Looking back at our lines
With 8 days till I am back in the MRI machine in Oxford there was no better way to spend last week than skiing on the Cairngorms. Snow falling in April and I just cant get enough of the touring. It is really pushing my body, however it is the most amazing feeling being in the Hills.
It has been a great week and touring with some good friends makes it even better. Also managed out on my road bike with the cycling club. It is amazing you can ski all day then go out on the road bike in the evening.
It has been so much fun getting out and exploring around Aviemore, something I missed with years of training but after my hospital time, promised I would never miss again. So everyday I now wake up and realize how amazing Scotland is and more so how much there is to do on my doorstep. We drove out to Glenfeshie Estate and did a power of walking to find this small hill with about 12 turns of fresh untouched powder snow. Boy it was hard work getting there, however to feel how great those 12 turns were was something out of this world with the sun out and no one in sight.
After 7 hours of walking we got back onto the top of the plateu and as the sun was setting on, we started the most amazing run down the gully which ended with us skiing right to a water fall close to the road out in the Glenfeshie Estate. My legs were wiped but the feeling of splashing the cold water on your face after such a hard day was the most amazing feeling in the world. Fresh cold water running right of the Scottish hills.
It was so cool skiing down through the trees
summit of Ben Chaorainn
Satuarday morning and still recovering from the massive touring session with Euan on the Friday, we decided to go over to the one powder field that we have all been looking at for a few weeks now. So Dargie, Euan and myself headed over the back and to the bottom of Beinn Mheadhoin then skined round to the bottom of what was 400m of fresh powder snow. We had to climb beinn Chaorainn first and that was going to be a heart pumper of a climb before the clouds set in.
We managed to reach the summit in the sun, however just as we put our skis on for the decent the clouds had set in.
Skiing down for 400m was worth every step climbing and felt amazing even if the light had gone and the snow was coming.
Now it was time to get out, we attempted a climb up Beinn mheadhoin but after about 20 min I was on my limits and even with crampons I could feel my confidence going and decided to turn back and ski round.
Once we got round the Look of that amazing wall of powder had to be skied, so we chucked our skis over our shoulders and climbed it.
Another great run and onto the one hour skin out over the saddle. The weather had settled but I was totally knackered and so were the other guys. All I could think about was getting to the top but it was taking for ages. Trying to keep my mind clear and just focus on small steps and not looking up to many times to see how far I had to go. Its the same as setting goals, focus on the small ones and you finally reach the top, however if you focus purely on the top it you miss those stepping stones.
Once at the top, it was cold and windy and we wasted no time in flying down the empty slopes of Cairngorm. What a great feeling skiing about on the empty Mountain. The best part was we got to the bottom of the giste gully to meet Rob form mountain spirit walking up and we thought lets head back up for one more run. After 8 hours of touring and leaving the hill at 830pm it was truly a great day to be out on the Scottish Hills and a million miles away from what I will be doing on the 5th lying in that MRI machine.
Climbing castle gate gully
Two years and eight months on from leaving hospital in a wheel chair I would find myself right on my limit of mental strength and to the point where I was scared as I had gone right out of my comfort zone. I had only been back on skis for about my fifth time in 5 years. Two weeks earlier when I went up for that first day, I was nervous and a little unsure, little did I know then that two weeks on I would be climbing into Castle gate gully off the back of Cairngorm.
As soon as we dropped in down to Loch Ann that day, we all spotted that line down through castle gate gully and started drifting towards it knowing we were going ski it. I had never done any climbing before and it was that part that was worrying me.
We decided to climb to the top of another peak and ski back down onto Loch Ann first. It was a real hard walk followed by some lunch at the top before what is probably one of the best runs I have ever had right down onto the ice.
Once on the ice, I looked up and could see this gully and I new then within the next hour I would be up there. Again this was me going way ahead of myself.
We set off on the climb up and before I knew it things were getting steep and then I was down on my hands and knees kicking boots in hard to get grip. Finlay had brought his crampons and was climbing easily but I was starting to struggle and could feel my confidence going. I had not been on this limit for a long time and was really pushing it here. I kept thinking just focus on each foot step and I could feel my thoughts drifting to, what if I fell.
I had this vision in my mind of falling backwards and sliding down the full climb.
I have never climbed before so this was a real challenge and I knew if I could get my skis on I would be fine, however getting to that point was a real buzz. I was so nervous and scared that I had to ask Ewan to help me dig out a ledge to get my skis on. I could feel my heart rate going mad and I was loving it but just wanted my skis on and to get down. I had pushed my limits of climbing without the correct kit and knew it was time to get skis on and ski this.
Once my skis were on I was happy and relaxed, ready to go. I was annoyed at myself as I wanted to ski the full line but my climbing let me down and i could not have gone further that day. This was good place to start and a massive jump from two weeks ago skiing on green and blue runs. The climbing put me right out of my comfort zone, however as soon as I took the first turn i was buzzing. This is living and chasing dreams, pushing right on the limit and I loved every turn down, even if I was gutted I was to scared to try climb further.
I will be back castle gate and next time I will climb higher.
