really talked and explored, and Alice was really very good at the medical side of things and working out what might happen and what I needed to know," she says.

"Despite being in my early 40s, I have been through an awful lot, in the sense of both great things and bad things.

"I have a real perspective on my life and that's why I'm so determined to enjoy it as much as I can, to do the things that I think matter, to have a voice and have an opinion.

"I'm just thrilled to be in a position where I have choices and opportunities and I can make the next however many years really exciting."

She speaks a lot about the importance of choice and relishes every chance she gets to promote opportunity and the value of standing by your own decisions.

In particular, she has been in the spotlight as an advocate for gender equality, claiming it to be an "eternal struggle".

A matter close to her heart, she candidly describes how important it is for women in sport to be honest about their personal choices and open about their sexuality.

Sexuality

"I think there is a still a fear in sport that being open about your sexuality will affect sponsorship deals.

"My argument is that it shouldn't and it probably won't, but it may affect your performance in a positive way because if you're comfortable in your own skin, you perform better.

"I'm very strongly of the opinion that you cannot be ashamed of being gay.

"It's not to be commented on, not to become a headline and it doesn't need to be a story, it's just a fact; the same way that if you're getting married, you tell people you are getting married. I feel that's progress.

"Life has changed hugely, particularly for women, from doing 50 hours of housework a week in the 1950s, 44 hours a week in the 1960s, to now doing an average of 18.

"Although I can't say that I do 18 hours of housework a week, because I certainly don't!" she says.

She says that this progress has given women the space to be creative and to do what they really want to do; describing it as time that can now be dedicated to seizing every opportunity.

Although keener to take on new challenges than to wash the dishes, she is very much aware that 2012 was something rather exceptional.

"It's been an extraordinary year, and it'll never happen again.

"This year will be different and I'll make sure I keep giving myself challenges and take a few risks as well; that's important, to keep pushing and to have an impact."

In spite of everything she has achieved, she maintains a humble personal life and reveals that it has barely changed since her sports-presenting career rocketed.

"I work very hard, and I'm doing more than I've ever done before, but my actual life hasn't changed that much.

"It still feels strange sometimes and slightly discombobulating, because I forget that people recognise me and it surprises me, particularly when kids know who I am.

"What is important to me and what remains important is doing the job as well as you can and to remember the impact of what you're doing.

"It comes down to how people respond to you in an emotional way, they remember how you made them feel."

Somewhere within her thriving agenda she has also found time to write her autobiography, My Animals And Other Family.

"My father is very proud of the book, and my mum is too," she says.

"I will write another book when I have time, but it won't be a memoir. I think it will be half of my life; I'm just not sure which bit yet."

hnews@herald.ie

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