Not every married couple has five Paralympic medals between them. Meet Mr & Mrs Waddon the far-from-average husband and wife team…
They say love moves in mysterious ways. Although not usually around a velodrome track or up and down a swimming pool at lightning speeds.
Which means Rik and Natalie Waddon are some way from being an average couple. At the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, Rik pedalled his way to silver in the 1km time trial, while his then-fiancée Natalie won two bronze medals in one of the strongest divisions in the pool, the women’s S6.
Three years and one wedding ceremony down the line, the Waddons are preparing for big things at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
But do the demands of being professional athletes take a toll on their relationship? Do strict diets make them nightmare dinner-party guests? And would success for one and failure for another in London make things a little awkward around the Waddon household? We caught up with the Paralympic husband and wife team to discuss this, and find out how a cyclist from Chester first met a swimmer from Essex…
Let’s get this out of the way: how did your paths first cross? We hear seven-time Paralympic gold medalist Sarah Storey had something to do with it…
Rik: “That’s right. Sarah was just making the crossover from swimming to cycling and she set us up on a blind date – it was quite strange!”
Natalie: “Sarah’s got a lot to answer for, let’s just put it that way. She didn’t actually tell me that we were going on a blind date. She texted me a picture of Rik the night before, but he was far away, so you couldn’t make out his features!”
R: “After the date we didn’t see each other for about a month. It took a while to get going. I had plenty of time to think about it!”
N: “Yeah, he went away the next day to a training camp and the day he came back I went off to South Africa for a week, so it was a bit of a nightmare really. We were texting and chatting though.”
It must have been a pretty good first date then?
N: “Yes it was, because Rik didn’t talk! Sarah started reading all this stuff to him about me and she was really putting me in a shady light, so he didn’t really speak. I think he was just taking it all in, but I didn’t know what he thought of me. He did ask me for my number though, so it was all right.”
So Rik keeps his cards quite close to his chest?
R: “Yeah, if I’ve had a bad day I’ll keep it to myself and think it over in my head.”
N: “He does. Sometimes I have to prise things out of him, which can get annoying. He’ll be away and something will go wrong and he won’t tell me until he gets back.”
And what’s Natalie like to be around if she’s had a bad day at the office?
R: “Not good! I’ll know what her day’s been like as soon as she comes through the door. When we first started going out I’d be like, ‘Uh-oh, what’s going on here?’ But now I’m able to read the station straight away!”
What are the tell-tale signs?
R: “The door gets slammed – always! Over the years she’s mellowed a bit. I think me being the way I am – quite laid-back – it’s rubbed off. She’s still got that feisty Essex-girl thing going on!”
N: “I feel really bad now! Whereas he’s so laid-back he’s almost horizontal, I’m exactly like my dad in that I wear my heart on my sleeve. Rik knows what I’m like. Or, I’ll just come in and start yelling!”
What’s it like when one of you is away from home competing?
R: “I travel a bit more than Natalie I think, this year even more so. I think I tend to deal with it better – Natalie is out all day, then comes back to an empty house. I can quite happily spend a lot of time on my own doing nothing and it doesn’t really get to me much.”
N: “I hate being on my own. I’ve got to cook, and I end up talking to the fish! This is the first sign of madness and that’s why I go round my mum’s. It’s a good job she lives close by!””
So your family all moved up from Essex?
N: “Yeah, people think they moved up because I train here, but it’s not the case. We made the collective decision to move because my dad works in Lancashire and he’d had enough of commuting from Essex. To be honest, as much as I love Essex and my friends, I’d never move back. There’s something about Manchester and Lancashire. I met Rik up here, I’ve got some great friends and I love it.”
R: “That’s right. The only way isn’t Essex!”
You mentioned training – do your different schedules have an impact on your time together?
