Tuesday, 26 August 2014

My Moment

Michael Johnson once said ‘life is often compared to a marathon, but I think it is more like being a sprinter. Long stretches of hard work punctuated by brief moments in which we are given the opportunity to perform at our best’.

On Monday 28 July at 10:35am it was finally time for me to have my moment. For so long I had dreamed of and worked towards representing my country, competing at the highest level and feeling like a world class athlete. When my name was announced to the crowd and 44 thousand people cheered in reply, it made all of the struggles I had ever faced in life fade away. At that precise moment in time, I had proved to myself that it is possible to do anything you put your mind to.

Lots of things appeared to be going wrong on the morning of my race, but nothing was going to faze me on my day. So what if I ripped my number, as I was pulling on my sprint suit and there was nothing I could do about breaking the zip on my running tights. None of that was going to prevent me from running. I had to have my left knee and right ankle strapped up by the physio team before registering at the England Athletics office and then going for breakfast. In the past eating before a race has been a challenge for me with the nerves usually getting the better of me. However, not on my day. A bowl of cereal, two croissants and a strawberry yoghurt went down a treat. We caught the 8.15 bus to Hampden Stadium and I was still feeling calm. Whilst warming up, my ankle began to throb. I had sprained it four days before by missing a couple of steps in the village. I wasn’t going to let it stop me and told myself the pain was purely psychological.

In first call up I was feeling ready. In second call up there was a misunderstanding and they didn’t allow us to use the warm-up track inside to do a few runs before going out to race. Everybody was in the same position, so that was that. The noise of the crowd didn’t over-whelm me when I went out to the stadium. I made sure I came the day before to soak up the atmosphere. I had prepared, I was ready.

When it comes to athletics and training, I am a very serious and focussed athlete, rarely cracking a smile. However, a smile did creep across my face when my name was announced to the crowd. As I climbed into the blocks and tightened the guide rope around my hand, the nerves swelled inside me and I felt my arms shake slightly in the set position.

I unfortunately didn’t go on the b of the bang, as the last thing I wanted to do was false start. This meant my start wasn’t as electric as I would have liked, but I drove out of the blocks and got up to speed well. For the first time in a race this year, my turnover felt snappy and I was coming off the track nicely. My guide runner and I were running in perfect harmony.

Another smile spread across my face when I crossed the line because I had done it, I had lived the dream and it honestly felt amazing.

The smile quickly faded when I learnt the time, as I was convinced I was going to sprint to a personal best performance. On the bright side I managed to come second in my heat as predicted, behind the athlete who would go on to win silver in the final. There were three heats with the first in each progressing to the final and one fastest loser spot. I just missed out on making the final, as I was the second fastest loser meaning I finished fifth overall in my first major championships. It was gutting not to make the final and not run as fast as I would have liked, but I placed much higher than I was predicted, remembering I was running against T12 athletes who have some useful vision.

In dreams events go to plan. In reality you never know what’s going to happen. I represented England and competed at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games finishing fifth in my first major championships. Nobody can take that away from me.

Dreamed it, lived it, loved it!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Village Life

I had just gotten used to the routine at the preparation camp when it was time to leave. Again on reflection, I wish I was excited about heading to the Commonwealth village, but the nerves of going to a new place over shadowed any other emotion. We flew with Air Estonia from Manchester to Glasgow and when we arrived at the airport we were greeted by traditional Scottish dancing and music. It was a short coach ride to the village. You had to pass through airport style security every time you entered the village and your accreditation was constantly checked.

It never occurred to me that they call athlete villages, villages because that’s exactly what they are! I never imagined the space to be so vast. The place was separated into countries and all I remember is having to pass through the Australian and Welsh quarters before reaching England. The accommodation was made up of lots of houses with approximately 20 people per house. They seemed to be two houses joint together, as mine had two staircases side by side. It was a good 10 minute walk to the dining hall for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The dining hall was something else. It was absolutely massive and no matter what time of day, it was always bustling with people. The food and drink was available 24hrs a day with dishes to suit every taste bud. Despite it being a dining hall for athletes, the dessert counters were a firm favourite with everyone it seemed including me, although I managed to resist attacking it until after I competed. There were some heart sinking moments when they ran out of your favourite flavoured ice-cream, cookies or muffins. Surprisingly, I only put on 3 pounds in weight after 2 weeks of eating too much food. Other than the main dining hall there was casual dining, which served BBQ style food and there were also lots of recreation centres providing drinks and snacks.

