You might say Fiona Bigwood is married to her job. Her spot on Great Britain’s formidable Dressage team in Rio is evidence of that, but it’s her commitment to a certain Olympic rival that really stands out. Bigwood is married to Danish Grand Prix rider Anders Dahl, and wouldn’t you know it, both are in Rio competing under opposing flags.
Take a moment to imagine going up against your spouse in an Olympic competition. Yeah, “you just hope to see a good, honest performance from each other and may the best person win,” is what you’d say publicly, but inside you know you’d be dying to beat them.
How’s this for domestic smack talk?
“We [compete] so much, but it’s fantastic we can be at something as big as the Olympics as husband and wife,” Dahl said following Thursday’s Grand Prix test on Selten HW. “We were a bit nervous about the draw and whether we’d be a bit close together, as we are always there for each other.”
Well, that’s just totally adorable. Maybe Fiona will bring the heat:
“Anders has done more for me than I can ever thank him for.”
Ok, so these two are obviously not letting the pursuit of Olympic glory impeded on their love for each other. But like any fairytale, there have been numerous obstacles along the way.
The couple have three young children. If riding at the Grand Prix level and raising three kids sounds exhausting, well, it is. But that shouldn’t stop mothers from continuing to do what they love, says Bigwood.
“It is tough, but it’s possible. I actually wish more moms would carry on riding once they have kids. I think often people don’t and think they can’t do it but you can. It helps to have a team, and I have an amazing support team.”
Bigwood’s presence at these Olympics is miraculous in itself. In 2014, the decorated rider suffered life-altering head injury at a competition.
“I was riding at a competition, and my horse was scared of other horses. I had my line and another horse got scared and ran into us. He fell over and we just went down, and I hit my head and lost consciousness and all that.”
“All that” included a significant concussion and nerve damage to her right eye. Getting back in the saddle after such an injury proved much more difficult for Bigwood than it was after having children. Luckily, she has a horse she trusts with her life in Orthilia, an 11-year-old Oldenburg mare.
“The mare I rode today was the only horse I could ride in the beginning. And actually, the horse I fell off is the kindest horse but I cant ride him, my husbands rides him, and it’s not his fault it’s mine, but it’s just in my head.
Bigwood, who was wearing a helmet at the time of her accident, continues to struggle with her vision and competes with a patch over her right eye to stave off double vision.
“It was really tough at first,” Bigwood said on returning to riding. “Riding with a patch it makes it really difficult. But, it’s fine now. You get used to it and you go on.”
Dahl, meanwhile, sold most of his stock and went all-in on a warmblood named Selten HW a few years ago. Soon after bringing him home however, Dahl noticed something was not quite right with his new ride. Sure enough, Selten became terribly ill, and as Dahl told Horse & Hound, “We weren’t sure if we were going to lose him…He had strangles and then a virus which meant that by law he would have to be put down if he failed a blood test, which he did, but luckily he had another which was clear.”
Dahl has taken his time bringing the 12-year-old gelding along. In fact, these Olympic Games mark just his fourth international competition under Dahl (Selten was a US young horse champion with rider Elizabeth Ball).
Bigwood has enjoyed the upper hand thus far after Great Britain earned the team silver. Monday, she will go for an individual medal in the Grand Prix Freestyle. You can bet Dahl and the entire family will be right there, every step of the way.
“It’s lovely doing it as a family,” Bigwood said. [“The kids] really enjoy it. I gave them the option of coming to the Olympics or staying home and they were desperate to come. I missed a lot this year…so when they can come out and see why we missed stuff then they can understand it and they love it.”
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