My husband's got the body of a god. But sex Forget it! British rower Greg Searle's wife admits she's not too happy about losing him to the Olympics yet again
01:07 GMT, 17 July 2012
Surely if anyone deserves a medal this summer, it’s Jenny Searle — a gold medal for patience. For that’s clearly what it takes to be the wife of an Olympic athlete, and a very special one at that.
At the age of 40, her husband Greg, a rower, is attempting one of sport’s greatest ever comebacks.
Having won gold in Barcelona in 1992 in the coxed pairs, he went on to compete in the next two Games, picking up a bronze at Atlanta and finishing fourth at Sydney.
Making sacrifices: Jenny Searle, the wife of British rower Greg Searle, says it's tough being married to an Olympic athlete
Shortly after that, he ‘retired’ — or so his colleagues and long-suffering wife, thought.
But having been out of the sport for nearly a decade, in 2009 he announced, suddenly, that he was making a return as one of the British eight at this year’s Olympics. And to say his wife is not happy about it is something of an understatement.
‘There have been times over the past three years when I have felt so frustrated and angry at being left to juggle the rather mundane business of our home life while Greg pursues his dream,’ she grumbles.
‘I feel like a single parent much of the time and, when Greg is around, he is like my third child, because he can’t do anything round the house for fear of injury.’
But despite Jenny’s objections, her husband’s (relative) old age and all the odds against it, come July 28, Greg will be lining up in the London Olympics almost 20 years to the day since his gold medal victory in Barcelona. If the team wins, he will become the country’s oldest rowing gold medallist since 1908.
Sporting hero: Greg celebrates winning Olympic gold in 1992
Back home, Jenny, 44, will be keeping everything together on the home front.
It was bad enough, she says, being a rowing widow the first time round, when her husband was young enough to cope with the training.
But now that he’s older, such are the rigours of Greg’s fitness programme, she’s effectively become a single mother to their children Josie, 11, and Adam, nine, for much of the year.
What’s more, because there’s a far higher threat of injury when you’re a 40-something Olympian, Greg hasn’t been able to lift a finger around the house, especially since he suffered back problems in January.
He can’t even kick a ball about with his son in case he pulls a muscle. As for their love life, well, he’s far too tired for any of that, confides Jenny in an unusually frank interview.
‘As a friend rather enviously said, Greg has the body of a God but, at the moment, he’s untouchable.
He insists that we still share a bed but that’s as far as it goes, because he needs his sleep,’ says Jenny.
‘My friend was asking if I wanted to borrow her copy of Fifty Shades Of Grey. But I told her there was no point until the Olympics were well and truly over!’
Joking aside, Jenny says she can happily live with the lack of sex. What makes her far more furious is the fact that she has to empty the bins and mow the lawn — household jobs that are usually firmly on her husband’s to-do list.
‘We’re old, for goodness sake, she says. ‘We’re married with young children. Missing out on the physical side of things isn’t quite such an issue for us. For me, what has been far more annoying is the fact that Greg can’t do anything.
For the past year, it’s like he’s become my third child. Normally, he’s such a hands-on dad and he does lots round the house. But, now, he can’t lift a finger to help. And that, frankly, has driven me mad.
‘As you come into our house, there’s a great, horrible rug outside the front door that needs taking to the tip, but Greg can’t lift anything.
‘It’s been there for months so, now, I’ve decided to ask my big strapping teenage nephew over during the holidays and pay him a bit of money to do all the jobs that Greg hasn’t done.’
While there is no doubting Jenny’s pride in her husband’s sporting achievements, few would argue that she is clearly the ultimate sporting widow.
‘Greg is in great shape and that’s hard to do at his age. There’s not a moob in sight. He’s got pecs, a six pack. His body is looking amazing. But, to me, he is an athlete more than a husband right now and it’s just not a normal relationship.’
'It's been hard': Jenny and Greg pictured on their wedding day in 1997. She says she's barely seen her husband since he began training for this year's Olympics
To sustain his training regime, Greg needs to eat an incredible 6,000 calories a day. That’s a lot of cooking. Jenny says it is like feeding a Great Dane when he’s at home — she is constantly serving up huge portions of spaghetti bolognese and shepherd’s pie at a cost of around 200 a week.
‘Greg eats his meal out of a casserole dish and it takes him about 40 minutes to finish because there’s so much, which is often longer than it takes me to cook it,’ she mischievously reveals.
The couple’s social life has suffered, too. When Greg isn’t away training, he still needs a good eight hours’ rest. So, on the rare occasions the Searles have been out with friends, Greg has to eat by 9pm and be in bed by 9.30pm.
He hasn’t drunk alcohol for months and his 40th birthday in March passed without any celebrations. In short, for Jenny and the children, it’s been a rather boring year.
‘Greg and I usually get on really well and have quite a good laugh together. But it feels like we don’t really have any fun at the moment. Everything seems very serious. It has to be that way. Greg has to stay focused.
‘It will be worth it, I’m sure, but I am finding it really hard. I try and keep life normal, but I do feel slightly stressed the whole time. A part of me can’t wait until it’s all over, so that we can have our normal lives back again.’
For the Searles, preparing for the London Olympics has perhaps been more of an upheaval than for most of the athletes taking part in the Games.
Not only is Greg almost twice the age of many of his crew (who, incidentally, call him ‘Grandad’), he’d been out of the game for nine years. His life and that of his family had moved on.