Alongside the free food and drink, there was a free laundry service and more importantly a free salon. It only seemed polite to take advantage of the hospitality, so I ensured I got my hair cut, nails manicured and treated myself to a facial too. When telling a friend about the great freebies, she teased that I would come back fat and beautiful!

Another vital part of village life was pin swapping. Each athlete was given 10 pins of their country’s flag to exchange. I was quite late to the pin party and didn’t attach mine to my accreditation until after I raced. Logically, to me anyway, I pinned all of mine down one side of my accreditation so when I swapped I knew which ones were my England pins and planned to put the new ones on the other side. Apparently, this wasn’t how regular athletes proceeded resulting in a fair few comments about my pinage! I didn’t do too well at swapping pins, ending up giving most of them away with nothing in return. However, I did manage to get Australian and Nauru flags, which I was pleased about. I bet not many people got Nauru!

Living in the village was amazing. It was so surreal having the opportunity to speak to people from all over the world, as well as have casual conversations with world class athletes. They called it the friendly games and it truly was. As a para athlete I was lucky enough to have the chance to integrate with mainstream athletes and I didn’t feel inferior once.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Prep Camp

I am not sure if words can describe the last month of my life, but I am going to try. On Wednesday 16 July, I travelled to Manchester for the England Athletics Commonwealth Games preparation camp. Looking back, I wish I was excited about the prospect. However, when you can’t see going to a new place is always daunting and even more so when you don’t really know anyone and you are unsure of what to expect. The initial plan was to keep Calvin, my Guide Dog with me throughout the experience, although I quickly found it difficult to take care of my own welfare, never mind having to worry about spending and feeding another being. I therefore had to make the extremely difficult decision to send my companion home in order to reduce my own stress levels. Guide Dogs are unbelievably helpful animals, yet in an unfamiliar environment with nobody to make it a familiar setting, achieving basic tasks such as finding a suitable spending area for your Guide Dog provides additional unnecessary challenges.

For some reason I thought the camp was going to be quite structured. However, I soon learnt that other than mealtimes, how you spent your time was completely up to you. At the start of the camp I made a trip to the team physios, as I had been running through a knee injury since last winter. It soon became apparent that the physio hub was going to become my second home. On average throughout my Commonwealth experience, I was receiving physio treatment at least twice per day whether it was being strapped, massaged or stretched. When you are not a funded athlete, it is impossible to access such an invaluable service and I am so grateful that I was able to receive specialist treatment even for a short period. Due to my injury, I had to take some time off of the track, but this didn’t mean I wasn’t training. I still did pool and gym sessions.

During the camp, we were treated to a fair few inspirational speeches. These included talks from the likes of Kelly Sotherton, Tom Parsons and Andy Turner. Each one highlighted the achievement of being selected to represent Team England, shared their lows as well as their highs and all advised that more than anything, we should all enjoy the experience. The speeches were one of my favourite elements of the preparation camp, as they always enhanced my psychological outlook.

Whilst at the camp, I turned 26. Last year I celebrated my birthday by going to Monkey World. This year I was in the process of living out my dream at the Commonwealth Games. I am not sure any birthday celebration will be able to compete again. Embarrassingly and surprisingly at dinner time that evening, I was presented with a birthday card and cake. It was a pretty special moment having the entire athletics team sing happy birthday to me.

On Tuesday 22 July, we left the preparation camp and headed to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games village...

Monday, 16 June 2014

Dare To Dream

Once upon a time there was a girl who dared to dream. She dreamed of becoming a world class athlete and representing her country at major championships. Athletic ability wasn’t a trait that came naturally to her. However, dedication, determination and discipline were characteristics that had always been encrypted within her DNA. These would prove to be the necessary tools to turn a far fetched fantasy into a reality.