Skiing castle gate
Conditions were tough and icy but I loved every second of the day and skiing back country with great friends on my home mountain is something truly special. Skiing is my main love and I was scared I might never do it again after surgery but to be here pushing the limits and testing my mind as much as my body shows we can do anything we dream if we work for it.
This is the real beauty of ski touring, you have to work for ever turn. You spend half your day climbing and skinning up hills to then have a very fast decent. After you have worked so hard climbing you hold onto every turn on the way down just that bit more than if you had got a lift up. It almost like time has stopped and its just you and the mountain. You see and hear everything so much more and just never want it to end.
I have defiantly found a new love to skiing, ski touring is something that I have really falling in love with. I think my time in hospital is where this love comes from. Stuck in a room with no fresh air for so long make you notice and appreciate it more. So when your out in the mountains and you see nature and all the beauty around you, it is something that you just fall in love with and it takes over every part of you. Its hard for me to describe the feeling unless you have experienced ski touring but it is almost like a spiritual feeling of just stopping time and your mind is totally blank as you feel every turn and just absorb all around you. It truly is a moment in sport where you can say your in a zone and just flowing in slow motion, even though your ripping down the side of a hill.
Night skiing on Cairngorm
Getting back on skis was something I was not sure I would ever do again, I had worries about my neck and just the neural feelings in my body. I remember lying in hospital thinking about skiing as it is my real love and something that got me through hospital life. Thinking and dreaming of the mountains and hoping one day I would have the confidence to return.
So the sun was shining and there was never going to be a better time to get up on the hill.
Putting on ski boots again was very strange feeling and I was so excited I could not wait to get on the snow, Euan and I got on the lift and were off up the hill.
It was like riding a bike and I felt like I had never been off them. We skied till 830pm and I was so happy I could hardly speak. It was very special as this was the first place I ever put skis on as a kid and returning today after all that has happened, there is no better place I would have wanted to ski.
Walking back to the summit of Cairngorm
This was enough to get the bug back, however I had a small trip to London first to receive my MBE at Buckingham Palace with the rest of the team. It was great seeing the guys again and sharing our stories and memories of what was the most amazing feeling during the games. It was a very proud moment to stand with the crew and receive our medals from Prince Charles, a fitting end to London 2012.
I now was totally focused on getting home and back on skis and before I knew it I was on the summit of Cairngorm mountain and heading off piste. Second time on skis and I could not get enough of it and was loving it. The beauty with skiing is you live for the moment, your mind is totally clear and your just taking it all in. There is nothing like it for me, skiing down the back of the Gorms, sun shining light powder snow and no one else there apart from Euan and I. We spent the rest of the day walking up the back ridges and skiing down. That night I was wiped as my neck was in bits from carrying the skis but I loved every second of it and I was living my dream. Free from any worry or memory of hospitals, just the silence of the mountain and the noise of a ski carving through the snow.
Aviemore is so special to me, especially up the mountain and it was great to see so many people I had not seen for years skiing. No one really ages up here and guys in their 70s were still skiing hard. It was also great to see BASI hosting a GS on the white lady. I spent the morning watching the guys race, and the best part for me was seeing my good mate and one of my sporting heroes Alain Baxter ripping it up again.
It brought back my memories of the year with the team and all the races we went to and how lucky I was to be working on the ski circuit with these guys, I would love to be back there now, touring all over europe and carrying his bags. I almost skied to the top and got his bag for him as a reaction. I recon he misses Thomas doing his skis and me carrying his bags nowadays.
Susan and i promoting WEEBOX
Apart form skiing I was in Glasgow for the launch of SCIAF WEE BOX campaign to help people in Burundi. I visited Burundi in December and it really touched my heart and have shedded a few tears over that journey since.
I was going to ask Susan for some singing lessons but guessed I was probably way past any lesson and should stick to sport.
On the hospital front, I am back for more scans and to see the doctors soon, my health is pretty good at the moment. It has taking 5 months to recover from that race In London. 3.19 1000m of pain but worth every second.
After crossing the finish line in London life has been totally different and somewhat of a rollercoaster ride.
Before the race in the village those five days felt like five years, the seven days after in the village felt like seven seconds. I could not keep up with what was going on and did not want to miss anything.
We had so much media and invites to try get in, it was the most fun packed week I have had in years and did not want to spend any time sleeping incase I missed something.
I could not choose one favourite thing over this week that was the best, but going onto the stage at the last night of the proms to sing Britiana rules the waves next to the tenor and in front of a full Albert hall and 40.000 people in hyde park was pretty cool.
Every day I would say nothing can beat what we just did, and I would be happily shocked to say I was shocked every day at the games by all that was going on.
I remember going into a shop in Olympic park to do a photo and signing, We got escorted across the park by bodyguards. We all thought it would be a small thing. Then when we went into the shop, not one of us was ready for what would happen. It was unreal, the support from everyone was so overwhelming and we were all in shock. The shop was completely full with people wanting photos and autographs. It was a truly amazing feeling sharing our medals with all these amazing people who had turned up and waited to see us.
