With the Coronavirus still on everyone’s lips, it is hard to think what the world would be like if it did not exist. From weddings, to retirement ceremonies, to simply running out to get a drink at a bar, events around the world have been put on hold, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Triathlon competitors Helen and Marc Jenkins are a husband and wife duo who need no introduction in the small, international Olympian community. But, between long, exasperating and hard-working sessions of running, swimming and cycling, the couple are also die-hard Star Trek fans. And with the 2020 games being postponed to 2021, they’ve had plenty of time to indulge in their favorite show.
Marc grew up with Star Trek as a child, following in his father’s same love for the cult TV show, but Helen was a Star Trek newbie and only “got into it” when Marc shared the show with her. And while Helen and Marc have spent much of their life fine-tuning their skills, Star Trek ultimately could be responsible for their success on the field, so to speak.
Breaking up long training sessions, Star Trek has often been the downtime both World Champions look forward to. “We’d train hard and get a lot of down time. It was something to look forward to after a session and we would love it,” says Marc.
While both Olympians have been plagued with serious injuries (Marc with a serious genetic disorder and Helen with a spinal injury), their achievements have set them well above the rest — notably, Helen is also a two time triathlon world champion. With 2020’s unexpected downtime, the two are still coaching and training, but are also taking the time to enjoy life with their kids, Max and Mali, (who they hope will also be Trek fans, of course). They carved some time out of their busy schedules to sit down with StarTrek.com to discuss how the show and the idea of ‘boldly going’ helped to inspire their success.
StarTrek.com: What made you get into triathlons?
Marc Jenkins: I always loved sport, I spent a lot of time on the beach when I was young surfing and competing in Surf Life Saving. I loved being active and training. When I was around 16 I decided to take Triathlon more seriously to see how good I could get and start competing. I was loving the sport and decided to train full time at about 19 years old and try and make a career of it.
I am proud to have represented Great Britain at the Olympics although a crash on the bike essentially took me out of the race. After the Olympics in 2004 I was really sick, and we weren’t sure what was wrong. I was later diagnosed with a massive DVT and had a serious PE, turns out I’d been having them for years caused by 2 genetic disorders I have that predispose my blood to clotting. So,the focus then turned to [Helen’s training]. She was starting to get good [at that point]..
Helen Jenkins: I was a really active child and loved swimming, and I swam in a swimming club up until the age of 15 when I was introduced to triathlon. I was a really dedicated kid and really worked hard at swimming but I wasn’t that good. I started triathlon and really enjoyed the combination of 3 sports, and I was a lot better at triathlon than just swimming! I met Marc at my swimming club and he was already a professional triathlete. He later became my coach too. At 21 I had my first success on an international level and came third in my first ever world cup. From then on, I kept progressing and working towards becoming an Olympian and World Champion.
Where did your love for Star Trek come from?
HJ: I hadn't watched any Star Trek until I met Marc and was pretty dubious when he wanted me to watch it! I think it can have a reputation as being really geeky, and I also hadn’t watched any sci fi so I was surprised when I really enjoyed it. We watched The Next Generation first.
MJ: I’ve loved Star Trek as long as I can remember. My dad would watch The Original Series. The first few movies really got me hooked. I loved sci-fi and space, think I probably spent too much time watching TV when I was really young.
The movies were brilliant for a kid — all that space, warp speed, fight scenes, phasers and torpedos. How could a young boy not love that. I was about 11/12 when I rented the episode “Encounter At Farpoint.” I remember picking up the video case and thinking, ‘This isn’t Star Trek. [Star Trek is] Kirk and Spock and this guy isn’t either of them, and they’ve got funny uniforms!’ [But] that was it; [I was] hooked for life. I’m not sure it shaped my childhood but definitely influenced it. After school, I’d go straight to swimming then get home, and have dinner in front of whatever episode of Trek was being aired. It was TNG at that stage, but later on I remember having pretty big training days on Sundays, then I’d get home, go to bed and wait for the new episode of DS9. So my recovery time was made better if there was some Trek on somewhere. I’d love that routine of a big week then relax and DS9.
What are your favorite Star Trek episodes and why?
MJ: “The Inner Light,” that was amazing, or“Data’s Day “or “Yesterday’s Enterprise.” We could talk about it for hours — there’s absolutely no way I could single one episode out as a clear favorite. “Far Beyond the Stars” is a pretty awesome DS9 episode, but again there’s so much in that series I love. I loved the character Vic Fontaine. I actually wish he’d been in it more, all that Sinatra and Martin music with a feel of Vegas.
Even now my brain is going and I could keep on and on about the great ones…. Aren’t they all great?