On Monday 2 June 2014 at exactly 08:08pm I received the magical phone call. Team England had selected me to compete at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in the T12 100m. Suddenly, the years of blood, sweat and tears had gained a purpose. I am actually a T11 athlete, but will be competing up a classificationsince there are only a select number of disability events incorporated into the main games. My event will take place on Monday 28 July, which is the second day of the athletics action.

So now begins the next chapter. You can follow the unfolding of events either on here, by liking my page on Face Book or following me on Twitter. To view the full England Athletics Team just click here.









Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Kodaline

I did intend to write a single post about seeing Kodaline and McBusted in concert, but unfortunately an evil stomach bug prevented me from going to see McBusted last night. I honestly don’t think I have ever missed an event I have paid for in advance before due to illness. It is quite frustrating to have wasted my money and more so to have missed out on what no doubt would have been a great night out. Thankfully, I am feeling much better today.

It was over a month ago now that I saw Kodaline live at Birmingham’s O2 Academy. It is predominantly a standing venue, but luckily the disabled section was seated. I am far too old to stand for long periods these days! Kodaline have to be the coolest band I have seen to date, as you probably know I tend to edge more towards pop than rock. However, as soon as I heard Kodaline’s debut single ‘High Hopes’ on the radio, I pre-ordered their album and have been hooked ever since.

It was a completely different experience seeing a non pop act. The atmosphere was similar with people singing along to the songs and cheering uncontrollably, but there were no fancy gimmicks, no costume changes and very little conversation. It was all about the music, which seemed to just work. It was also interesting that they didn’t finale with their biggest hit, as is usually the case. I enjoyed every second and look forward to their next album.

I’ve got high hopes...

Friday, 11 April 2014

Comps in Brum

Last month saw me compete in Birmingham twice, for two different sports; goalball and athletics.

Birmingham Novice Tournament:
This was the second tournament I have played for Nottingham and this time I was playing for our A team, although both of our teams are very good. We played as a three, so had no substitutes. I quite enjoy this set up since the games don’t last for long at that level. Unfortunately, we lost our first game, a combination of poor communication and silly mistakes. This meant the highest we could finish was fifth overall, which we easily managed floating through our following three games. To be honest I felt like we had the ability to win the entire tournament, but there are no second chances.

I was hoping to play at intermediate level tomorrow in Cambridge, but a freak injury has prevented me, which I’m gutted about. I’m not sure how much more goalball I’ll be playing in the coming months, as athletics will now take priority with just seven weeks to go until Commonwealth selection.

Midlands Open:
I have trained at The Alexander stadium a million times and raced outdoors there on several occasions. However, I have never competed indoors there before and don’t intend to again. The warm up area was like a cattle market and when you need two lanes to do even striders, it’s near impossible. I made the best use of what space was available before my race.

For the first time ever I nearly false started, which immediately impacted upon my performance. 60m in 8.91, nothing special and nowhere near the speed I showed in Glasgow. Nevertheless, it was a good opportunity to get another race in before the outdoor season commences.

It’s still yet to be decided, but I will open up my outdoor campaign either on 30 April or 7 May depending on how I am feeling. One thing is for certain, this is going to be my most testing year to date, but hopefully my most successful one too. Commonwealths, Europeans, let’s go!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Sixing It Up

They grow up so fast! Calvin is six today! He has unfortunately had to work through his birthday, as I am currently doing some work experience at school to help with my long-term goal of becoming a teacher. I have to give Calvin credit, he plays his Guide Dog role very well at school until he spots left overs from break or lunchtime. He is generally attentive in lessons, although the odd attempt has been made to thieve from pupils school bags and one pupil alerted me to the fact that he was trying to give himself lead poisoning by chewing a pencil in class the other day. Equally, the pupils are great, knowing not to fuss or distract him, it’s the teachers in the staff room that can’t help themselves!

Health wise, Calvin is still having seizures from time to time, but not regularly enough to warrant daily medication. However, he is currently on tablets, as he has developed a rash in his never regions. I’m sure if he knew I was sharing that information, he would be dying with embarrassment right now! It is just a result of an allergic reaction to cement dust since we are currently doing some house renovations. His crown jewels will be back to sparkly condition in no time.

At six years old there are no signs of Calvin slowing down. He still has his adorable puppy dog habits whilst growing into a mature, confident and assertive character.

Happy Birthday Calvin