Planes are good for two things: enforced rest and time to think. Right now I’m 38,000ft up, somewhere over India on my way to see my husband for the first time in three months. Considering we spent most of last year apart that doesn’t sound too bad. Except this time, we’ve only been married for two weeks longer than we’ve been apart and will only get to spend a few days together before we’re on opposite sides of the world sliding again. Just to clarify, I’m not complaining, we chose this life, but in a year where my sports psyc catch ups have been more ‘keep me together’ than performance I’m dearly looking forward to some quality time.
Putting this summer into words is hard for one reason: it’s hurt! It’s the first summer where when someone asks how it was the answer isn’t as simple as training went well and I worked. And you know what, I’m actually quite ok with that. What I’ve been through and learnt this summer I firmly believe are going to make me a better athlete but have also shown me what else I bring to the table. That last bit in itself is huge when, honestly, my first runs this season are going to make or break my career.
The concussion that ended my season last year was worse than I ever thought. Looking back, I had symptoms pretty much all season that adrenaline and competitiveness helped me ignore (not a good hing!). It’s not unusual for me to get headaches when my neck is tight or feel a bit dizzy after corner 14 in Winterberg is bumpy, but when St Moritz makes you dizzy and out of it you know something is seriously wrong. I owe the Canadians a lot for putting my health first and helping me see the light. The scariest part though was when I got back to Bath, the adrenaline wore off and walking around town made me feel drunk after less than an hour. I’ll just reinforce that bit…WALKING gave me symptoms. It was weird coz unlike my other concussions I didn’t have a headache once we’d sorted out my neck. I spent weeks doing the same walking drills over and over again coz the second I tried something bouncier it gave me a headache, made me feel dizzy and out of it. The word ‘frustrating’ doesn’t begin to cover it. Especially when you stupidly watch your mates compete on one of your favourite tracks and are unable to release said frustration. Thankfully, the MRIs we had done showed no signs of brain damage, so the docs put it down to my vestibular (balance) and ocular (vision) systems being out of whack. I had no idea just how out of whack they were until I got home and started seeing a vestibular physio a couple of times a week. I have learnt some seriously cool things from James this summer that explain so much! Not just about my concussion but why certain things have always happened. I think it took about 4 months until we were confident I didn’t need to hold back at training but we kept pushing rehab to be as sure as possible it’ll react positively come ice time.
The upside to coming home early was that I made my best mates hens party and could get stuck into Olympics Unleashed presenting. To everyone at QAS and the AOC who got that programme up and running THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart! It has taught me so much about what I bring to the table and finally given me a direction post sliding. I always thought that to inspire kids you had to have a medal around your neck and I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Talking to the kids and travelling all around my awesome state has also given me inspiration and motivation. On the days where I doubt myself, am sick of rehab or everything just sucks, those kids come to mind. I’m telling them that all the little things are super important so I’d better bloody well do them.
Emotionally this year has been rough. There have been some massive highs and even bigger lows. Most of which have been completely unrelated to my life as an athlete. The highs are easy: 3 weddings- mine, my brothers and my best mates. The lows however, aren’t. Pulling out of 5 World Cups plus Worlds was crushing as it felt like I was giving up. The worst low came two days out from our wedding when Nan suddenly passed away. Dom told me in the gym so in typical me fashion I buried the shock and pain and used it to finish the session. Not exactly the healthiest thing in the world but that’s how my brain works. To be honest, I’ve only really dealt with it in the last few weeks. The pain was too much and with the uncertainty of when I’d get a UK visa, Mum and Dad selling my childhood home and the underlying concern about how my head was going to react to ice I didn’t want to experience it. There was, and to some extent still is, some anger around Nan’s death. The two biggest days of my life and neither of them saw them…come on! So much for first grandchild privileges. Rich, my sports psyc, told me that I needed to go and say goodbye properly as it would make me feel better. Unsurprisingly he was right but it took me a couple of months to find the courage.
As of two days ago one of the last two majors causes of stress is sorted. The uncertainty of if/when this marriage visa would come through had seriously started to take its toll. I know you’re not supposed to worry about things out of your control but there’s a limit! The last one is my head. I’ve done absolutely everything I could’ve to ensure sliding goes the way I want it to. The problem is that we just don’t know until I go down. So with Rich’s help I’ve planned. We’ve been through every scenario and I’m comfortable with it. I don’t like the possibility that this is it when everything points towards positive change but I’ve accepted that one more Olympics isn’t worth my health. If Whistler and the rest of the season go as planned then it’s full steam ahead to Beijing. If it doesn’t then we’ll deal with it. I don’t want to ever go back to how I felt in Feb!