Trying to piece all that happened together was not going to happen as we were going so fast and from TV, radio and parties it was all going crazy.
We went up into London one night to celebrate at a London hot spot called the Groucha Club in Soho. It was time for us all to let our hair down and have fun. We ordered 5 bottles of Champagne and had a ball. It was my first time out since surgery and I had a moment where I just sat down, took a deep breath and thought wow what has just happened in the last two years and especially the last week. At that point and after a few bottles of Champagne I came up with this brilliant plan that I was going to cycle around the world. I have not drunk champagne since as I don’t believe rational decisions are made on it.
I guess this decision was made on the basis that two years ago I lay in a hospital bed not knowing what lay in front of me and all those long nights in hospital and learning to walk again. It’s like it has lit a fire inside me with a burning desire to challenge both my mind and body to see how far I can push both. This has always been with me, however since surgery I can feel it even more and I knew at that point sitting in this club I was going to cycle around the world.
So it was coming to a end of what had been the most amazing 10 days of my life and we still had the closing ceremony to come. I was feeling upset that it was ending and as we packed our bags overlooking the Olympic stadium I paused and took it all in. What a feeling and I was so proud of what we had done that day in Eton and all we had achieved over the last two years as a crew.
The closing ceremony was unreal, the walk to the stadium another opportunity to see what these games had done for Great Britain. High fives from everyone and you had to keep pinching yourself to make sure this was not all a dream. I have so many memories of that night, it was great to just relax and enjoy all the entertainment and soak up the atmosphere. Leaving the stadium after the show and walking back to the village for the last time is something that will stay with me forever, and another chance to share your medal with all the games makers. The lasting memory was meeting a young girl, who was a games maker, and she had met me earlier in the week and had a photo taken with the medal. She had then went away and looked me up online. That night she said to me that I had made her games that she had met me and cried. I felt so humble and very proud that our race and stories can have such a great effect on people I almost cried myself.
The next day was the athlete’s parade, after a police escort from the village into the city centre and onto a float I thought I was ready for the parade. I was still in shock from the police motor bike escort, usually only for the royals. However shock can’t really describe what the next 4 hours felt like. I like every athlete that day was in total shock of what the country had put on. There were so many people that day who had lined the streets to share in the team’s success. It was a very proud day and I will never believe how many people lined London streets that day. I woke up the next morning stuck in a waving position with a massive smile still on my face
Glasgow had also planned a parade for Scottish athletes, and again like London I was in total shock of what the Scottish had put on for us. I was so proud to be Scottish and be giving the chance to take part in Scotland’s celebrations. Standing on the stage in George square in front of 16000 people was a very proud day.
When I finally made it home to Aviemore and a quick visit to my Gold postbox for the token photo with medal, stamp and my dog zeus without been spotted as I felt slightly embarrassed. I did have a laugh as some guy was telling me about the guy who had won the medal and got the Gold post box and how he knew him. I did not have the heart to tell him it was me.
I spent the first couple of days visiting all the local schools and every kid in the valley managed to hold the medal and ask questions. I had a great few days visiting my old schools and sharing the medal with them, hopefully inspiring lots of them into sport along the way.
With a busy diary and trying to stay on top of it life has been crazy, but you just want to enjoy it all as you only live once and this is a once in a life time experience. People would ask what did it feel like and I can only say I am waiting for it all to sink in. I don’t think my surgery has sunk in yet, so the medal might take years to sink in. 2012 has been the greatest year of my life and I don’t know if it will ever sink in.
As I travel the Uk sharing my medal and story with people I feel very humbled by how much the UK have embraced the games and this was never stronger than when I visited York hill hospital and had a young boy tell me he wanted to be a blade runner after losing his lower leg to cancer. That day brought a tear to my eye, but it also showed me what the games had done, it truly did inspire a generation.
The next great thing to come along was the BKF. My first love of Karate and what had prepared my mind for surgery and in lots of ways shaped my sporting life had come back round to greet me. This time not in a dojo or a GI. I had been giving the role as a patron. A real honour and role that I will work very hard in to promote Karate. I have met some great people and will be attending the World Championships in Paris to support the British team. My dream of Karate becoming a Olympic sport is something that now might become reality and to be part of that is a very humbling experience.
world Karate champs
It has been so busy and my diary is full right up to the end of the year with many great honours of Attending the royal box in Wembley for the England football game against san Marino, turning on xmas lights in Regent street and also at the amazing xmas display of light and trees at the Churchill Arms in Kensington.
I also have the honour of going to Africa with SCIAF as an ambassador to see all the great work this charity does in Africa and the difference it is making to so many people’s life’s there. This is a trip I am very much looking forward to and another once in a life time experience.
During this post games whirlwind it’s easy to take all for granted, but each day I stop and take stock of all that’s going on and I am really loving every second of life and to add to the list of unreal things I opened a lovely invite from Buckingham palace to meet the Queen. That night was amazing. Walking up to the gate and been allowed in was pretty cool in itself. To top that, actually meeting the queen and shaking her hand and chatting were just out of this world.
