Olympic Athlete, Dame Kelly Holmes, won 12 medals in 12 years, but seven of those years were fraught with illness and injury. Find out how dreaming big can help you overcome adversity and build mental resilience during difficult times.

The last 18 months have been challenging to say the least. Many of us have had to find new levels of inner strength to get through lockdowns, social isolation, economic downturns, sickness, fear, and loss.

Living through the pandemic has had a major impact on the nation’s mental health, but we were already facing a mental health crisis in the workplace, with many organisations taking steps to identify and reduce stress levels at work to promote employee wellbeing. 

Double Olympic gold medallist, Dame Kelly Holmes, is no stranger to the impact of work on her mental health. Despite her incredible achievements – including setting new British records in the 800m and 1,000m during the 2004 Olympic Games – Dame Kelly has weathered more than her fair share of adversity.

“I won 12 medals in 12 years as an international athlete, but seven of those years were fraught with illness and injury,” she said

Dame Kelly is a huge inspiration both to her community and to us here at Salesforce. Stories like hers fuel our passion for improving the mental health of our employees via our resilience and mental health programme, B-Well Together.

So let’s get inspired and explore Dame Kelly’s incredible journey from humble beginnings to Team GB legend, all while battling mental health issues and building the mental resilience she needed to succeed on the world’s biggest stage.

The weight of taking home the gold

Dame Kelly has always been driven to succeed. Growing up on a council estate in Kent, she did chores and shopping for elderly people in her community to earn pocket money. “That set my sights on the more charitable arm of who I am – I always wanted to help people out, and also to make my own money to support myself,” she added. 

By the age of 12 she’d discovered her passion for running, and not content with being anything but the best, she won the All England Championships that year, before eventually making history as Britain’s first double gold Olympic medallist for 80 years at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

But just 12 months earlier, this seemingly fearless champion was facing the hardest year of her life and struggling with depression and injuries. “It can be very easy to give up in those moments,” she commented. But she found her way through and fought for her dreams.


Powering through with mental resilience

While 2003 was challenging, it wasn’t Dame Kelly’s first experience of depression. But she picked herself up and channelled her most vulnerable moments into a learning experience. 

“If you got out of a problem before, you can get out of it again. [My dream of becoming an Olympic champion] was the driving force for me,” she said. “Follow your dreams but don’t be scared to ask for help.”

This is the founding principle of B-Well Together, our programme to tackle stress, anxiety, and help employees overcome adversity. But we also build resilience into our teams in three ways:

  1. Leading with compassion and inspiring our workforce through challenging times

  2. Adopting a positive mindset and willingness to adapt rapidly and innovate without fear of failure

  3. Empowering teams with the tools to make smarter decisions rapidly and at scale.

These values are at the heart of our culture and the foundation of everything we do, and recently Dame Kelly inspired our community with a motivational speech that few will forget, just as she herself was once inspired by Lord Sebastian Coe taking home the gold in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.


Giving back to the community

At Salesforce, we believe in doing well by doing good. The Dame Kelly Homes Trust inspires young people with stories from real athletes to promote good mental health and help them build mental resilience. After all, athletes are veterans when it comes to using strong leadership and communication skills, a positive mindset, and their inner strength to combat the extreme highs and lows of competitive sport.

As we deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital to look after each other and understand that this is a challenging time for our mental health. As Dame Kelly said, “Don’t be scared to talk to people about what you want. Talking is the only way it can happen.” 

Before the pandemic, 61% of senior leaders had employee wellbeing on the agenda. Together, let’s further the conversation about mental health and resilience and push for nothing less than 100% commitment to the wellbeing of our people. 


Find out how Salesforce is partnering with Team GB to bring athletes and fans together.