Comebacks in sport are nearly always exciting, in fact they’re quite often the epitome of sporting entertainment; the media sensationalise it, drawing in of the fact that it captures us in a way that is almost entirely unique. When we delve a little into human nature it becomes pretty apparent why, there’s a rush in seeing an athlete you’ve supported back on the race track; something innately invigorating in having no idea how they’ll perform and yet trusting in the ability you’ve seen them display in the past. It’s a repeated narrative throughout our culture, from the Harry Potter books to the rocky films to back pages of the tabloids; we cannot get away from the suspense of a fall, the devastation that can knock someone down when they face their infallibility, be it physical, moral, circumstantial or emotional. Followed by a presentation of the very characteristics we idolise; bravery, resilience, strength in adversity and essentially, victory, which plays out in front of our eyes so we can bask in some sort of reflected experience of our desires, like that of a teen watching a romantic comedy for the first time. The most important message the narrative gives us is hope; which in my eyes is the most important concept we cling to as humans.
I can remember my excitement at seeing the since shamed Lance Armstrong make his tour comeback, watching the unanswered questions unfurl before me and sort of revelling in the ambiguity in his form. I guess that sport mirrors life in that sense, there’s very little constant but rather an evolving ebb and flow of circumstances; the mountain top triumphs, devastating lows and the more common middle ground flat road where change seems to so subtly chip away at us that were left looking back at a transformation that didn’t even touch our conscious mind.
The last year or so for me has been one of the most challenging in my life; I’ve had a million lessons to learn in the logistics of relative independence. I’ve made a heck of a lot of mistakes, and yet learned from them to an unquantifiable extent. It almost seems like a haze to look back on, in some ways it seems like last week I was on peak form flying out across Europe to race and train and yet, in others it seems like a lifetime ago. I have no regrets about taking time for myself; in the pressure cooker of the sporting world a great amount of resilience is required for success to even become a possibility. The last year has provided for me an invaluable amount of self-discovery and growth which I hope will stand me in good stead for the rest of my life, not to mention making a heap of crazy and yet wonderful memories.
The one problem with leaving sport is that somewhere inside me is a pretty pissed off competitive natured athlete begging me to get back into it. I still subconsciously pick up my pace, even if just on an easy run, if another runner is a hundred meters ahead on the street. I struggle to look through race photos without a cocktail of emotions bubbling up inside me, throwing out the idea of comeback and probing me in its direction. Sometimes it’s pretty annoying, but hey, I guess that’s what got me to where I was before.
I’ve wanted to come back for a while, in fact by November last year I was getting on for having had enough of a sport free lifestyle, having not put any time constraints of the length of my break but waited for my feelings around sport to change, this seemed like the logical time to put the trainers back on, lace up, and get back into shape. But around this time something major changed in my life; I got ill. Suddenly, my energy levels dropped to the point where, some days, I couldn’t make it out of bed. I was dazed out and felt both horrendously sick and utterly frustrated. At the end of the following month in December after being wheeled out of an ambulance into A+E, I got a diagnosis of type one diabetes; not great considering my (now ex) phobia of needles.
It has taken a while to really sink in, because this is no joke of an illness, as it stands there is no cure as such, and with poor management the likelihood of ending up in a wheelchair, or worse, a coffin prematurely, is not particularly comforting. However, I’m incredibly fortunate to be living in a time period and country in which scientific development and access to specialist help make it possible to live life pretty much to the full if I manage it well.
My attempt at making the best of the situation has lead me to find the rather humorous perks of diabetes; for example the look on your teachers face when you ask to leave because you’re “high” without explaining that you mean this in relation to your blood sugar. Not to mention finding witty or sarcastic responses to the utterly silly questions I’m often asked for example, “Doesn’t that hurt?” said in reference to me stabbing myself with a needle to either inject insulin or take blood for a glucose reading. My friends also get to witness my hypos in which my muppetry seems to be multiplied by ten causing me to do utterly barmy things like pouring milk into the biscuit tin and attempting to put the kettle in the fridge.
A few months down the line and I’m finally in a stable enough place to get back to training, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated it quite so much. I’ve been working with a new coach, Louise Hanley, to fit in a slowly progressive program around college and church activities and found myself in the happiest place I’ve been for a while. I’m finding subtle but very real fulfilment in the small challenges I set and trying to stay in line with my mantra of doing what I can, with what I have, where I am and trusting God with the rest!
It would be naïve to say that I’ve started my comeback journey wholly “changed”, because change is ever present, and yet, my mind set and views about who I am and what I want to do have been very much re-sculpted over my time away. In many ways now, I embark on my come back journey like every other athlete, with a million ambiguities and questions, because for all I know I could fall flat on my face, and yet I hold on the one constant in the day to day baby steps I take; hope.