It’s hard to put something at the top of the list of great things, but walking onto the pitch at Murryfiled and forming a guard of honour for the players of the All blacks and Scotland was very cool. Then singing flower of Scotland on the pitch and fulfilling a child hood dream was amazing. We then had a parade around the pitch at half time and I can say I felt like I was right back at the games. It was unreal to see the welcome we got and I was so proud to be there and experience it all. We had a great meal with the teams after the game and enjoyed great food and listened to brilliant speeches and singing. A dream comes true for a Scottish rugby fan like me.
The real burning drive in me over these last few months has undoubtedly been the bike ride around the world. I feel like this project is my baby and every day I have a new idea which makes it grow a little more. I am going to cycle for a charity called coming home, which is set up to help injured service men and women. I don’t just want to stop there but I want this ride to help many charities around the world, with having lots of people signing up to do stages helping their own charities. I can’t switch off from this bike ride and the mental and physical challenge of what might take over 6 months is making me smile so much. I have so many ideas and have put them all down on a mind map on A2 paper. This is an amazing buzz and is keeping my mind off my next set of scans to check on my neck. It’s funny as I find if I have a goal that I can focus on it just makes me feel so positive and driven I forget about scans and tumors I know the goal of London 2012 got me through surgery and all those dark times and now I have this goal of cycling around the world, but not just for me. It’s something bigger; something that can raise so much awareness and hopefully help lots of people and that giving back is a very humbling feeling.
I have certainly not drunk any champagne since having this idea, however I have no regrets and I am so excited to undertake this challenge knowing that it will hopefully inspire many people across the world.
I just want to say how proud I am to be British and from Scotland. To have shared 2012 in such a great country and be part of what has been something so amazing is the greatest feeling in the world. My journey through sport has provided me highs and lows, but to know you can help so many people with what you do is something so powerful and it drives me every day.
Finally I just want to say how grateful I am for all the friends who have supported me through my journey, and all the new ones I have made during and after the games it’s a great honor the have you all as friends.
Finally the day has come, it only seams like yesterday that it was a 1000 days to go then 100 and the countdown was on. Now its here I have to pinch myself as it all feels so unreal.
Moving into the village was a very proud day, pulling on the team kit and seeing all the British flags made you feel part of a massive team. It really feels like the whole country are behind us.
I have been blowing away by how amazing the volunteers are, even in the rain they are always smiling and will do anything to help. The security is on another level, and the Police and Army are doing a great job. All the support is massively appreciated and all helps us to enjoy our games experience.
Eton Dorney looks unreal and is like rowing in a stadium, cant wait for race day and to see it full of GB flags.
Training has been going well and its a great feeling going out on the water everyday. I cant give to much away of what we are doing but all is going well.
When the Olympics were here we watched from Spain in our holding camp, GB Rowing and Team GB showed what we can do with a nation behind us, and we take to the water on Friday the 31st to hopefully follow in their foot steps and to inspire the nation as much as they did.
We are staying out in the village close to Eton rather than up in London, it is a great set up and really feel part of the full team, even though we are remote.
It is a nice room and I feel pretty at home, also found a few nice gifts and letters of support when I came into my room. Thank you to Paralympics GB for making this all happen. You know that every detail has been taken into consideration
We have lots of down time now as all the hard work was done over the winter, so there is some time in afternoon and early evening to relax and soak up the atmosphere around the games. We have 24hr dinning, games room with pool tables, computers and massive TV and the best thing is, its all free. You don't need any money as everything you need is on hand and available 24hrs
OK time to rest - Check out the photos and I will be updating over the course of the games, Now its time to focus on racing and delivering the best performance I can when it counts the most. Thank you all for supporting me over the last few years in my dream and I hope you all feel apart of it and can share these special moments with me. To everyone who has read my blog and shared this journey with me, I will be racing for all of you this coming weekend.
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It is a fitting end to be writing this last chapter whilst laying on a beach in St. Lucia after starting it in my hospital bed just over two years ago with my right hand as a form of rehab.
So much has happened over the last two years, there has been lows and highs, times where I thought I could not go on, dark moments where I have been in tears about what the tumor and surgery had done to me, and scared of what might be.
Then on the 2nd of September at 11:50am on Eton Dorney the journey of over 20 years was rewarded. It took 3 minutes and 19 seconds and I was in more pain than I had ever felt in my life, but we had done it.
Waiting for the final was the hardest part of London for me as Germany had posted a very fast time in the heats on the Friday. They had went out and set a new world record and went 8 seconds faster than us in the heats. This made sleeping on the Friday night extremely difficult and my mind was running on over time.
The Saturday was a light paddle and trying to stay relaxed, we kept everything the same so our bodies and minds were not throwing into any new routine. It was amazing hearing all the noise from the crowed during our paddle on Saturday. It was a real feeling that everyone was behind us. Our first real experience of this was on the Friday after our heats, we went for a cool down walk and got spotted, then out of nowhere we just started getting a massive response from all who had lined the stands. It was a little strange but made you feel very proud and wanting Gold even more.