Nowhere is this more apparent than at the family home in Marlow, Bucks. A photograph of Greg’s triumphant win in Spain in the coxed pair hangs in the downstairs loo alongside the many pictures of his young children.
His Olympic medals, meanwhile, are kept in an underwear drawer and his selection letter for Team GB is pinned on a kitchen cupboard alongside children’s drawings and school timetables.
Jenny met Greg not long after his Olympic success in Barcelona. She was working for the Sports Aid Foundation and Greg was invited as guest of honour to the annual ball.
‘I sat next to him and we had such a laugh, we started going out with each other after that,’ she says.
They married and Jenny supported her husband through the next two Games, with Greg winning a bronze medal in Atlanta.
But then came defeat in Sydney, when he came fourth in the coxed pair. ‘That was the most awful day,’ recalls Jenny. ‘Greg and his partner looked amazing in the heat but, in the final, this French pair came out of nowhere. It was like they had a motor on their boat.’
Not long after, Greg decided to call it a day and concentrate on being a husband and father, as Jenny was pregnant with their first child, Josie.
Sporting widow: Jenny met Greg shortly after his Olympic success in Barcelona
In the intervening years, he spent 18 months as an America’s Cup sailor before settling into office life working for Lane4, a performance consultancy founded by fellow Olympian Adrian Moorhouse.
He kept himself in reasonable shape — running in the London Marathon and completing a triathlon — but he no longer rowed competitively and Jenny thought his Olympic career was well and truly over.
‘A little part of me thought that he couldn’t end it like that. I knew he deserved another medal. But I never thought he would really go back to it again, especially at 40,’ she sighs.
But Greg returned from commentating at the 2009 World Championships with a plan. He wanted one last stab at Olympic glory.
‘I took a little convincing,’ admits Jenny. ‘Having done it all before, I was worried about all the practical issues like how we would pay the mortgage and how I would cope with the children on my own.
‘I definitely couldn’t have done it when they were toddlers, but Adam was six and Josie was eight when he started all this, and this was something Greg really wanted to do, so I said yes.’
Jenny’s financial worries were assuaged by generous sponsorship and Greg’s company allowing him to go part-time.
But nothing could have prepared her for the emotional sacrifices she has had to make.
‘We have barely seen him — he’s been off on various training camps,’ says Jenny. ‘We haven’t had a family holiday in three years and I really long to get away and relax.’
Her stress and pent-up frustration finally exploded last Christmas when Greg came home bearing a pet rabbit. ‘It was a joke present from one of his team-mates and the children were delighted. But I couldn’t speak. I was furious,’ she recalls.
‘I remember saying to Greg: “You are like a child. You don’t think. What are you imagining is going to happen to this rabbit now Who is going to look after it”
‘It wasn’t just the rabbit, it was everything. Greg can be so self-centred sometimes. He doesn’t always think about what is going on in anyone else’s life.’
The next night Jenny was still seething and stormed out of the house to drop the children off somewhere, reversing straight into the family’s other car. ‘I was in a rage. There were four days to go until Christmas and, like all mums, I had so much to co-ordinate.
‘Sometimes, Greg is so clueless. He said to me that night: “Why do you think you are so stressed at the moment” That was it. I let rip again. I told him to get rid of the rabbit.
‘But it wasn’t until two weeks later, after it had chewed through two laptop cables, our music player cable, ripped up half a new carpet in the playroom and messed everywhere, that Greg finally saw my point.
‘/07/17/article-0-00303C6600000258-529_468x286.jpg” width=”468″ height=”286″ alt=”British rowers Greg and Ed Coode at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney” class=”blkBorder” />
Greg with fellow British rower Ed Coode at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney
Greg was at home, but I would have paid money for him to be out in South Africa and fit.
‘He would lie on the sofa watching TV while I raced around after him.
‘He stayed very positive and did all the right things, seeking medical advice, physio and all that. But I was worried the entire time that after all we had been through, he wasn’t going to be able to compete.
‘I used to watch him through half-closed eyes getting out of bed in the morning and think: “Can he put on his socks today Can he straighten up”’
But worse is to come later this month, when the Games begin.
‘I’ll be seriously petrified on the day,’ she confesses. ‘I feel physically sick even thinking about it. As soon as I watch Greg racing I am so nervous. I start shaking. My heart rate goes up.
‘It will be hard for the children, too. They don’t want their dad to be disappointed. They have missed him hugely and I know he has missed them. They quite often have teary moments.’
She thinks Adam has taken his father’s absence the hardest and, sure enough, a few weeks ago the blond-haired youngster turned to his parents and said all he wanted was a normal dad back.
‘Greg pointed out that he is not like many dads who go to work early in the morning and don’t return until late at night,’ says Jenny.
‘When he’s not been at training camp, he has been around to pick the children up from school, so it’s been more feast and famine for us.’
Jenny hopes against hope that there will soon be another medal in the underwear drawer and then she can relax and enjoy having her husband to herself again.
‘I don’t like to moan, because I know there are people with far more challenging lives. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s been hard.
‘I’m especially looking forward to the day when I can say to Greg: “No, you pick that up”. Or, “Can you mow the lawn please” ’
Above all, she can’t wait to get her hands on that perfect body.
‘We are going to arrange a family holiday for the October half term. I’m also planning a weekend away for just the two of us. Perhaps we will take a copy of Fifty Shades Of Grey. I can’t wait.’
If Not Now, When by Greg Searle, is published by Macmillan on August 30, in hardback, 18.99