Sunday, 20 July 2014

5 Minutes of Fame

If I ever needed a reminder that fame and personal glory were short lived, this was exactly the put down I needed…

Just over a week ago some of you may have logged into your BBC Sport page to find an article on me on their front page right next to the latest headlines for the World Cup.  That was the day before I was due to race 200m in a straight(ish) line to retain my European gold. Apparently I even made the evening news and as a result was inundated with tweets and emails from people who had personal experiences similar to mine and felt moved enough to “find me”, wish me luck, share their personal pain and thank me for inspiring them. The night before a major race this was not the preparation I was supposed to be doing. But those who know me will understand that hearing that I had helped others cope with their personal trauma was perfect for me to go into race day feeling on top of the world.
being filmed doing chin ups
The BBC interview and filming itself had taken place a few weeks prior. It had been an utterly bonkers day – a camera pointed at your grimacing face while you struggle to do chin ups; and a launch boat plus 'film crew' following you for an entire session on the water, forcing you to struggle to keep “looking focused” for the whole time!!

some of the tweets..
I was mildly curious about how the article would turn out, especially when Jenna, the journalist, admitted that the people at BBC liked me because they thought I was inspiring but also a bit bonkers! For those of you who haven’t read it the link is here…

The race lake itself was about as bad as it could have been.  It was rough and windy – in fact if I could have specified a set of weather conditions that I really don’t like, one that plays against my physical weakness and lack of stability, then this was exactly it. I didn’t care. Knowing that so many people were behind me was such a fantastic feeling and I just couldn't stop smiling.  One of my competitors tried to put me off (I do find people playing psych games funny) but what she didn’t know was that my ‘race’ was already won. I did also happen to win the timed event, and was absolutely thrilled to regain my European title in a world record time (woo hoo!!).
at the finish line

Again my social media erupted and I wondered how celebrities cope with all of this ... I kept getting stopped by people asking me to sign their shirts or take a selfie with them. I was quite thankful when I was taken into the closed off area to wait for my medal ceremony. The weather was so severe that the ceremony dragged on with regular delays. I was starving and also noticed how pale one of my team mates looked… “I'm just so hungry”, he said.  Looking over at my parents in the stand I suddenly realised I might be able to help.

"Mum do you have any of your home made biscuits?" I knew Mum never travels without her homemade ginger and marmalade shortbreads and, true to form, she handed me a massive tub, full to the brim.

Mums famous biscuits

Back at the medal ceremony I handed out Mums biscuits to all sheltering from the rain.  German Officials in their finery initially refused but little by little more and more people succumbed, "mmmmm wow! These are incredible!!!” The Mayor of Brandenburg, big wigs from the international Paralympic committee and international canoe federation all tucking enthusiastically into Mums biscuits!

The next day, back at the race arena, I was stopped by two men. So what was it to be, I thought, autograph or selfie?  In stilted English one asked, "I have heard about your Mothers biscuits ... is she still here so I could taste zem please?”

I burst out laughing. Front page of BBC Sports, European Gold and world record and to these German men I was just the daughter of the woman who makes amazing biscuits, which is precisely how it should be!
European gold!

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Thursday, 12 June 2014

New Shoes and Boats

Today I tried to buy some new shoes. Yes, I'm a girl and I like shoes, so what's new?!  Much to my dismay I have spent the last 3 years living in boots and trainers and I would love something more 'girly' to wear... So off to the shops it was. Pair after pair I try on, I stand up, try to walk, shake my head and sit down. The shop assistant looks up at me while surrounded by open shoe boxes and tissue paper - she is trying to smile but I can tell she is crying inside. My criteria, I thought, was fairly simple. All I want is a pair of shoes that don't "wobble when I walk". Oh, and they have to look fabulous! 
This is as exciting as my shoes get!

Sounds easy eh? But ever since my back injury and resulting leg weakness I've been unable to wear even the smallest heel without falling over - much to the amusement of my kids...

I've had much the same problem with boats - not standing up and falling over (well, not too often;-)), but you know what I mean. One of my main training goals this season has been to improve my stability in the boat - to minimise the wobbling as I paddle and to allow me to paddle in skinnier (ie faster) boats. 

This has involved input from the whole team of experts in the GB Paracanoe Program. I've been corrected by technical coaches and treated by physios with the help of strength and conditioning gurus, not to mention clever boat adaptations to compensate for the lack of feeling and control in my right leg - making me more 'at one' with the boat. 

So with no luck on the "new shoe" front it was with huge excitement that I was finally able to paddle the mark3 Plastex para canoe - (the faster but more unpredictable version of my much loved Pippa.) without falling in- yippee!!

Opening the bag of the new boat made me smile from ear to ear. It wasnt a shoe box containing jimmy choos and I may not be able to wear those beautiful, sleek shoes with a skinny heal anyway, but I can absolutely paddle a beautiful, sleek, skinny kayak.  What's really exciting is that ahead of my final selection regatta for the world and European champs I have just posted a PB in my new kayak.
My new boat!!
Thank you to all involved who have worked so hard in helping me wobble less in my boat and also a really big thank you to Plastex for your commitment to making boats for para athletes and for  generously sponsoring me with a perfect boat. 

