Sunday, 18 May 2014

The one I didn't want to write...

So here it is, the blog I didn’t want to have to write.

Forgive me for taking so long to post this one. Since finding out I wouldn’t be at this year’s World Cup, confirming I can no longer realise my dream of becoming a World Champion, I feel like I’ve experienced every emotion under the sun; I struggled to know where to start and I needed to get my head around those feelings before I tried to capture some of them, and articulate them in the best possible way.

This is by far the hardest blog to write, probably because I don’t want to be writing it! I can have a tendency to isolate myself when bad things happen, but it wouldn’t be fair to ignore this one as so many of you have taken a great deal of interest in my journey. At the very least I really want to show my appreciation for all the support my blog has generated, even if, at times, all I want to do is hide away from the world!

I am very lucky to be supported by my loving family. As an ‘athlete’ I also have access to one of the English Institute of Sport’s Performance Lifestyle Advisors. She recently shared with me Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. Now this may sound a little dramatic, but the ‘grief cycle’ has been shown to transfer to personal change and emotional upset resulting from factors other than death and dying.

Kübler-Ross' Five Stages of Grief

Time is the greatest healer. That is clear, not only from the graph above but also from personal experience. I know in time everything will be okay.

For now though, it hurts.

I’ve lost the chance to achieve a goal of mine that, not only have I worked incredibly hard for over these last eleven weeks, but absolutely and completely dedicated my life to, one hundred per cent, for the past fifteen years.

I have no idea when I’ll get to the acceptance stage. I’m not even sure where I currently sit on the graph as I keep fluxing between the anger, bargaining and depression stages meaning I'm not much fun to be around at the moment! The image below nicely shows some of the emotions attached to each of the stages. I certainly concur with the majority.

When I started blogging about my ‘road to recovery’, I was fully aware it could end like this. Clearly I hoped it wouldn’t but I positively put myself out there, and, in doing so opened myself up and made myself vulnerable. Dealing with my emotions in a very public way is not something I usually love doing. It inevitably made me accessible for support, encouragement, and reassurance. Equally though I was susceptible to criticism and judgement, something I was all too aware of.

Although exposing myself emotionally was scary at first, not once have I regretted telling the world about my ambition. In all honesty I’ve been overwhelmed by the response, but fundamentally I whole-heartedly believe in vocalising goals and dreams. This is something I’ve learnt throughout my career and ultimately put into practice, along with my teammates, as we ventured towards a home Olympic Games in London 2012.

The vision was most definitely gold. The reality however was bronze. Some could perceive this as a failure. Winning the bronze was maybe a success. In the end neither of these outcomes really matters. The immense pride I possess comes from the fact we had the courage to set that goal in the first place, and tirelessly work towards it, responding positively to both the encouragement and criticism that came our way, particularly on commencing the centralised programme in 2009.

The vulnerability, in both cases, was actually the thing that has made the experience worth living, which reminded me of a TED Talk I’d heard some time ago by research professor Dr. Brené Brown. Dr. Brown has spent a decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, and believes “vulnerability is absolutely essential to whole hearted living.” I couldn’t agree more and would highly recommend her talk on ‘The power of vulnerability’ (2010), which she followed up with ‘Listening to shame’ in 2012.

I’m not quite ready to be philosophical just yet.  Although having read this back it’s getting a bit deep and may sound like I am. I know as time moves on I will get there, but for now it’s still too raw. I do however feel that same pride. I tried my hardest. I literally gave it everything I had leaving me physically, emotionally and mentally drained on many occasions.

To get back playing in an international friendly after eight and a half weeks post my second back surgery in a year, and to be fitter, stronger and more powerful than I was pre-surgery is a testament to the work I put in. Unquestionably I have no regrets, which, as in 2012 will eventually leave me feeling contented and fulfilled.

Now I’ve got started I could go on forever, but I want to save some bits for my book! I have a few thank yous but first I’d like to wish the girls all the best in The Hague. There’s nothing more I would like to see than my wife Kate, lift the World Cup. Of course, I wanted to be by her side when she did, but we’ve both shared so many highs and lows since our debuts in 1999 and she truly would be worthy of this success.

I hope this next bit doesn’t sound like I’m picking up an Oscar; but there are a number of people I’d like to thank. I definitely couldn’t have done this alone and I’m afraid there isn’t a better platform for me to do this:

Firstly, I’d like to thank You. Thank you for taking the time to read my posts, supporting me with comments, tweets and in person. This really was something I didn’t expect, certainly not to the level at which I received the encouragement anyway. To receive messages from familiar and unfamiliar people, without doubt brought a smile to my face through some pretty tough times.

I am also extremely touched that my story has inspired many of you going through similar battles, in other life pursuits, or to share my story with others or use it as part of material for students to learn from. I loved hearing them and appreciate your time and honesty in sharing these with me.

To my international and club teammates old and new, thank you for every email, tweet and text. You all know exactly what this means to me and your support has been incredibly humbling. Thank you to anyone who passed me on the bike and told me to keep going, moved equipment in the gym, gave me a pat on the back, a look at the right time or gave me a cheer when I got back on the pitch, it all helped.

To Batch, Ben, Emma and Luke. Thank you for the countless hours you put in to treating me, writing programmes, assessing me, training with me, working on bank holidays including Easter Sunday, but most importantly embracing the challenge that this could be done. We did a bloody good job, and in my eyes, we did it.

Finally to Kate for driving me here, there and everywhere, cooking, washing up, cleaning the house and doing the washing whilst I train, do my exercises, write my assignments or just rest and recover ready for my next session. These are just some of the practical things, which allowed me to pursue my dream; but thank you mostly for being there, and understanding as you always do.

Everyone loves a fairy tale ending; I was confident I’d get mine. The books and films that really grip you though are the ones that leave you wondering how it will end.

That is me now.

I don’t know how this will end, but I promise one thing: I will continue to commit passionately and whole-heartedly – I will continue to embrace vulnerability.

“Most people believe vulnerability is weakness. But really vulnerability is courage. We must ask ourselves, are we willing to show up and be seen?” Dr. Brené Brown