N: “They do, yes. Especially when we’re both training hard. We try to manage it as best as we can. Unless we’re competing, we spend the weekends together. It’s quite nice that we’re in different sports because as much as I love him, he’d drive me mad if I was with him 24/7. I’d drive him mad, too!”
R: “Apart from the track stuff, most of my training is based at home – on the turbo and on the road. So I’m here while Natalie goes into Manchester to train at the Aquatic Centre. She’s up just before 5am – the dedication of getting up in the morning is something I couldn’t do!”
Do you both get to eat the same sort of food, or does your training require different diets? And what effect does that have on meal times?
R: “We get to eat the same things, lots of proteins and stuff, which is quite handy for meal times. You can’t eat whatever you want in case you put on weight – obviously we want to get the most out of our diets to support our training. With British Swimming and British Cycling we get access to nutritionists, so if we ever need to, we can get in touch with them and ask questions.”
N: “I’m a bit more ladylike with my portion sizes than Rik is!”
R: “I tend to eat people out of house and home…”
N: “If you ask my Mum, she’ll agree – it’s him and my brother. By the time we’ve left, Mum’s got empty cupboards!”
So are you nightmare dinner party guests?
N: “No, most of our friends are athletes, or are involved in sport in some way. So generally they’re pretty understanding and eat the same sort of things as we do.”
How do you unwind when you’re not training?
R: “We just take the piss out of each other! I’ll take the Mick out of her Essex accent and her living up north.”
N: “We’ll watch telly too! A bit of footy if it’s on, or maybe a film. To be honest, I’m so tired after training I’m normally asleep by about 9pm. I’m a Chelsea fan, which doesn’t go down too well in Manchester. Rik’s a Liverpool fan, so he’s not too popular either. I think we’ve got ‘mugs’ written across our heads.”
Do you get much of a chance to watch each other compete?
R: “I’ll go and see Natalie if she’s competing in Manchester or Sheffield – places like that. Natalie doesn’t get a chance to watch me that often because her training schedules are so full on.”
N: “It’s quite bad really, I want to see him – I love watching Rik on the track. I managed to see him at the Paracycling National Championships in Manchester a few weeks ago, but the only time I get to see him is if he’s racing up the road in the Velodrome.”
Are you quite competitive? What would happen if one of you won gold in London and the other had a shocker – would it make things a bit awkward around the house?
N: “No… we’d be happy for each other. We support each other really well – in Beijing, Rik had to go home early and I supported him through that. If it happened the other way around, he’d support me.”
R: “We’ve both set our sights on what we want to do in London. The situation at Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games involving Natalie losing her swimming hat halfway through the race resulted in her getting a bronze medal. At the time it was a sore subject, but now it’s a bit of a joke. Telling her to keep her hat on is quite funny.”
If the two of you are racing on the same day, who gets the most people to go along and watch?
R: “Natalie. Yeah. I think swimming is more accessible because a lot of my racing is outdoors on the road. I’ll go past for a couple of seconds and that’ll be all they see. With the swimming, you can sit in the venue all day and watch all Natalie’s races.”
When one of you has a good result, how do you celebrate?
R: “When I won silver and Natalie won two bronze at the Beijing Games, there was a bit of banter – she was always rubbing it in my face saying two bronzes were worth a silver, so it was quite good fun. When we got home, our families all wanted to go out and celebrate, so it was quite a family thing.”
N: “Normally we don’t get much time to celebrate though. Success is part of the job and thankfully we’ve had quite a bit of it in our time, so we’re used to it. Hopefully it’s going to be different in London and we will get time to have a big blow out!”
Finally, will you get to enjoy Christmas or does training mean you have to hold back?
N: “I’m actually training over Christmas. We got married last year, so this is our first Christmas as a married couple. I’ll train up to Christmas Eve and have Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, before going back on the 27th. We won’t be indulging in too much food and drink. We’re both aiming for London and want to be the best we can be, so Christmas is going to be hard, especially when other members of the family are eating and drinking what they want!””