Secret insecurities and how to overcome them -- a world champion's real triumph


A Life With No Limits: A World Champion's Journey, by Chrissie Wellington

There are some uplifting stories among the shortlist for the 2012 William Hill Sports Book of the Year, the winner of which will be revealed tomorrow, but on that score this tale of triumph over adversity arguably trumps them all.

Chrissie Wellington, four times winner of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship, world record holder, unbeaten in 13 competitive events in the most gruelling test of combined athletics disciplines, can be described quite reasonably as the toughest female athlete on the planet.

There are not many, after all, who could complete a 2.4-mile swim, an 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile running marathon one after the other, let alone do so in 8hrs 18min 32sec, a staggering 32 minutes faster than the record she broke in doing so.

Yet Wellington did not run a marathon until she was 25, in London, before which she had endured an adolescence so troubled by self-doubt that she suffered from bulimia and anorexia.  The disorders felt to her to be symptomatic of weakness at the time but are not uncommon in individuals with her character -- fundamentally insecure but at the same time driven by an obsessive desire for control, achievement and the approval of others.  Far from being a weakness, they were a clue to her future strength.

Her autobiography, written with the help of Guardian journalist Michael Aylwin, is a story not only of the ordinary girl from a middle class background in Norfolk who somehow transformed herself from a civil servant to a world champion athlete but one of self-discovery she hopes can inspire others to pursue their goals with new self-belief.

She sought to explain the effect her extraordinary success had had on her own outlook on life in an interview with the Guardian's Donald McRae earlier this year.

"The times and number of victories I've managed matter less than the continual surprise I feel," she said. "It's so empowering to defy your own perceptions of what is possible and to keep on opening doors within yourself that you didn't know even existed.

"We all have talents that, sometimes, we never quite fulfil. We're all scared, deep down, but maybe we just need to lay it on the line and explore our abilities and just not be afraid of failing.

"When I first started in sport I did it for purely selfish reasons – to be as good as I could be. I still have that desire but the more I do it the more I realise I can do something else. Hopefully, I can show people what is possible."

A Life Without Limits, by Chrissie Wellington, is published by Constable.  For more information and to buy visit or the William Hill 2012 page at The Sports Bookshelf Shop.

The full shortlist for the 2012 award is:

  • Running With the Kenyans - Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth, by Adharanand Finn (Faber & Faber)
  • That Near-Death Thing – Inside the TT: The World’s Most Dangerous Race, by Rick Broadbent (Orion)
  • The Secret Race – Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs, by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle (Bantam Press)
  • Be Careful What You Wish For, by Simon Jordan (Yellow Jersey)
  • Fibber in the Heat, by Miles Jupp (Ebury Press)
  • A Life Without Limits – A World Champion’s Journey, by Chrissie Wellington with Michael Aylwin (Constable & Robinson)
  • Shot and a Ghost: A Year in the Brutal World of Professional Squash, by James Willstrop with Rod Gilmour (James Willstrop / Rod Gilmour)

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and, with a top prize of £24,000, the  most valuable literary prize for sports writing.  The 2012 winner will be announced at a lunchtime reception at Waterstones Piccadilly (London), Europe’s largest bookstore, tomorrow.

This year's judging panel comprises broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; footballer and chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop.

More reading

James Willstrop -- Hidden star of the sport the Olympics left behind (Shot and a Ghost)
Tyler Hamilton and the Lance Armstrong scandal (The Secret Race)
A cheeky adventure turns into a cautionary tale (Fibber in the Heat)
Fatal attraction of the world's most dangerous race (That Near-Death Thing)
One man's quest to learn the secrets of the swiftest (Running With the Kenyans)
Buy a football club and lose a fortune - a chairman's tale (Be Careful What You Wish For)