For every Olympian that makes it, there are 100 more that don’t. I was also one of those 100 that failed. I was a former international runner and then triathlete. I was hoping for a slot in the 2012 Olympics, people often ask me. Am I jealous of those who made it? Do I wish I continued in the sport? Do I find it hard to watch?
And the answer is confidently ‘no’. I love the Olympics for the display of talent, discipline, stories and incredible achievements. And I love it even more when someone I know achieves their dream. The athletes who make it are incredibly disciplined and make huge sacrifices to be there. The ten years in the run up to an Olympics requires consistent hard work, uncertainty and dedication. It also requires incredible sacrifice.
I was once one of these athletes. I missed holidays, birthdays, lie in’s, fried food and freedom. At the time, I never considered it a sacrifice and had I, I would never have reached the standard I did.
I had a small taste of international success, running internationally, being mentored by Kelly Holmes and being selected to train full-time on a British Triathlon talent programme. But one day I was two hours through a typical Sunday morning ride, having already completed a 2hr swim. And my fate changed. I was knocked off my bike and hit by an oncoming Landrover. I lay on the ground in an unimaginable amount of pain with 12 broken vertebrae, two punctured lungs, multiple broken ribs and a broken collarbone. I was the only person in the scene who didn’t think I was going to die. I was lucky and owe my life to a passing Leciester Tigers physio and the Air Ambulance service. Without whom I would certainly not have survived.
So focused on my goal of being the best athlete I could be, I was back in an international triathlon event 6 months after being picked off the road. Metalwork was holding my back together, I taught myself to breathe, walk, run and swim again, I competed ignoring my broken collarbone. In my mind I had to overcome my cycling fears and get back to the startline as quickly as possible. I was on a blinkered mission. Everyday I would wake up with agony in my back and continue my extreme training programme.
After more spinal surgery, I re-enrolled in university and came to a dramatic conclusion. That I didn’t really enjoy training. A full time triathlon training programme is 35hrs a week of gruelling, long, repetitive and lonely exercise. I realised that to be the best in the world, I needed to set myself on another 4 year journey and hope that I didn’t get unlucky. For the first time ever I thought about all the other things I couldn’t do. I was 21, with 35hrs a week of training you can’t have a career, you can’t properly explore the world and go travelling, relax on the weekends or do crazy sports that might risk injury.
I had got to my athletic level by consistently working hard in every training session and letting nothing stop me. But now I questioned why I was doing this? Who benefitted from my deep-rooted self interest in how fast I could run? I begun to feel selfish and demotivated by winning an Olympic medal. I only have one chance to live this life and so the opportunity cost of repeating thousands of laps of the pool, going on circular bike rides and runs was too great for me to commit to it full time. So I left the sport.
I cycled from Beijing to London to raise money for the Air Ambulance that saved my life and on my return got a job as a construction manager in London. I dreamt of leaving serious competition and having a normal relationship with exercise. Going out to play different games each day with my mates, on my schedule and loving every minute of it. But I had a shocking revelation that this simply wasn’t the case.
Adults with no performance goals were training like performance athletes but for no reason. I didn’t get it. I sadly came to realise this was for two reasons, aesthetics or lack of other alternatives. I found it depressing that exercise was viewed as a chore by the majority of the population. I didn’t understand why exercise couldn’t be fun and dreaded exercising myself. Without performance goals, the general population is simply trying to burn energy, and there are LOADS of ways of burning energy. But only the most boring and repetitive methods possible seemed available. I changed my perspective, I stopped questioning the attitude of those who didn’t exercise and started to question the quality of the product.
So I quit my job. I want to change the way in which exercise is perceived. I wanted to create a space where exercise was the highlight of the day. I believed that the reason people didn’t exercise as much as they should was because they didn’t want to. I founded Rabble. Rabble transforms exercise into games, we play everything and anything from British Bulldogs to Capture the Flag, Dodgeball, Frisbee, the Hunger Games and more. The focus is on fun. All of the games are not real sports, so anyone can show up and play, they are all team games and the sessions are different every time. People play hard to win and the rules are designed so that they get fit without realising it. We made team games that don’t require you to have any knowledge of the rules, have any equipment, whip up a team or have any commitments to the team. We made team games accessible to working adults.
The key reason I don’t feel resentful of my friends competing in the upcoming Olympics is because I feel satisfied and fulfilled with my purpose now. Far more so than I ever was as an athlete. I wondered whether I was every happy as an athlete, always on a mission for something more and never satisfied with the now. Watching the games makes me wonder whether any of the athletes are happy. I hope they are for their sakes, but I would suspect it’s actually very few of them. Now I’m lucky, I exercised my right to choose, to compete or not and I’m working on a mission I really care about and I’m changing other’s lives for the positive. It’s great to see people begin to love exercise and get really fit. My lifestyle now is much higher quality than when I was an athlete. Being normal is hugely under-rated. Being normal allows you to have a level of balance that isn’t attainable as a full time athlete. I can go out and play with my friends, or I can go tomorrow or not at all and not feel guilty. I can eat what I like, go on holiday when I like and I don’t have constant muscular pain and tiredness. Watch the Olympics with awe, the athletes earned their moment in the limelight, behind the scenes it’s not nearly so glamorous. Don’t be ashamed of being normal, it’s something to be proud of.