Trying to relax the day before the final was so hard, thankfully the Wentworth club aloud us use of the facilities during the games and this provided a welcome break from the athletes village. We used the pool and relaxed in the lounge. This was a key ingredient in our success during the games, it aloud a great way of recovery in the pool but more importantly, it provided a mental release from the pressure of the games.
So after the longest 5 days of my life, my alarm went off on Sunday the 2nd of September at 6am. This was it. The day that I had been waiting for since waking up in ITU just over two years ago. So much had happened since that day where I woke up and could only move my right arm. I have come so far both physically and mentally. This was the ultimate challenge that now lay ahead. Not everything went to plan, there had been lots of low points during the last two years, times where I had to crawl onto a physio bed. In one of the preparation camps in Spain, I had pushed so hard, I experienced what was going to be a series of neural problems that would bring me to tears as I lay on the physio bed. I will never forget that 3 days in Spain as it was the first real set back in my recovery. It was very scary as I could not really walk and was shaking and in lots of pain. I remember feeling the tears running down my face and asking myself if I could keep going, how much did I want this.
Germany leading the way
As I lay on the bed shaking, and dreaming of what London 2012 might be like, and even in my wildest dreams whilst I lay there shaking, I could not have dreamed how amazing it was, and I am so happy that I fought through those low points to make the start line for that final.
Unfortunately this year through up more of my neural problems and the more I pushed the more my body flared up. Most months had a set back related to my neural system and it was causing me lots of discomfort and a constant reminder of surgery. I was really struggling but my dream was much stronger than anything my body was going to throw at me.
Going into the Munch world cup I felt so unwell and could hardly find the energy to train, both mentally and physically I was struggling.
I was starting to worry slightly as London was getting closer and I was feeling pretty burnt out. I had pushed so hard in recovery and training my body was trying to get me to slow down.
After returning from Germany I had about 3/4 weeks off to just rest and try recharge my body. This was a real test of mental strength as the games were getting even closer and I new Germany would be training very hard after coming so close to beaten us in Munich.
Nothing left to give after crossing the finish
So with everything in the past I was on the bus to the course on this wet morning listening to my ipod and trying to relax as much as possible. This was going to be the biggest race of our life's and Germany were on fire after setting a new world record in the heats and some 8 seconds faster than us.
We arrived at Eton Dorney and boated for our pre race paddle, we buzzed off the crowed who were already there. Hearing the calls of GO GB was so powerful and made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. We had arrived at the final of our home games, a once in a life time chance. "No pressure then".
After our pre paddle we had about 4 hours to try stay relaxed but focused on what lay ahead. We listened to music and each fell into our own routine. I kept looking at the guys and thinking this is what we have all worked so hard for and in a few hours it will all be over.
I remember watching my good friend Craig Maclean race in the velodrome on TV and claim gold just before going out to the boat, this gave me a real lift and I was ready.
celebrating with James
So the time had arrived, no more waiting or dreaming. It was time to boat for what would be the hardest 3min of our life. I listened to to the 1990 Rugby grand slam flower of Scotland one last time and said to myself this will hurt like nothing else, even more than learning to walk again, but if we loose that pain will last for life, however if we win the pain will be temporary. I had made a deal with myself for every time I had a negative thought that morning on how it would hurt or what ifs, I was going to punish myself a little more. By the time we boated I was pretty much going to be punishing myself from the first stroke as I had thought so many thoughts on how it will hurt and what ifs.
In a crazy way I needed that to happen as we had to give everything and that was going to hurt.
As we pushed off I heard over the microphone that Tom had came fourth, this was a big shock and I was not sure if the other guys had heard this. We just had to ficus on what we had to do and stay relaxed.
What a feeling on the podium
So we pushed off and went to start our warm up, as we passed the friends and family stand we could hear the support for us, again the GO GB calls were loud and I felt great.
You could feel the positive energy in the boat and the whole boat was lifted and we were ready to lay down everything.
However nothing in life goes smoothly and we then had a few technical issues which resulted in us not getting a warm up. I remember sitting saying to the guys, don't worry Germany have not boated yet, and on cue they then went flying past looking strong and I just thought oh great. The good thing is that we had prepared mentally for every situation so we stayed relaxed and focused on what we had to do.
We had come through so much together
So it was into our lane for a few bursts and to get attached. Then we lost our speed coach into the lake. This was not going to plan, but we just stayed relaxed and all trusted each other. However we got stuck in a cross wind and it pulled us onto the starting gate and we could not get attached. I remember hearing the call to be attached in 2min and thinking we are not going to make the start and run the risk of getting disqualified. I had a moment, where everything was flashing in front of my eyes and then thinking we are not even going to get to race. GB 1min to attach, this was cutting it close but in someways maybe a good thing as it gave us no time to think on the start line.
So we got attached and had one last drink of water. Then it was into the start position, I could feel my heart beat and it was like time had stopped. It almost felt like a outer body experience and I was looking in from the riverbank. We had no speed coach, we had prepared to race with it, but now it did not matter, we were just going to go flat out and race Germany all the way.