HJ: I loved Deep Space Nine and the character Garak. “Improbable Cause” and “The Die is Cast” in season 3 are some of my favorites. I love how you never quite know where Garak’s loyalties lie. I liked the Borg episodes in TNG, “The Best of Both Worlds” parts one and two are amazing episodes. I also enjoy “The Measure of a Man” when they are assessing Data’s humanity.
Star Trek is deeply ingrained in the Jenkins household — how?
MJ: Because we spent a hell of a lot of time watching it! We’d train hard and get a lot of down time. It was something to look forward to after a session and we would love it.
HJ: Star Trek really marks certain periods of our life. We had a really hard time in 2005. Marc has a genetic condition which causes his blood to clot. This was undiagnosed and in 2005 he had a massive clot in his leg and several in his lungs. He was hospitalized and when he got home, he couldn’t get around much. I was training really hard in the hope I would be able to earn some money! Marc was the primary earner at that point. We spent all of my recovery time between training watching Enterprise. Whenever I hear the theme tune it takes me back to that time. I remember where we were at certain times, what training camps we were on and what series we were watching or re-watching throughout our careers.
What would a typical Star Trek day be like at the Jenkins' home?
MJ: It’s different now, but I can tell you what it was like when we were competing more and pre-kids. We’d train first thing, then home to [have] breakfast and [watch] an episode or two, train again, then lunch and another one or two episodes, train again, and then dinner and you’ve got it, more Trek. Maybe we should have been doing something else with our time, but when we were training and racing a lot, we did get through multiple series multiple times.
Now, with kids it’s different. It’s taken us weeks, months to get through Voyager as we haven’t watched that for a really long time.
HJ: There used to be a lot more TV and Star Trek watching before we had kids! Now we probably tailor our TV viewing around them — more Peppa Pig and Hey Duggee than Voyager. As triathletes we have three sports to train for, so we usually have at least three training sessions a day. Recovery time is best when you relax and get your legs up, so we would train, watch an episode, train, watch etc! Now we pretty much will watch an episode a night with our dinner.
Are there any specific Star Trek scenes or episodes you think of when you are competing? To get you motivated or to keep spirits high?
MJ: We’d more likely say something to deflect the pressure or tension. “Revenge… a dish best served cold.” Or, more likely in the final moments before race starts, "Today, is a good day to die.” Helen had a Star Trek key ring on her hand bag for years, so whenever she was giving interviews before or after a race, there was always something there that she could look at to make her smile.
HJ: I have used as a pre-race routine. It is important not to get too stressed or nervous before an event, some level of nerves is good but I can tend to get too nervous and this can be detrimental to the race. I have watched Star Trek episodes in the buildup to a race. Because I’ve watched them so many times, they are kind of comforting and can help me to relax. I also love the Federation’s principles — everyone is trying to improve themselves and be the best person they can be. This really resonates with me. In sport I am always doing everything I can to improve and be in the best shape possible on race day.
What is the most Star Trek thing you and Marc have done? Any funny stories?
MJ: We love Vegas, Fremont Street, the great Hotels on the strip, the restaurants, the music, and most of all, we loved the Star Trek Experience — until we turned up there one day and they were taking it down. You can’t imagine — well maybe you can — but we were gutted! The time before that Helen had got told off by the actor playing a role for touching the control panel!
HJ: I couldn’t help myself and touched the consoles on the deck of the Enterprise and had a stern look from the Klingon supervising us!
If you could go for a run with any Star Trek character or real-life actor, who would it be and why?
MJ: Has to be Sir Patrick Stewart, partly because I base my new hair style on him, but mostly would just like to hear some of the endless stories, I’ve no doubt he has. If it’s not too much to ask we could swing by Brent’s house see if he fancies a jog also.
HJ: Argh, hard decision! I would probably choose Patrick Stewart and ask him if he could just read the Star Trek opening monologue to me.
What will you do if your kids are anti-Star Trek? Or are they already Star Trek fans?
MJ: They are one and three so no, not fans yet. Although we tried putting The Animated Series on ages ago, I’m going to need to try again. I made Helen like it; I’m convinced I can influence my kids. Maybe we’ll start playing the various theme tunes or something before bed?
HJ: I hope they like it as it will be fun to watch all the series with them. Marc would probably disown them [if they didn’t like it]! Our little girl had a Mr. Spock on her bed and she calls him Spocky, and they both had Star Trek baby-grows, so maybe we are subliminally starting them on Star Trek!
Michelle Tchea (she/her) is a Food and Wine Research Innovator. She has 5-bestselling books, her latest being Chefs Collective: 50 of the world’s greatest Asian chefs to watch. Twitter (@somethingmich)