Track and Feast

The rein­ven­tion of David Gil­lick

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - SHUTTERBUG -

Cler­mont, Florida, 10.30am, Fe­bruar y 20, 2011. Cel­e­brated Ir­ish ath­lete David Gil­lick — a fu­ture win­ner of RTE’s Celebrity MasterChef — who was in train­ing for the Olympics in Lon­don the fol­low­ing year, was near­ing the end of a run . . . “It was al­most like some­one had shot me in the back of the calf,” David says now. “I jumped up. I couldn’t walk.”

He went for a scan, where he was told it wasn’t any­thing too se­ri­ous. “I was mis­di­ag­nosed. They thought it was my plan­taris ten­don. They said, ‘Give it an­other cou­ple of days and you can get back on the track’.” And then, when David did, “It popped again. This hap­pened again sev­eral times.”

He had badly torn his soleus, the mus­cle be­tween the top of his calf and his Achilles ten­don — an in­jury that, in the long run, was to wreck his dream of com­pet­ing in the Lon­don 2012 Olympics.

“I was ab­so­lutely dev­as­tated,” David says. The in­jury also pre­ma­turely put an end to what was a su­perla­tive sport­ing ca­reer. He was 400m Euro­pean Cham­pion in Madrid in 2005, and he re­tained the ti­tle in 2007 in Birm­ing­ham.

David, who joined Dun­drum Ath­letic Club when he was nine — “I had that raw tal­ent,” he re­mem­bers — rep­re­sented Ire­land in the Bei­jing Olympics in 2008. “It was a child­hood dream to com­pete in the Olympics,” he says.

“Un­for­tu­nately, I didn’t per­form at my best,” he ad­mits. “I think I just put too much pres­sure on my­self, to be hon­est. I prob­a­bly stressed my­self out a lit­tle bit in the weeks run­ning up to it.” Can the mind af­fect the body that way? “Mas­sively. You can win or lose a race long be­fore you get a foot on the track. Long be­fore. That was a huge learn­ing curve for me.”

When Gil­lick of­fi­cially with­drew from in­ter­na­tional ath­let­ics in June 2014, Pres­i­dent of Ath­let­ics Ire­land, Ciaran O Cathain, spoke for many of us when he said, “I would like to wish David all the best in his retirement on what has been a re­mark­able ath­let­ics ca­reer. He is an in­spi­ra­tion to all of our ath­letes through his achieve­ments in ath­let­ics”.

How did he cope with sud­denly not be­ing an ath­lete?

“It was a strug­gle,” David tells me. “I would beat my­self up about ath­let­ics. I would miss it. I would want it.”

“I had a lot of prob­lems with my calves,” David adds. “Gen­er­ally, a sprinter is go­ing to be up on his toes. You are con­stantly sprint­ing on your toes. You are putting 18 times your body weight through your leg when you are run­ning, and over time, 400 me­tres is quite a de­mand­ing event.

“It’s funny, be­cause I got to a point where I had no in­juries; then I was 29, 30 — that’s when they came,” he says. “I got one, and then they came again, and I missed the Lon­don Olympics, and it just kind of spi­ralled from there a lit­tle bit.

“Un­for­tu­nately, then, my fund­ing was cut, [as well as] spon­sors. I wasn’t mak­ing money from run­ning. So you kind of look at it like: ‘God —how am I go­ing to keep a roof over my head?’ ” And how did you? “I sup­pose, ear­lier on, I had a de­cent ca­reer,” David says, with just a touch of mod­esty. “I won a cou­ple of medals, and I was able to save a bit and keep my­self sus­tained. But then it got to a point where I stopped mak­ing money from the sport and af­ter all the in­juries, men­tally, I just got a lit­tle bit fed up with it,” he says with re­mark­able hon­esty.

“When I re­tired, I was frus­trated with

my sport, and de­pressed that my ca­reer as an ath­lete was over,” David says, adding that he went straight into a full­time job with sports brand New Bal­ance. Work­ing on the mar­ket­ing side, he was on the road a lot both in Ire­land and in the United King­dom, and he “for­got”, he re­calls, “about the value of ex­er­cise and a healthy diet”.

“So I was wasn’t eat­ing well,” he says. “I wasn’t be­ing ac­tive. I was as­tounded with the ef­fect it had on my men­tal state.” I ask him to ex­plain that. “You’re tired. You’re grumpy. You feel crap about your­self. You have no en­ergy. You feel lethar­gic, heavy, just slug­gish. That’s the way I felt.

“If I was on the road, I would pull into a petrol sta­tion, and go in to pay for diesel, and I’d come out with a muffin. I’d be sit­ting in the car, go­ing : ‘Why am I eat­ing this?’ I wouldn’t have eaten since break­fast. So I would be starv­ing. Then I’d have crisps or choco­late.