It was the best start we have ever had and were right up with Germany, I cant remember much after that. I new as we went through 500m we were down, but we had prepared for that and just tried to stay relaxed, but I have never felt pain like it and could only feel my toes. I just told myself we can not loose this.
Great mates who had come to watch
Then the noise hit us, it was like we had every person in the stands take a stroke with us. It was not just us in the boat but over ten thousand people in the boat. I could really feel it and it gave me just that extra little bit. We have never pushed so hard, I could see James and everything else had closed out apart from the noise, I had no idea where we were and could feel myself going. I believe the last stroke I took that day was it. If it had not been the finish line then we would have been in trouble, I sort of remember crossing the bubbles and just collapsing. I could not think as I was in so much pain, however I had a moment where the last two years ran through my mind, then I said to myself we have done it. James, Norm, Pam, and Lilly, our coach Mary and the greatest Physio Pat who had held me together everyday and even before we pushed off for the final had me on the physio bed treating me had all done it. This was a team effort and we had all done it together. We lived this dream all winter which was hard work and the pressure was like nothing else, but this made it all worth while. We were Gold medalists in our home games, a once in a life time experience.
ParalympicsGB and Team GB in 2012 will comprise of 900 Paralympic and Olympic athletes selected by the BPA and the BOA.
I am proud to now say I am part of this team.
It has been a long journey to this point and one which has had lots of highs, but also many lows. It has provided me with emotional and physical challenges that have tested me both mentally and physically to the limits.
I hope you will support our team over the next few months and be inspired by all the great athletes and sports. I will keep you posted on my preparations over the following weeks and share my experiences of competing in London 2012 with you.
Official photo and launch day at Henley Royal regatta was another unique experience of what this journey has brought me on and another moment that I will hold onto forever. The last few years have certainly provided both emotional and physical hurdles to overcome, but sitting here now with only 7 weeks left till I will be on the start line in London is almost an unreal feeling and I feel like I have to pinch myself to make sure its all happening.
I would love to share all we are doing but I cant give away our secrets, but trust me it is hard work.
mental as much as it is physical
Things are going pretty fast and trying to hold onto each day and not take any for granted, even in all this rain. I also know what I have learned over the last two years is more than I have learned in my whole life, and I want to use that to help me get better and share with you.
I still live with a reminder of surgery most days. I get neural pain and and problems that are caused from the tumor been there for all those years.
Sleeping is still a massive task that I need to plan and get right. I have bought so many pillows over the last year I could start a pillow shop now.
It is crazy and something I never thought about until my neck was fused, and now I have to take pillow placement very serious. Never underestimate how important sleep is for you.
I found the punch bag very invigorating and a great session, both mentally and physically. I love my martial arts training and very upset I will never be able to compete or train in it again due to surgery, but getting to work out on the bag or pads is the next best thing and I loved it. Even though the bag wins ever time.
GB Rowers powering the Gloriana
June has been a crazy month of events with ups and downs on the constant battle of recovery and preparing for London games.
This month was also a very special month with the Queens diamond jubilee where our coxed four was selected to row in the Royal barrage the Gloriana which would be the lead boat on the queen’s water pageant for a 1000 vessels including the Royal family. We led the full precision of boats down the Thames, with over 1 million people lining the banks of the river, it was truly the proudest day of my life. I can honestly say I have never felt so proud to be British and see so many people waving flags, it sent a shiver through my spine. I sat looking around and it was just so hard to take it all in as there were so many people it felt like a dream.
Leading 1000 boats down the Thames
It was one of those moments where I wanted time to stop, one of those days that in the past I had taken for granted, but after all that have happened over the last two years, this was a day that was not just going to pass me by. I stopped every few minutes and took it all in and could not believe I was part of this amazing day. I remember as we started off, I just looked round and it was like a movie, I just set eyes on 100s of boats all coming behind us and I almost died of shock.
The many boats behind us as we go under London Bridge
I had to pinch myself when I got home as I watched it on TV to make sure it really happened as it all felt like a dream. It was an Amazing honour to be selected for one of the world’s greatest events and in honour of the Queen. A day I will never forget.
The full experience was like nothing I have ever felt, it was funny as a few boats were trying to overtake us and were stopped by Police and Military boats. It really was such a overwhelming day.
Before we set off, it was a good time for photos and to sit and just take it all in, there was a building opposite where we were docked , and the roof top was full of people, I dont think London will ever see such sights again along the Thames. We also broke the world record for the largest flotation of boats. It was a cool feeling breaking more records.
The following photos are from my phone on the day, it gives you a feel of what it was like from my eyes and something I will never forget. Click on photos to enlarge:
Cooling down after close race
Again I was reminded this month of what my body has been through and suffered from fatigue and my central nervous system flared up again. It sets off slightly different each time, and symptoms are never the same, so makes it difficult to spot and stop it happening.
Usually I feel tired and hard to focus on things and just feel like my body is in slow motion. It is not a nice feeling and then my nerves system goes a bit crazy and sends off all sorts of horrible sensations like shaking, sore muscles, and just generally feel it very difficult to do anything that involves standing up. I usually can tell when it is about to start as I struggle pouring milk in the morning as y hands shake, then few days later my nerves just fire off randomly.
