|Cerro Negro Nicaragua|
|Staring down the 40 degree slope|
As I sit on my board waiting for my turn, I think back to the team up in Nottingham starting the Tokyo cycle. I know what they're going through and the sacrifices they have chosen to make in order to 'go' for another four years. Having reached as far as I could by winning gold in Rio, I have chosen to step away from elite sport and find new adventures. Knowing what it takes, I have absolute respect and admiration for those who have decided to carry on with an elite program.
|The Incredible GB Paracanoe Team In Brazil|
Everything, and I mean everything I did in the last 4 years was a conscious decision based on a single quest, "Will this make my boat go faster". If it didn't fit this criteria then I simply didn't do it.
While I'm waiting, I start to think about the elite athlete 'rules' I'm 'breaking' by being here. Pretty much all of them! Holidays were called regeneration periods and had to be booked in the off-season. Regeneration preferably needed places which had a gym, proper nutrition, no diseases, no unsafe activities, no alcohol, etc. I start to chuckle as I make a mental list of all my transgressions. I'm sitting on top of a live volcano (I bounced here on the back of a dodgy open top truck) in the second poorest country in Central America. I had only a Coca Cola for 'breakfast' and I'm dehydrating rapidly in the heat. The volcano boarding trip has a shot challenge prize and a beer and mojito reward (lunch?!?) on completion...
But it's not just holidays which were limited and I begin to wonder if people realise the huge amount of personal sacrifices elite athletes make every day in order to reach the top of their game. Once at the top it's even more ruthless as the expectation piles on more pressure and you know that the journey can end at any time, through being beaten or through injury. The risk is so high that you daren't do anything which might jeopardise achieving that one goal. I was fortunate to have had amazing support around me to get me to the top, and such luck that things fell into place at the right time .... the choices I felt I had to make to give me the best chance to succeed were really tough but these choices (along with my training) clearly worked! Although for me, the training was actually easier to deal with than the sacrifices I had to make!
I missed family holidays as regeneration periods don't usually coincide with school holidays. At home I would think about where I went or how I travelled to avoid people who might be infectious. I wouldn't go near anyone who sniffed or sneezed. This included distancing myself from my family if they turned up with a cold. I would often go to bed before my children in order to get enough sleep, I said no to my friend's invitations to parties and evening social events in order to optimise my recovery. I changed my diet and didn't eat or drink anything which didn't promote recovery or wasn't good for me. My take was that empty calories would only make me heavier not faster. I had to be wary about everything I put in or on my body, meticulously checking labels to make sure it wasn't contaminated with a banned substance. And that's not to mention the loss of privacy, with every detail about me being recorded by the program on a daily basis, so the team around me could learn and adapt. Nothing was spared and the team knew everything about me from the colour of my urine to the percentage of my fat. Clearly it worked out for me - but looking back, it was incredibly tough.
|Just before I fell off......|
Ouch!! this is going to hurt a lot tomorrow ... but I don't really mind - this is being alive!!! As much as I loved being an elite athlete, I love being free even more. Free to do what ever I want, when I want, without worrying that I'm doing the wrong thing, letting someone down, wasting the Programme's efforts, or the public and sponsors' money.
|The 'After " shot|
Having said all that, I am in total awe of all of our elite athletes, who sacrifice so much and live each day by strict rules so that they can train properly to be the very best that they can be. The reality is that being an elite athlete is incredibly hard and only the most dedicated and mentally strong, with the best support, make it to the top.
|Talent Pride and Determination.|