A Cycling Accident Shattered My Bones And Olympic Hopes But Now I Really Am Living The Dream
Life had never been simpler. I was lying in my hospital bed with only one goal: survive. The level of pain was extreme, I had 12 broken vertebrae, two punctured lungs, multiple broken ribs and a broken collarbone. But I had beautiful clarity, a singular moment where there was only one path, living from moment-to-moment and powerless to influence it. It was almost relaxing.
It’s nearly seven years ago now that I was training for the 2012 Olympics. I was ‘living the dream’ as a full time athlete. I had a small taste of international success, running internationally, being mentored by Kelly Holmes and being selected to train full-time on a British Triathlon 2012 programme. On this Sunday, I was making small steps towards the Olympic stage, two hours of swimming and two hours into my typical long ride. When fate changed. I lay on the ground just trying to cope with the pain. I didn’t have the capacity for anything else. Completely unaware of what had happened and all the chaos breaking out around me. I was the only person in the scene who thought never considered that I might not make it. I might die.
I was incredibly lucky, if you ride a bike, you’re going to come off. You just hope it’s not in front of an oncoming Land Rover, going downhill, with a trailer of logs behind it. But then my luck drastically reversed and owe my life to a passing Leicester Tigers physio and the Air Ambulance service. Without whom I would certainly not have survived.
Quickly I got myself out of hospital, determined to prove that I should have been allowed to keep my place on the programme. Physically, I’d fallen from peak physical fitness, training 35 hours a week to not even breathing for myself. I had a lot of work to do. Metalwork was holding my back together, my collarbone still broken, I was bruised and mis-shapen everywhere but on a blinkered mission, I taught myself to breathe, walk, run and swim again.
But mentally it was an even bigger challenge, my body was weaker than I thought it was, it was a different shape and it didn’t move as I thought it would. To do a triathlon I had to overcome cycling fears, I didn’t even know I had. I would cry, shake and shame myself through training rides. It was demoralising and I lost confidence.
Everyday I would wake up with agony in my back and unquestioningly continue my extreme training programme. Focused on constant self improvement, I was back in an international triathlon event six months after being picked off the road. I finished fourth, it is still one of the greatest achievements of my life.
After more spinal surgery, I re-enrolled in university and came to a dramatic conclusion. That I didn’t really enjoy training. A full time triathlon training programme is 35hrs a week of gruelling, long, repetitive and lonely exercise. I realised that to be the best in the world, I needed to set myself on another four year journey and hope that I didn’t get unlucky. For the first time ever I thought about all the other things I couldn’t do. I was 21, with 35 hours a week of training you can’t have a career, you can’t properly explore the world and go travelling, relax on the weekends or do crazy sports that might risk injury. The opportunity cost of the repetitive training was not worth even an Olympic medal.
I felt in debt, I’d committed so much time to my own self improvement when my life had been saved by other people’s generosity. I wanted to give back and to raise enough money to save at least one other life. So I flew to Beijing and cycled home. I raised £10,000 for the Air Ambulance and settled into a ‘real job’. Very quickly I realised something very strange. I wasn’t exercising and I dreaded doing it. Something I’d previously fill my days with.
I was struck by the realisation that the majority of adults don’t exercise as much as they should: because they don’t like it. Exercise was just movement, but framed as an unnecessary negative chore. So I quit my job to make exercise fun! I founded Rabble, we transform exercise into games, so that you play hard to win and get fit without realising it. We play everything from British Bulldogs to Capture the Flag, Dodgeball, Frisbee, the Hunger Games and more. All the games are designed so they are enjoyable, different every time and so that anyone can join in without any previous experience.
Now I am genuinely living the dream. I am working on a mission I truly believe in, making a positive difference to people’s lives, with a real appreciation of what’s important. I am simply lucky to be here with my life and I’m determined not to waste a day.
Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from The Huffington Post UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you’ve got something extraordinary to share please email firstname.lastname@example.org with LLO in the subject line.