As I walked around Prague the day after I had finished racing at the Europeans, attempting to be a tourist, I felt in a bit of a daze. Normally I'm buzzing with excitement after a race, but today I was full of a strange mix of emotions which I couldn't make sense of.
Going through the classification process had made me really sad, and also annoyed. Sad that I had been forced to look back and think about my injury, re-opening the mental scars which I've worked so hard to heal. Sad also, bizarrely, that despite training so hard and getting much stronger I still have a significantly weaker leg, which classifies me. (Why does this make me sad ?!?!?) And annoyed that Para Sport at the top end isn't inclusive at all. It upset me so much seeing disabled athletes being scrutinized and challenged for simply falling outside of a classification boundary. I was also struggling with the concept that Para Sport is contradictory. It's confusing that you have to be bad and good at the same time. You have to have something wrong with you - and not just any “something”, you have to have the correct type of 'something wrong' to make it into a "level playing field". Having ticked those boxes you then try to be as good as you can be by minimizing the impact of your disability, with clever, personalized training and specific boat adaptations.
GB para-canoeing is fortunate enough through National Lottery funding to be able support and invest in us, but what about all those paddlers who don't have funded programs? How is this now a level playing field..?
The thoughts in my head just kept on coming... Was all this heartache really worth it? Half of me wanted to just stop and go back to a normal life. To have normal holidays and spend more time with my family and friends....
I had shared some of this angst with our team phsych earlier that week and he had talked me through how you can choose to frame things. "Things happen to us which are out of our control, but it's our choice as to how we feel about them. If we don't like how something looks or feels we have the ability to choose different ways to frame them". Great in theory, but I was still struggling.
|focusing during my race|
As I wandered the streets missing half of the tourist attractions, I tried to make sense of these random and contradictory thoughts. I was thinking so hard that I barely noticed that it had started to rain – and in fact rain quite hard.
Just in front of me a little girl aged about 4 squealed in delight as the rain drops started to fall. She pulled a small plastic umbrella out of her dad’s bag and put it up. She then skipped and splashed in the newly formed puddles as she laughed her way down the road. Her umbrella was very pink and glittery, and on it were the words "smile, laugh, sparkle". Looking around I observed that she was definitely the only person following this advice. There was definitely a lack of tourists skipping through the puddles! Most of them, like me, were sheltering in doorways trying to keep dry.
I then smiled. It occurred to me that this umbrella was surprisingly profound. Smile – laugh –sparkle was a new frame. The rain was the same for everyone and everyone except this little girl was getting annoyed by it. How could I frame the last couple of days differently? Could I put up my own metaphorical umbrella??
So instead of sadness I decided I would see things more positively.
I worked out that I was actually relieved that I still have a weak leg and that I'm still able to classify and be part of the GB squad. I am loving this journey and the adventure it brings, and I am not having to face up to an abrupt end to that journey through not classifying. I am perfectly aware that I might still not make Rio, but that will be decided by training and by racing, not by a rule change.
|GB paracanoe Race HQ|
I could replace annoyance with pride. I am immensely proud to be part of the GB squad which has worked tirelessly to support us so well. Actually pride that despite all these distractions and emotions I had pulled myself back into race mode, followed my race plan and this process had won Gold for GB.
Because this is at the core of what para-sport is all about. People pushing the limits of possibility, moving on from whatever tragic event changed their lives forever and having a go at something new. Being innovative in finding solutions that play to personal strengths despite a risk that it might fail. Eternal optimism that repeated failure won't stop them in their quest to be the very best that they can be.
So on that rainy afternoon in Prague I built a new frame. I decided to remind myself to smile, laugh and sparkle at every opportunity and to metaphorically skip through the puddles rather than grumble at the rain.
|My awesome coach Griff and his athletes.|