Last weekend was the anniversary of my back injury and the emergency surgery which left me with a weak leg.
As I look back over the 3 years - the initial hope I would recover fully, the dark place as I realised what I had lost, and the journey to finding a new me - and it seems incomprehensible that I could have gone from that to this. If anyone had told me, when I couldn't even lift an empty dinner plate, that one day I could become a world champion in an upper body power sport I would not have believed them. It took the best part of a year to learn to Dream...
My situation was far from unique
In my job as a physio I see people every day whose lives have changed in that they are no longer able to participate in activities they did before. Some have had dramatic accidents, but many have simple incidents, like me, that change their lives. It doesn't matter how dramatic or how severe, the fact that you can't do something you used to take for granted starts to define your existence. That's the trap... And you are the only one who can get yourself out of it.
Recently I was asked to give a "motivational speech" at a conference. It made me think through what it was that got me out of the negative spiral and onto a positive one. I am writing this down in case you know someone who is struggling as I did...
Having a life changing injury is just that - your life stops going in the direction you thought it would go - no one plans for not being able to walk or make coffee - it is a massive shock and your life can come tumbling around about you as the reality sets in that its never going to be the same again.
So how did I change from a broken endurance mountain biker in to a world champion para canoeist??
The acronym I like to use is to DREAM
You have to have to be able to Dream to get yourself out of the dark place that you have found yourself in. You have to be able to dream because the reality is sometimes too hard. Things happen twice in the world, once in your head then again in real life so once you have dreamt about something you are half way there already!
But how do you change a dream into reality?
D - stands for Decision. It's so easy to focus on how much you think has been taken away that you forget about everything you still have. It wasn't until I Decided that even though my legs didn't work the same as they used to I still had my arms (and a whole lot more besides !) and in focusing on the positives there was no reason to stop my enjoyment of life.
There is always a choice on how you define yourself and the Decision about how you see your injury is ultimately yours. You can Decide to be a victim or you can decide you still have lots...
R - stands for Route. once you have decided that you have 'lots' instead of 'nothing' the next step is to find your new Route. If you keep on trying to navigate the path of your old life you will always be reminded of your injury and remain frustrated. I looked for opportunities to change things and embraced new challenges which played to my strengths, rather than those restricted by my weaknesses. The fact that I found my route whilst volunteering makes me smile, but that's another blog... When I was asked if I wanted to try out for para canoe the obvious answer was no! After all I was 45, I wasn't fit anymore, I hate water, and I had never been in a canoe before. But it wasn't mountain biking, so it was a possible new Route and I said yes.
E - stands for Enthusiasm. Once you have decided that you want a new route, add a dollop of enthusiasm. You can't expect to get good at something new without putting time into it and enthusiasm is infectious... After all, the more you put into something the more you get out and the more others will want to share the journey. When I started canoeing I read bout it, watched u tube videos and talked to knowledgeable people about it. My enthusiasm turned trepidation into genuine excitement as I learnt more, became more capable and began to realise this was the route I had been looking for (it's actually a great social sport as well as the competitive side!)
A - stands for Action. It's all very well reading, watching and talking about something, the next step is to put some real action behind it. You became proficient at your old activity through hours (probably years) of practise and proficiency in your new activity isn't going to happen overnight. I joined my local kayak club and spent hours and hours learning how to paddle. I realised that I needed to get stronger in a different way than I was before and so started going to the gym - again something I had never done on a regular basis. It was exciting seeing how my paddling body, with the correct input, started to change despite my age. My weedy cyclists arms soon bulked up and the empty dinner plate challenge soon became a thing of the past. I am now lifting my body weight with ease. Yes it took perseverance, and also patience, but gradually Action turned into results.!
M - stands for Mentor. I cant stress enough how important this is. Navigating this journey is hard to get right on your own, so try to find someone you can trust to guide and motivate you through the process. This is where Enthusiasm and Action are also key. Your new Mentor(s) are likely to be people who didn't know you before and nobody will want to put time into you if you aren't putting effort in.
I have been so lucky to find mentors for every aspect of my new sport, but it is two people that stepped in right from the beginning that have been key to my journey. Phil and Claire Gunney are both accomplished ex National paddlers and volunteer coaches at Wey Kayak Club. They took up the challenge of teaching me to paddle and since then they have assisted with every aspect of my training as well as becoming close friends. Their experience and knowledge of the world of kayaking has been invaluable. They have been there 100%of the way and have been there to cheer loudly when I get things right and to hold me up during moments of trauma and doubt.
I am not saying that anyone out there who has an injury should try to become world champion at a different sport, but I hope that you can see that it is possible to be defined by what you can do rather than what you can't - you just have to be able to dream......