Having felt rather pleased with myself and very lucky about being robust and almost the 'last man standing' as the other lightweight women almost seemed to take turns in taking a few days/ weeks off with injury, the inevitable happened - I got injured. Looking back I had it coming. I started with a dull, niggling pain in my back on arriving in Munich but having been reassured by the physio that it was nothing to worry about I did just that and didn't worry about it.
After a fun 24hr experience on diclofenic (how was I to know it could cause water retention and a resultant massive weight gain in a few short hours... not exactly ideal for a lightweight rower!) I resorted to ipubrofen to ignore the persistant - but shallow - pain. Having shortened our initial paddle due to my 'niggle', I prayed it wouldn't affect my racing ability. Luckily, I felt nothing in the pre-paddle (drugs are amazing things!) and racing went as planned with no significant impediment to my sculling. In fact, I'd go as far to say that I didn't notice it when racing. Kinda busy focussing on other stuff! Anyway, we got through the weekend successfully, registering the highest ever position for a GB WLwt2x second boat in the process (4th), and I went home happy, the beer helping along with the drugs no doubt!
It wasn't to last. 4km into my first session on day 2 the pain switched from niggling to intense. It was like someone flicked a switch in my ribcage - the pain in my chest and back was immense and like nothing I'd experienced before. We decided to stop - not something an athlete does easily. This time the physio looked more concerned, and so was I. He packed me straight off to the team doctor who instructed me to take 2 days out of the boat and off the erg. 2 days? Sure, I can handle that! Almost like a holiday!
That was 7 weeks ago. I haven't been back in a boat since. OK, I tell a small lie - I tried 2 wks ago. I didn't get far. After numerous different diagnoses, those in the know deemed that I had a rib stress fracture. Apparently this is good news. A rib stress fracture takes only 6 - 8 wks to heal (ONLY?!) and when it's fixed, it's fixed. It could have been far worse; cartilage issues, disc issues... the list is endless. It's been 7 weeks and it feels like an eternity. For someone who hasn't been out of a boat for more than a week in the past 2 yrs, 7 wks is a lifetime. Worse still, the only thing I have been allowed to do is get on a bike. No running, no swimming, no erging and definitely no weights. Seriously? I HATE cycling. Don't get me wrong, I can handle a 30min commute to work, but 100mins on a static bike in a gym? Are you kidding? I'd rather stand and squat at 30 reps per min for 60mins straight. (Which I did in the end, by the way).
If you ever want to punish an elite athlete tell them to 'rest'. Then tell them once they feel ok to breathe deeply without pain to get on a watt bike and not get off for 7 wks. I've not felt this bad about life since my Mum grounded me for the whole summer holiday in 1992. (And that was pretty bad - my sister was grounded as well and we shared a room. Brutal). However, the past few weeks have given me a lot of thinking time, and I've come to realise something fairly crucial - rowing is pretty important to me (no shit I hear you cry). Seriously though, when you do something day in, day out - and have done for 11yrs - you kinda take it for granted. You see it as something you have to do. You start to resent getting up at 5.30am to go and get in a boat. You start to wonder what it would be like to go to work having not already done more exercise than most people do in a week. When the truth of the matter is that this is what I choose to do. In fact, it goes further than that (and this is what kicked me hardest) - being a sculler defines me. It's who I am. It's what I like most about me.
Without sculling, I'm not the same person. Let's be realistic about this - my whole life would change. And at some point it will. And it's going to be really difficult - but nowhere near as difficult if I choose when to stop, rather than being forced through injury or failure to make a boat. Suddenly the importance of making the crew for the World Champs and winning the gold we all so desperately want - and are capable of achieving with the athletes we have - became incredibly clear to me. And when you're sat on a watt bike watching your team mates out on the water that's a really tough realisation! I'm desperate to get back in a boat. Not because I love sculling. Not because it's what I do. Because it's the most important thing to me at this point in time. Nothing has ever been this important to me. And that makes the next few weeks the most important in my life. I don't want to spend them sat on a watt bike...