I guess this is the double edge sword of doing sport, it has managed to speed my recovery so much but at same time it is very demanding on the body. Especially Rowing which in my eyes is one of the hardest sports there can be on the body as it is a mixture of power and endurance and the training we do is pretty tough. I always know the secret to getting over surgery is rest, diet and exercise, and that mix has certainly helped me so much over the last two years, but I do miss been involved in all my other sports. But this is a very focused time and a dream that our boat is chasing very hard.
2012 team announcement
In team sports you have to think of others before yourself sometimes to deliver a performance and having that trust in each other that we all know we will dig as deep as we each can for each other.
That’s what makes this team so special. I am very lucky to have not just great team mates but great friends.
It has been a busy month around the build up for London 2012, and we were at Henley Royal Regatta which was a great feeling as we did a row past as the London 2012 team was announced.
Our Boss in the Boat Lilly
This time two years ago I was sitting in a small pub in Oxford with my mum, dad, and sister having food preparing for what was going to be life changing for all of us on the 12th of May 2010. Two Years since I walked into the anaesthesia room in the Manor hospital and then woke up in ITU after surgery and discovering I was going have to learn to walk again.
So much has happened in these two years and I have come so far that I sometimes forget that I have even had surgery; I still get reminded weekly by my body that I have, but I just keep pushing on. It is funny as I find myself more emotional now than I did that day walking into the surgery room. I think I was just going into it like anything I go into, full of confidence and positive thoughts.
I remember going to sleep the night before and so scared but I knew I would fight this and be OK. I think my mind was trained from years of sport and especially Karate to be prepared to fight and not give up.
walking in mountains with zeus
Now sitting two years on and looking back what I have come through hits me pretty hard, and I really miss my old life of Bobsleigh and skiing days. I miss the athlete I was back in those days. More than anything I miss my mates and the laughs we had during that journey. The times I shared with all these guys on the mountains and in the gyms all over the world. I leant so much about training and had the most amazing time. I am so lucky to have not knowing about the tumour, and looking back I am glad they did not find it in my early 20s as I would have never experienced Bobsleigh or working with the Ski team, two things that I hold close to my heart and will always have a dying passion for but took for granted at the time. I would give anything to be able to work on the world cup ski circuit again, or feel the rush of pushing and riding down St. Moritz Bob track at 90mph.
Chile 2007 a view that I took for granted - I would stand here most nights and just watch the sun set
The big shine in Calgary
For all that know shiner and all who have shared in those 10hour van journeys across Europe and Canada with him to sleeping in the van at the bottom of a Bobsleigh track, and listening to the shinerisms. How I took all those moments for granted and would love to relive them all, even if it meant listening to how Shiner was going to take over the world. Here is squatting in COP back in the day.
If I could pass on anything that I have learnt over the last two years, it would be to enjoy everything you do and hold onto those moments that take your breath away and never take them for granted. Everything we do and achieve is amazing, and tell your self that each day and if you have not told people close to you how great they are, try it and watch how they respond and how it makes you feel.
Training on Lake Varese
OK now looking forward, it has been a great start to our racing season with a new world’s best time in our first international regatta of the year in Italy on what can only be described as one of the most beautiful places in the world, Lake Varese. It was tough 4 races over one weekend then into a great camp where we had pretty much great weather all throughout the camp.
The hotel is right on the Lake, so we can walk to training which is lovely then no turning every 2km. Even when it rained and there was storms, it just felt so nice and the surrounding mountains with touches of snow on them made me feel so positive and alive and full of drive.
Lake Varese in Italy as the sun is setting
Training in Italy is a wonderful experience and enjoying the sun on your body each day makes the hard sessions so much more fun. I always enjoy pushing both my mind and body here as the recovery is lots nicer than sitting in my room in Caversham. I would walk down to the lake at night and get to look out over the water and onto the mountains. I feel truly blessed to have this chance and I remember what it was like to be stuck in a hospital bed for a month with no fresh air. That experience of been stuck in one room then going through those early days of rehab feel a million years ago when I sit looking over Lake Varese.
Sarah checking my blood LT levels after racing
Sharing a joke with Jimmy on the podium
This week I had a nice reminder of how the nervous system works and my good old friend DOMS, (Delayed onset muscle soreness). Basically you hurt all over and can’t get down stairs very well. It was very well timed with my surgery as two years ago I could not walk and this week I can’t walk as my legs are so sore. A few strange firing and shaking things going on in my arms as I set off on a 16km Ergo yesterday was a tad scary but I just said to myself if I keep going it will surely just go away, and am not one for stopping unless am pretty much falling off the machine. 16km later, arms ok but legs even more sore and the thought of stairs was as nerve racking as the world championship final as I knew it was going to hurt.
I have been working lots on strengthen my neck, and here can be seen working specific neck muscles with the use of a harness, I feel a real benefit from this exercise that Pat has giving me. It is amazing how such a small thing can have such a massive impact. It takes me back to something I learnt years ago from a good friend who was an Olympic Cross country skier, was that if you look after all the small things, the big things take care of themselves and to leave no stone uncovered when approaching a set goal no matter what it is.
