I first got involved in paratriathlon after becoming an amputee in October 2011. I had an accident in February 2003 while learning to snowboard in France and sustained a spiral fracture in my right lower leg (fibula and tibia). It’s a very long story but after 8 years and over 40 operations, including 6 years of wearing an external frame that was drilled through the bone that it was decided by myself and my consultant that the bone would not heal and I went for the amputation. I went into hospital for the amputation in my foundation Science year at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU), in 2011 and I couldn’t have asked for more support from CCCU and my lecturers.
I spent two months in hospital, mainly due to post operation blisters on the stump so couldn’t be casted for a socket for my first leg till nearly 6 weeks post operation, sometimes this can be done a couple of weeks after. Everything healed well though, the week I left hospital I returned to university although I think I was only there for a week before Christmas break. Everything progressed quickly from that point on and by January 2012 I was swimming and cycling regularly, I had also started jogging very gently and over very short distances on an everyday walking leg. I entered my first Paratriathlon 7 months after the amputation (sprint distance being the Paralympic distance 750 meters swim, 20 kilometres cycle and 5 kilometres run), it was the British Championships and was surprised to come 3rd , as the goal was just to complete at that time not compete as such. I was very new to being an amputee and to triathlon so I had no plans to try and make the GB team at that time but I did compete at another Paratriathlon, Strathclyde International, at the end of the year, coming 2nd.
Over the winter leading to the next season I learnt the ongoing issues with trying to do endurance sport on a prosthetic, I was forever losing skin from the socket rubbing. After amputation the stump keeps shrinking down in volume for up to two years so sockets need to be continually remade and over a lifetime shape also changes. It was a very steep learning curve as there is very little advice out there for amputees doing triathlon! It was also hard juggling university with dyslexia and memory problems. I was having to put a lot of extra time into study and assignments, travel (as I don’t have a car) and training. To try and get training sessions in, I had started to get up at 04:30 am for runs and sessions on the turbo trainer but found that I just couldn’t concentrate in the first lectures. I did persevere but it just wasn’t working – study and training was suffering.
I tried out for the GB team at the start of 2013 but was heavily blistered on my stump and the run part of my try-out really let me down. I didn’t make the team at that point. After a very successful British Paraduathlon (Run 5 kilometres, cycle 20 kilometres, run 2.5 kilometres) Championships (where I came 2nd) and a month later my first International, ITU Besancon (coming in 4th place), I got selected to represent GB at the European Paratriathlon Championships in Turkey. The Europeans was a real test physically and mentally and also a big learning experience. I didn’t have a great swim but when I got out on the bike section, I was taking lots of places back and moving through the field. Unfortunately, I had a big crash on a high speed sweeping corner that had got slippery where the tarmac had gotten so hot it was melting. I limped round and finished the race, later finding out that the impact had broken the femur, lessoned learned, sometimes it’s better to pull out and save your body, there will always be another race! I spent most of 2013 out of action but did race once at the end of the year in a normal sprint triathlon and came 3rd overall, only losing out on 2nd because of the time it takes to get in and out of legs in transitions between disciplines.
2014 started well coming 2nd again at the British paraduathlon champs, also a lot closer to first this time round, even with socket problems and being selected for the lottery funded GB World Class Paratriathlon squad. It felt like a massive breakthrough and to have a bit more financial support would be invaluable as at the top level it becomes very expensive! This year was also the first year we would be racing under new categories, rather than the previous moderate below knee injury. Now it was moderate limb impairments (joining moderate arm and leg impairments together). It was brilliant racing internationally for GB but I was now struggling to make the top 10 in the races but was just off the pace and not really matching up to the arm impairment guys. On the world rankings I ended the year 46th out of 98, so lots of work to do but being relatively new to the sport, I knew there was a lot more to come. I had improved but just not enough with the goal posts being moved. This did mean though, in the review for the World Class Paratriathlon squad at the end of the year, I did not get selected for the team for 2015 as this time round there was only two places and in the new categories. I was 5th on the list. It wasn’t completely unexpected and sometimes you need to look where you have come from, not just where you want to be. The award of the CCCU Sport Scholarship was greatly appreciated as it is a very expensive sport at this level and even more so as a Para-athlete. It helped by paying for some physio, as I had problems with a shoulder injury after falling in my kitchen when my leg came off, and also bike servicing/parts. I wouldn’t be able to take part in this sport without the support so it means a lot!
I work closely with my prosthetist and the company that supply my equipment and for the first winter I had no skin loss and only one month off with bursitis. It is pretty good for me to only need to take one month off training. It looked to be going so well over the winter into January and the first GB training camp of 2015 went really well, training for 3 days with brilliant athletes, coaches and motivation was high. When I got home though I had problems walking and have had injury problems all year, with returning bursitis in my knee from bike sessions and the socket rubbing. I am still not running due to the ongoing foot problem that seems to be bone breakdown but I have a great consultant looking after me so know we will get me back up and running again (I think I’ve had every scan on it know to human kind!). This year I will most likely just be doing cycling and swim events and hopefully make big improvements in them disciplines while I am getting my foot sorted out. I am still part of the GB team, so know there is still confidence in me looking beyond the 2016 Paralympics to 2020 when, with a little luck and continued improvement, I will be in a better place. There will be lots of highs and lows between now and then so you need to just enjoy the journey as the result is sometimes out of your hands.