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Olympian Novlene Williams-Mills Didn’t Let Breast Cancer Impact Her Career

In June 2012, just before the Olympic games in London, Jamaican track and field athlete Novlene Williams-Mills was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She didn’t tell anyone about the diagnosis and went on to take home a bronze medal in the 4x400m relay in London 2012.

After the Olympics, Novlene had a small lump removed from her breast. She went on to have a double mastectomy in January 2013. It wasn’t until July 2013 that the athlete spoke out about her diagnosis for the first time.

Getting back into her workouts after her surgery was hard, especially as she hadn’t told anyone about her diagnosis at the time.

“I was really nervous getting back into training as none of my teammates knew the reason why I was not at practice all those months and I didn’t want to answer a lot of questions,”

“Also I was excited because I was finally getting back on the track being with my friends again. That was really exciting.”


Novlene added: “At the same time, I knew it was going to be really hard after all those surgeries with new breasts and missing all those months of training.”

We posed our 12 questions to Novlene to discuss how she got her training back on track and what it takes to be an athlete.

My Journey ?

What do you credit to your success in your fitness journey?

“Trying to make sure I get enough sleep at night so I’m able to recover. Also, making sure I don’t drink or smoke and go to a lot parties. I try to stay away from lots of junk food.”

What’s one of the most memorable moments in your career and why? 

“Anchoring Jamaica’s 400m relay in 2015 at the World Championships to the gold medal because Jamaica had not won that event in 14 years!

“For me to be part of that team was great, especially after being diagnosed with breast cancer and then having a thyroid infection in 2015. It was a great feeling to celebrate with my teammates.”

Was there ever a low point where you wanted to throw the towel and how did you get past it?

“Yes. Back in 2013 when I went back to training after my surgeries I would be so tired and sometimes couldn’t finish the workouts or was too tired to get out of bed. At times I just wanted to quit and I asked myself why I wasn’t taking time off to fully recover.

“I give my husband Jameel and friends credit for encouraging me and telling me to take it day by day. Winning the Jamaica National Championship that year was a great feeling for me and helped push me the rest of the season.”

My Training ?

Talk us through your week in fitness.

“On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I start 9am with a track workout that lasts for about two and a half hours. Mondays are always my volume day, Tuesday is more of a speed day, Thursday I do speed endurance and Friday is usually a hills session.

“On those days, I follow the workout by doing a gym session for another hour that includes speed, band resistance and minimal weights.”

What’s your favourite type of workout and why?

“I would say repeats of 200m sprints, because it’s short but it also tests my endurance. During this workout, I give myself anything from 90 seconds to two minutes rest between.”

What’s your favourite way to spend your rest day?

“Wednesdays and weekends are my rest days. Wednesday is more of a treatment day, with a massage. Sundays I normally go to church and relax around the house with family and friends.”


My Food ?

What do you eat throughout the week to complement your training schedule?

“During the week my breakfast will be oatmeal as it’s a little heavier, so helps me sustain my training. For lunch, I will have chicken or salmon with mashed potato. For dinner, I will have chicken, a lamb chop or salmon with vegetables.”

What are your pre and post-workout snacks?

“Post-workout will always be a protein shake and a protein bar.”

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about food?

“That you have to eat in proportion. You control food, don’t let food control you.”


My Motivation ?

Do you have a motivational mantra that keeps you going?

“No, just a lot of different motivational quotes that always help me though out the day or weeks. Each day, it’s always different.”

Do you always have body goals you are aiming for?

“No I like my body how it is, because I feel the training I have done throughout the years have really helped to shape it.”

What’s your ultimate workout track and why?

“I generally don’t listen to music during my training sessions. I listen to gospel when warming up, before a track meet.”


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