“What­ever is high-sugar, some­thing that is go­ing to talk to you straight away, you grab it. That’s the thing about food,” David con­tin­ues, “if we don’t eat, it af­fects our in­sulin lev­els. So you crave sugar. You crave some­thing that is fast-re­leas­ing, which is high GI [glycemic in­dex] — high-sugar foods, which is gen­er­ally your poor-qual­ity foods.”

‘The only time you should be eat­ing sugar is post-ex­er­cise, that’s when your body re­ally craves it from a re­cov­ery point of view’

Is sugar the devil? “Sugar wouldn’t be good on the body in any way,” he an­swers.

“The only times you should be eat­ing high-sugar foods is post-ex­er­cise. When you have been out and you have been re­ally ac­tive, that’s when your body re­ally craves that, from a re­cov­ery point of view. But the ef­fect that sugar has on our in­sulin lev­els through­out the day goes back to when we were kids,” he laughs of his youth in Ballinteer on the south­side of Dublin.

“I re­mem­ber hav­ing a can of Coke as a kid. You’d be run­ning around like a head­less chicken. My mum would be go­ing: ‘You’re hy­per!’ Then you’re knack­ered, sit­ting in the cor­ner, and you want an­other can! You are peak­ing and trough­ing through­out the day.

“So in any walk of life, where you are meant to be per­form­ing through­out the whole day,” David says, “and if you have meet­ings in the af­ter­noon, that’s when most peo­ple are reach­ing for that 3pm, 4pm slump, of a hit of caf­feine or a hit of sugar, the choco­late bar. And, like­wise, in the morn­ing time, around 11 o’clock, peo­ple get a lit­tle bit hun­gry — it is that time in be­tween your break­fast and your lunch. You look for some high-sugar food, when re­ally we should be eat­ing food that is low in sugar.”

Most of us will prob­a­bly know David Gil­lick from win­ning Celebrity MasterChef on RTE in Au­gust 2013. He beat Aen­gus Mac Gri­anna, who was run­ner-up, and Maia Dun­phy, who fin­ished in third place, with his quinoa-crumbed lamb cut­lets; hal­ibut fil­let with an av­o­cado, ap­ple and celeriac re­moulade, with lemon vinai­grette; and sum­mer meringue torte.

Then, last au­tumn, a pub­lisher ap­proached him — and the re­sult is the very user-friendly David Gil­lick’s Kitchen: Good Food From The Track To The Ta­ble.

Gil­lick’s rai­son d’etre in terms of his food is, he says, “that it’s healthy, but it’s sim­ple.”

“I found it very im­prac­ti­cal when there are cer­tain healthy recipes and you have to get a cer­tain in­gre­di­ent from a cer­tain shop in town, that takes an hour to get to, and you just don’t have the time to do it. There might be lit­tle bits and bobs that you have to go into, say, an Asian mar­ket or a unique health store in town.

“I want to be able to walk into my lo­cal su­per­mar­ket, like a Lidl or a Tesco, and buy some­thing there and bring it home, and I want to make it. Some­thing that is go­ing to take 15 or 20 min­utes.”

David con­tin­ues: “I wanted to gear it to­wards peo­ple who are lead­ing ac­tive lives, busy lives, have fam­i­lies. You’re work­ing, po­ten­tially, eight or nine hours a day. You come home, you still

want to eat healthy. What can you do?

“In the book, there is a whole ar­ray of recipes, but in par­tic­u­lar, I use a lot of co­conut. You buy that in the su­per­mar­ket. It adds lots of flavour with lemon chicken, sweet pota­toes, and but­ter­nut squash. Things like that are con­stantly read­ily avail­able, and they are in­ex­pen­sive.

“Peo­ple have this no­tion that try­ing to eat healthily is ex­pen­sive and it takes a lot of time,” he says — but it doesn’t have to be.

From David’s back­ground of be­ing a pro­fes­sional ath­lete, one of the el­e­ments he re­ally honed in was “eat­ing well for per­for­mance. Not just for my per­for­mance on the track, but for my per­for­mance ev­ery day, and mak­ing sure I had enough en­ergy through the day”.

“The dishes in the book,” he says, “are not rein­vent­ing the wheel. It’s not based on a diet, or avoid­ing food groups, but the dishes are show­ing that real food can be de­li­cious, easy to make and en­joy­able for the masses.

“My over­all aim was to keep this book sim­ple. the ob­jec­tives were to keep it easy to fol­low, and ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one — whether you are an elite ath­lete, a busy cor­po­rate ath­lete, a busy par­ent, or some­one who just wants to eat bet­ter.” I ask him about his phi­los­o­phy on food. “My phi­los­o­phy on food is born out of prac­ti­cal­ity,” he says. “It was al­ways about keep­ing things sim­ple — easy to fol­low and easy to sus­tain. It is also about a life­style choice, not a short-term diet that last two weeks and then — day one, week three — every­thing falls apart.

