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Exclusive: Olympic champion Tessa Sanderson on why becoming a mother at 56 is her greatest achievement

Tessa Sanderson poses with her family for exclusive HELLO! shoot
Tessa Sanderson poses with her family for exclusive HELLO! shoot

Tessa Sanderson is an Olympic champion, has broken world records and even had streets named after her. But no accolade could ever compare to a moment she shared with her daughter Ruby Mae.

“Her school had a day where the kids had to dress up as their hero. She said: ‘Mummy, I would really like to go as you,’” the former javelin thrower tells HELLO!. “It was extraordinary and emotional – it gave me a tingly feeling. I’m so chuffed that she’s proud of her mummy. It was the same as when I came home after winning all my medals; a feeling that you want to show off to everybody.”

Having represented Great Britain at the Commonwealth Games, World Championships and six Olympics – including making history at the Los Angeles 1984 games by becoming the first British black woman to win a gold medal – Tessa’s trophy cabinet is full to the brim.

Tessa Sanderson poses for an exclusive Mother's Day photoshoot with HELLO!
Tessa says adopting her twins Ruby Mae and Cassius, now 11, is her greatest achievement

But she is joined by her ultimate pride and joy, husband Densign White and their 11-year-old twins Ruby Mae and Cassius, for our exclusive photoshoot and interview to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Family life with her twins

Becoming a mother at 56, when she and Densign fostered and then adopted Ruby and Cassius, who were then babies, is Tessa’s greatest achievement, she says. “They are our absolute world. Adopting my children was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Come Mother's Day, she will be showered with gifts by her loved ones. “We usually have a family gathering with chocolates and champagne,” she says.

Ruby Mae, meanwhile, always goes the extra mile to make her feel special, with one Mother’s Day treat standing out. “She made Dens and I get dressed up as if we were going out to dinner and cooked us a meal. She’s so loving and caring.”

Tessa married fellow former Olympian Densign White in 2010
Tessa married fellow former Olympian Densign White in 2010

Reflecting on her Olympic triumph

This year is one of celebration for Tessa, as 2024 marks 40 years since her historic Olympic triumph on 6 August 1984.

“When I won, I knew there was going to be a lot of black people looking on and feeling proud. I wanted to feel they were proud because I was proud, too,” says Tessa, who was born in Jamaica and moved to the UK aged six to join her parents, who were part of the Windrush generation.

Her incredible throw of 69.56m (a new Olympic record at the time) made her the first person – male or female – to bring home a gold for Team GB in a throwing event since the modern games began. What’s more, it hasn’t been done since.

"Knowing that no one else has won another throwing Olympic gold medal for this country – well, that makes me feel pretty damn special!” she says.

Tessa Sanderson poses for an exclusive Mother's Day photoshoot with HELLO!
Tessa turns 68 next week – not that you’d guess from her youthful energy

Tessa's thoughts on ageing

Adding to her year, she turns 68 this month – not that you’d guess, from her youthful energy.

Four decades after making history, she says: “I feel I’m in better shape. I eat healthier, my skin is better, I keep active – my confidence has grown enormously. I’ve got my MBE, my OBE, my CBE. I feel empowered. I feel happy.”

After her own sporting success, Tessa is proud to be giving back to the community with ambassadorships that include Adoption UK and Variety, the Children’s Charity. “I feel great that I’m inspiring women of my age. I adopted my kids at 56, I became a model at 60 and did an Estée Lauder campaign. There’s lots of things you can get out there and do. Life doesn’t end at 60.”

To read the rest of this interview, pick up the latest issue of HELLO! on sale in the UK on Monday. You can subscribe to HELLO! to get the magazine delivered free to your door every week or purchase the digital edition online via our Apple or Google apps.