Now, if only I could find a high performance team to help me walk without a wobble and perhaps a glamorous shoe sponsor? ...;-)

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Chin ups and Eggs

I'm really happy that despite getting to an age that some folk have inadvertently fallen into a rut of familiarity, I'm still leaning skills, having adventures and experiencing new things.

One of the things I'm most excited about on my journey of being a team GB para canoeist  is the fact that I can now ........ do chin ups. Note the deliberate plural here :-)

This may not be a skill high up on many of your wish lists, but I've been trying unsuccessfully to do one for years.  In fact I can remember being turned away from the local gym club aged 10, despite being able to do passable headstand, because I failed the strength (ie chin up) test .
Me doing chin ups (ie more than 1!)
As a cyclist, chin ups were about as likely to happen - and as relevant - as me jumping over the moon, but when I started kayaking everyone said I had to be able to do chin ups - It's a kinda right of passage - something to do with getting strong arms, backs and shoulders I suppose.

In fact chin ups are so much of a way of life for kayakers that most of them can jump onto a bar and pop out hundreds while still chatting about their weekend. Many tie massive weights around their waists- (big enough to make my knees buckle)  and then they still manage several?!? Kayakers have even been known to do chin-ups for fun at parties...
Adding weights, like its not difficult enough!

Another new experience for me is eating eggs.  Now bear with me, egg eating may seem random and unrelated to my chin up success, but I wonder ?..... When I started on the journey changing from an endurance to a sprint athlete I had to get bigger and stronger. In order to achieve this my diet had to incorporate more protein - "Eat eggs" everyone said. This was going to be a massive challenge to manage because eggs make me feel sick- I've never been able to eat eggs, think about eggs or even sit next to someone eating eggs without feeling really nauseous. 
Yes! I can now eat eggs :-)
However, continuing the theme of 'embracing new experiences' I figured if I could become European champion in less than a year of kayaking then I could also conquer egg eating.

It's taken me 18 months of trying and I'm not sure which was harder, chin ups or egg eating but I'm happy to report that I can now do both.

I hasten to add that I can't do many of either (and never at the same time;-) ) nor do I particularly enjoy doing them and I definitely, categorically won't be doing either at parties !!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Looking forward to Easter!

Is it sad that coming up to Easter the thing I'm looking forward to most of all, even more than my Easter egg, is the arrival of my new mattress?
The healthiest Easter Egg I could find:-)

  It's funny to reflect, but one of the hardest things to get to grips with on the GB program is just how much sleep I am supposed to have.  Not just time in bed, but 8 hours of quality sleep... Sleep is where your body repairs and recovers. Good sleep means you can train hard day after day. After years of choosing my own bedtime it's like being a child again - being sent to bed earlier than I want ... and I havn't even been naughty!!

 As an adult choosing my own bedtime has been one of life's simple pleasures and with my busy schedule, sleeping less than 5 hours a night has been commonplace. 

Even when I was training for 24 hour mountain bike racing I would frequently only go to sleep when I was so tired that I couldn't think straight, I would then choose to leap out of bed early the next morning.  My coach even put in 3am training sessions to help me get used to functioning when every cell in my body wanted to sleep.  She also used to tell me I needed recovery time, but I'm not convinced I ever really got it.....

Ragged at the end of a training session :-(

 All that has changed. Just as a child and a teenager need sleep to grow I am building up so much new power that I need more and more sleep to help my muscles recover and get stronger. As much as I hate to admit it, the research supporting the theory that quality sleep is a crucial for fast recovery is right.  If I want to get stronger and faster I simply have to get more sleep.  One of my strangest training goals for this season has been the search for a new mattress to replace the old one which is uncomfortable.

 Mattress buying is the strangest thing. Lying down with your partner on a bed in the middle of a busy shop feels a bit naughty - or am I the only one who thinks this? 

And there are so many mattresses out there that are all so different... As a physio, and someone with a history of 2 serious back injuries I am incredibly particular about what I sleep on and I felt much like goldilocks finding something wrong with every mattress I found. In true female shopping style I dragged Simon to loads of shops without giving in to his exasperated pleas "this is just like the last one" doh! no it's not!! 

Finally, after much research as well as the field testing of lying down, turning over and head shaking (me) eye rolling (Simon) we (I) now know we have found the perfect mattress :-)

Mammoth claim to make mattresses that are loved by athletes and "Olympians".

 They came up in my research and I don't usually do hype, so they were just one of many I tried out.  I have to say that as soon as I lay on one I smiled - "Just right", said Goldilocks".  Simon was away at the time, but as soon as he got back I found an excuse to drag him into a shop.  Within moments of lying down he was gently snoring (he says it was jet lag having just flown in from Thailand, but I recon it was the uber comfy mattress)

 I will be open with you - I am immensely grateful to the fantastic folk at Mammoth who have been incredibly supportive and I can't thank them enough!
 This mattress will definitely help with my training!

 So it's Easter coming up.  I will have an Easter egg, (and won't tell my coaches just how big it is), but they will be pleased to hear my new mattress is coming - because sleeping properly for 8 hours is going to be the easiest gain ever in my training.