The pain and discomfort from training hard is something I am used to. I have done it for decades. But what I dealing with now is nothing like I have ever experienced. This is something very “new” and I am sure it is because I am very “old” – for an athlete at least.
Last year I trained without injury throughout the entire winter. This year, the opposite is true. I have had so many strange injuries that come out of nowhere, seemingly. They rear their ugly head, often without any warning. I feel like I am being attacked by my own body from my Achilles, my calves, my knees, lower back, ribs, to my neck. As soon as I recover from one injury another one pops ups, unannounced, unappreciated and definitely unwanted.
I knew the journey I have under taken to make the 2012 Olympic Trials – and maybe more – at age 50 was going to be an uphill battle. But the hill has become so steep now it now it feels like I am scaling a cliff.
Some mornings I wake up and I can hardly move. Just laying motionless in bed, not moving a muscle, my body is throbbing in pain. The best way I can describe the feeling is it is like I have been run over by a truck and beaten senseless with a baseball bat – Ouch!
I have been to the doctor’s office and hospital so many times this past year. I am getting flashbacks to when I was six years old and first diagnosed with spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
As bad as the physical pain is, it is something I can handle and embrace. It is the physiological battle that is going to be the most challenging. My body knows its age and is screaming at me to slow down, to stop. The pain has become so bad some days it is scary. I am becoming afraid. I am training hard and being very carefully but there is always a risk of injury but now I am concerned about the type of injury that could happen: snapping a tendon, rupturing a disc, breaking a bone.
In addition to the physical age related issues of my training, I am finding myself facing a range of age related physical issues not linked to my training. In the last year I have completely changed my diet because of weight and cholesterol issues. I have had to stop drinking coffee, tea and I can’t eat chocolate or anything with caffeine in it due to heart palpitations. And it looks like my last vice – alcohol – will soon be on the chopping block.
I feel like I am becoming a hypochondriac.
I am constantly asking myself questions:
Am I going to wake up one day and not be able to move? Am I am going to have a heart attack and drop dead at the track? Will I have a stroke at the gym and be crushed by some weight I am lifting? Will I pass out in the pool while swimming and drown?
Whether I am a hypochondriac or just being morbid, one thing is for certain: I am acutely aware, both physically and mentally, of my age. I know my limitations but that is not going to stop me pushing. And I know my ever growing list of restrictions but I am constantly finding ways to work around them.
As I embrace my pain I must also face my fear. Whether it is the fear of some life changing or ending injury that could happen, or whether it will be some illness that will end my career once and for all. They are indeed possibilities. Interestingly, the one thing I am not afraid of is if I “fail” and don’t make it to 2012. I have come to terms with that being a possibility. But that is not going to stop me trying as long as I am able.
My journey towards 2012 has heightened what we all must face as we age: Our mortality.
As we grow older we often talk about what used to be and how things were. My journey is about actually doing it: Everything I do in my training is quantifiable. I can easily compare myself to where I was 10, 20, 30 years ago. Whether it was a weight I lifted, a distance I ran or a bounding test I did they are all measurable and therefore comparable. I can see where I am now and where I was in the past and see how fit and athletic I used to be compared to now. I can also compare myself to my much, much younger competitors now – Yikes!
So as I continue training towards 2012 I will be careful and listen to my body, and I will embrace the pain and I will face my fears. But I am also going to savour the journey I am on hoping I can make it all the way to the end.
But first I need to take a nap before my doctor’s appointment.
Roald Bradstock represented Britain in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and in 1996 was an alternate for United States Olympic team. Bradstock competed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 United States Olympic Trials. He has now switched his allegiance back to Britain and hopes to compete in the trials for London 2012. In addition to being an Olympic athlete, Bradstock is also an Olympic artist dubbed “The Olympic Picasso”