I cant believe how much my life has changed and how far I have come over the last two years, I wont lie it has been very hard both emotionally and physically, I have sacrificed my friends and family so I could focus 100% on recovering and making it back into sport. This was something that needed my sole drive and focus and without that I would never have got back to where I am now. I am very lucky to have a great support network and a great bunch of team mates that I consider very special to me which has made it easier during this journey. I thank you all, as you have to put up with me everyday in the boat!!!!
Starts practice on tideway - this was not easy!
Great Britain’s World Champion LTA four and Paralympic Games hopefuls challenge four Olympic talent ID athletes to a Boat Race on the Tideway.
Four of Great Britain’s paralympic rowers have challenged four able-bodied athletes, newly recruited to the sport, to a race before the clash between Oxford and Cambridge on 7th April. The adaptive crew won the world championships in Bled in 2011 and are currently trialling to represent Great Britain in the London Games from 31st of August to the 2nd September.
The race will start at 12.40pm, and the two crews will race from The Boat Race stakeboats to the Town Buoy. The Paralympic Four, called Aggar, will race on the Surrey station; and the Start four, called Raynsford, will race on Middlesex. The boats have been named after Tom Aggar and Helene Raynsford, GB’s two Paralympic Gold Medallists from the Beijing Games.
This was a massive honor to be involved in one of the oldest sporting competitions in the world and something that I have always watched. It was a great experience and we spent a few days training on the tideway before race day. It was such a change from rowing on the lakes, but it was a great fun rowing through London, and met some great people during our few days boating out of Putney. Our race was good fun, and I really enjoyed everything about this experience. It is one of those moments that I don't take for granted anymore and will hold onto each of the memories during the day and week of my first Boat Race experience.
Click on photos to enlarge
Early morning at the 2012 lake
The sun was out for our training camp on the London 2012 lake at Dorney. We had a great camp there and it was such an amazing feeling to be out on the water pushing hard. It was April 2010 I went for that scan that changed my life and now in April 2012 I am living my dream of been a athlete. Life could not be better!!!!
Dont let hurdles keep you back - Go out and make the most of all the amazing things we have in life
Click on photos to enlarge
22 Months ago thoughts crossed my mind that I might never do sport again, and now its only 6 months to what could be the race of my life. Only 6 months left till the London games are here and that means one thing. Lots and Lots of hard work, trials, tests, pain and sacrifice. Coming through the rehab from surgery has taught me a few things about the mind and how it works. The two things that I think about most days are, will this make be a better athlete? If the answer is no, then I don't do it.
The second thing is a little battle that goes on in your mind, when it hurts and you want to stop - Your mind says its easy to stop and just say something hurt or your to tired to continue - That is when you know your pushing to the limit, and that is where you need to be, as that's where medals are won and dreams and goals come true.
There is not a week goes by where at some point my mind says "come on just stop" I know then I am working hard and making gains, both in recovery from surgery and performance.
This is where I believe years of Karate from a young age have benefited me massively without even realizing it at the time, all those years of a disciplined approach to training and the relentless sessions in Dojos all over the world prepared my mind and body for where it needs to be today.
CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE
1993 South Africa
I have been re tracing my Karate days over the last few weeks and been thinking lots about what was my first love.
How hard we trained and how much respect I had for all my Sensei. I used to fear so many of them, but at the same time I would work so hard for them and try my hardest to impress each of them. There was sessions where you would almost have to crawl out of the Dojos. Both mind and body bruised. Sensei Kato was my head instructor and a very hard trainer who always pushed me right to the limits. He like all Japanese Sensei carried a presence about them that would make you work so hard and push your mind and body past its limits.
It has hit me hard and is a reminder of what surgery has done to me as I will never be able to step into a dojo and train again like I did all those years ago.
Someone I competed alongside and was one of my Sensei prepared a very informative article on Kumite preparation and I would like to share a part of it with you as I feel it was something I did through rehab without even thinking about it, and it has relevance to how we live our lives and especially if we are trying to reach goals and dreams.
Sensei Alan Campbell:Right Practice is when every movement, your posture, and focus, in training occupies 100% of your attention. Right Practice is performing a known task in a known application with an understanding of the focus and goal. It is actually detrimental to repeat a technique incorrectly.
1994 European Championships
My favourite analogy for correct practice, is the story of a drop of water falling on a mound of sand. At first the drop hits the mound and runs down in a random manner. After more and more drops hit they begin to carve out a ravine. Those drops that fall a little off the mark causes a new shallower ravine. Those on the mark deepen the ravine and reinforce the pattern for those following.
Practice is like this, you must see, hear, and feel each technique. Do this with confidence, and it becomes the choice. Then you are discovering correct practice. And just as the body is trained by a system of practice, so too must the mind be trained through practice. Right Practice that trains the processes of mind constitutes a discipline of mindThis approach to rehab from Injury, Illness or even just daily training and life is how we were trained in Karate and without even been aware of it, I still carry that approach with me even though I have not been in a dojo since 1999. Osu.