In the end, Mills says, her desire to be a mother won out, even if it meant sitting out most of SailGP this season, a significant sacrifice given the burgeoning opportunities for women in this area, not to mention the fact that we are less than two years away from the first women’s America’s Cup, where Mills is appointed as skipper of the British boat.
“Is this the best time for my career? Probably not,” says Mills, who says she reached out to Laura Kenny for advice and was touched to receive a response. “I am a very ambitious person. But in life, you never know. If you wait two or three years, you may not be able to [get pregnant]. So that, for me anyway, overshadowed everything.
Mills’ reference to his ambitious nature is no idle boast. This is an athlete whom Ben Ainslie identified as a kindred spirit from the moment she broke into the British sailing team during his last Olympic campaign until 2012. A sailor who, like him , wouldn’t boo to a goose out of water, but undergoes a kind of Hulk-like conversion once she gets on a boat.
Whether it’s Olympic dinghies, the environment (Mills is the founder of Big Plastic Pledge, which asks athletes in all sports to tackle the use of single-use plastic), SailGP or of the America’s Cup, she is fully involved.
Mills has no qualms about wanting to return to sailing as soon as humanly possible after giving birth. The baby is due in mid-October and she admits she is already watching the Dubai stage of the SailGP in mid-November. “Of course, that might not be possible,” she adds. “Yes, I am ambitious. But at the same time, I am very aware that it is enough to accept what is happening and, of course, to put the health of the baby first.
Luckily, for the same reason he values her so highly as a sailor, Mills has a boss who’s happy to give her as long as she needs it.
“It’s a bit different for men obviously,” notes Ainslie. “But I took time off last summer with our son, so I totally understand that balance. Hannah is such an important part of the team, we’ll just work around getting her back.