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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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New Beginnings.

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“There are 31,530,000 seconds in a year. 1,000 milliseconds in a second. A million microseconds. A billion nanoseconds. And the one constant, connecting nanoseconds to years is change. The universe from atom to galaxy is in a perpetuate state of flux, but we humans don’t like change. We fight it. It scares us. So we create the illusion of stasis. We want to believe in a world at rest. The world right now. Yet our great paradox remains the same, the moment we grasp the now, that now is gone. We cling to snapshots but life is moving pictures. Each nanosecond different to the last. Time forces us to grow, to adapt, because every time we blink our eyes, the world shifts beneath our feet.”

You might be wondering why I’ve decided to start a blog with a quote from Touch. Well, apart from being my favourite TV show to which I am completely and utterly addicted, it bears some specific relevance to my life right now.

10 years ago, about this time of year, my Dad did his first triathlon. I went along, got my face painted in a St Georges flag and cheered from the side lines thinking that I had the coolest Dad on the planet. I was aged 7 and it was that day that, whilst on the way home, I asked my parents if I could have a go at kids race. They didn’t think such things existed at the time but after doing some research they found a local one and I put my name down for the 2004 race. I had no idea what would follow that first race and neither did my parents! For the last 9 years they’ve spent hours of their time driving me up and down the country for training, racing and all sorts of events; so it goes without saying that without their support I wouldn’t have got near the places I’ve been over the last decade. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had for anything; I’ve felt honoured to represent my country and made the most amazing friends.

But now, I’m not that same 7 year old girl, because alongside the obvious physical changes like the extra 3ft I’ve grown, came the gradual journey into independence. I am starting a process of leaving the comfort of the known, for the adventure of the unknown and making a big step towards trying to become an adult. Though it’s a little scary, I know it’s for the best. I have made the decision to leave the nest and move to Eastbourne; originally with the focus to train, but now I guess my focus has shifted.

For the last few years triathlon has been a massive part of my life, probably too big, and that’s no one’s fault but my own. I’ve always had a hunger to succeed in sport, it overpowered my drive to do anything else, and I let it. Don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling I get when I’m out swimming in the sea or riding and running through the country. I love the fresh air in my hair and just feeling free, so I’m not about to pack it all in. But honestly? I also love singing, playing my guitar and uke, songwriting and musical theatre. I love studying philosophy and world development, painting, going to church and spending time with friends and family; and now I guess I’ve worked out that life needs balance to function.

Being an athlete gives you a specific identity, for a while I’ve been Sky the triathlete. But being her comes with pressure, responsibility and expectations to perform to a high level and conduct myself professionally; something that can be suffocating and has sucked a lot of the fun out of the sport I love. Let me give you some examples, at a public event with food on offer if I’m anywhere near anything unhealthy nine times out of ten I get a comment along the lines of “Oh I bet you can’t eat that with your athlete’s diet”. The questions people ask you change from “How are you?” to “How’s training going?”. Not to mention feeling obliged to reply positively to whatever question you’re asked, no matter how far to the contrary the reality may be, in order to never reveal a chink in your armour. Of course these are pretty small things, but they add up.

Being an athlete also has implications on you as a person, for a good few years my social life took a nose dive into the oven with my reduced fat flapjacks and fizzled to a crisp. Try as I may, the 5 minute conversation I’d have with friends in changing rooms after swimming sessions and the odd head nod from a fellow cyclist passing in the opposite direction weren’t enough to resuscitate the ashes. My happiness, my health, my family and friends, I gave them a back seat, when really there’s little I’d say is more important!

Sport is what I do. It’s not who I am.

I’ve had a lot going on in my personal life, and although it really isn’t right for me to disclose what’s happened publicly right now, it’s taken its toll. To carry on throwing myself into full speed ahead training and racing just wouldn’t be good for me, and I know in my heart of hearts that what I’m doing is for the best.

So I’m taking some time without a coach or structured program; I don’t want to come across as though I am not grateful for what these people and systems have done for me, honestly I couldn’t be more grateful, but right now I’m taking the reins. I’m letting go of the pressure and stress and I’m going to be a normal 17 year old. You’ll probably still see me on the odd set of race results and out training; because the fact remains I love this sport, and one day I really hope and believe that I’ll be back competing and enjoying the triathlon life as I always have.

I want to say a specific thanks to a few people who have committed to helping me over many years by coaching me and helping me to develop; Terry Davis my swim coach, Jez and Leda cox, and HWCC who helped me with my cycling and Bob Parker and Peter Barry who have coached me in athletics. Steve Hyett, Dave Wardle and everyone at Hillingdon Triathletes who have given me so much support and friendship as a club; my physiotherapist Adam Eustace. Finally, most of all to my Dad, Kevin Draper, who has been my overall coach and number one supporter for so many years. I also want to thank Orca, Orbea, Newton and MET for standing by me and their continual support.

Having taken a week to surf and chill in Devon, had my college induction and nearly set my boyfriend’s kitchen on fire by burning toast whilst last in Leeds, I think I’ve made a few steps towards my new life! I’m going to miss London and the incredible friends I have made there, I’m going to miss the buzz of city life and hey I might even end up missing the uncomfortable eye contact accidentally made on the tube when going into central. But I’m looking forward to moving onwards to new beginnings, to new opportunities and a chance to grow and find out who Sky Draper really is, not to mention laughing at the muppet moments I’ll without a doubt encounter along the way.

I look forward to updating you on what life is like down here and what I’m up to!

Bye for now, Sky x