“The key for me is to keep it sim­ple, to eat real food. You don’t find a huge list of in­gre­di­ents on the back of an ap­ple!” David laughs.

“It’s easy th­ese days to find a ‘new’ diet on­line, there are so many of them out there — Pa­leo, gluten-free, ve­gan — and I think it all gets a lit­tle con­fus­ing. Yes, they all have their mer­its, but for me it’s about longevity, and tak­ing the first step of fo­cussing on un­pro­cessed, low-sugar foods is the right di­rec­tion.”

Gil­lick, of course, has some­one spe­cial to test out his food philoso­phies on. He mar­ried his long-term girl­friend, Char­lotte Wick­ham, on Au­gust 23, 2014 at Th­waite Hall in North York­shire. David met his English Rose in Lough­bor­ough, in Oc­to­ber 2007, when he moved into a house in with a male friend who was look­ing for two more house­mates.

Re­calls David with a laugh: “He was like — ‘I’m just go­ing to get women in!’ And one of those was Char­lotte. So, we were liv­ing to­gether from day one. She was a great per­son, good fun, great at­ti­tude.”

There was a bit of flirt­ing in the be­gin­ning, for a cou­ple of months, he ad­mits.

Was it like, you’d hear her get up in the morn­ing, you’d suck in your tummy, and charge out of your bed­room, pre­tend­ing to be rush­ing for the shower, just as she was com­ing out of her bed­room?

“I’d be do­ing my abs in my bed­room be­fore I came down with my top off !” he laughs.

“There were lit­tle games like that. She told me later, when we were in a re­la­tion­ship, that there were times when I might get out of bed in the morn­ing and she might put on a bit of make-up be­fore she came down for break­fast!”

Their first date came cour­tesy of RTE, who in­vited David to the Sports Awards later that year in 2007.

“I was think­ing, ‘This could be the ul­ti­mate date here; in­vite her to a tele­vised black-tie event’. That’s what I did. That was our first date. De­cem­ber 20, 2007.

“It was kind of funny be­cause I was stay­ing with my par­ents. They were like, ‘Who are you bring­ing?’ ‘I’m bring­ing my house­mate’. I played every­thing down. I didn’t give off the vibe that she was my po­ten­tial girl­friend. It went re­ally well.” Did she stay in your par­ents’ house? “Sep­a­rate rooms! My mum and dad re­ally liked her,” David — who is the youngest of four; his sib­lings are Tony, John and Eileen — says of his mum and dad, Sheila and Jim.

He asked Char­lotte to marry him on New Year’s Eve 2013, at her par­ents’ house. (He had asked her dad, Keith, in Au­gust of that year for his per­mis­sion to pro­pose to his daugh­ter).

Char­lotte’s mum Au­drey put on a big spread, and it all went to plan. David bought a Claddagh ring in Dublin air­port on the way over. “I al­ways kind of knew that Char­lotte was go­ing to be my wife. I couldn’t see my­self be­ing with­out her or not hav­ing her in my life,” he says.

Hav­ing moved back from England last year, David and Char­lotte now live in Fir­house, south Dublin, and are now ex­pect­ing their first child. Who does the cook­ing at home? “I do!” he laughs. And what does he pre­pare in their kitchen on a nor­mal day?

“Break­fast gen­er­ally would be por­ridge oats, Greek yo­ghurt with berries, nuts and seeds. Very straight­for­ward and sim­ple. Nice and bal­anced and healthy. Then, at lunchtime, I’d gen­er­ally have a lot of salad and a good source of pro­tein. And if I am go­ing to train, I’d have bul­gur wheat or cous­cous, or some form of low-GI car­bo­hy­drate as well.

“Din­ner can con­sist of pro­tein — chicken, turkey, eggs, fish — and plenty of veg.” Chips? “I al­ways aim for above-ground veg­eta­bles,” he says, “less starchy veg . . . your broc­co­lis, your cauliflowers, your cour­gettes, your pep­pers.

“Lots of colour on the plate.”

‘David Gil­lick’s Kitchen: Good Food From The Track To The Ta­ble’, pub­lished by Mercier Press, €22.95, is avail­able now in all good book­shops na­tion­wide

‘It got to a point where I stopped mak­ing money from the sport and af­ter all the in­juries, men­tally, I just got a lit­tle bit fed up with it’ — David on the track in 2010 at the 20th Euro­pean Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships in Barcelona. A year later, an in­jury...

‘It’s about a life­style choice, not a short-term diet’ — David beat Maia Dun­phy, above left, and Aen­gus Mac Gri­anna, mid­dle, to take the Celebrity MasterChef 2013 ti­tle. Right: David with wife Char­lotte at the launch of his new book in Dublin. At their...

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