It starts when I was eleven. That was when I began kayaking. I joined Elmbridge CC with one of my best friends. I’m a real water baby and I fell in love with the sport instantly.
Elmbridge is a real racing club and they throw you into the deep end pretty quickly. I started racing and making slow but steady progress. It emerged that my strength was my stamina and my ability to keep going forever, albeit not that fast. Then at 13 I fell ill. It was serious, and my family and I were pretty naive about the recovery process. Part of what drove my recovery was my desire to kayak, and after one year I was back training.
Our club runs a handicap system based on 3k and 10k time trials. You start on 60 as someone who has never been on a boat before. 20 is when you join the ‘fast’ group and 8 is entry level international women standard. As an U16 I reached handicap 13 and was selected as part of a junior development team for my first race abroad. I was on top of the world.
Then in my first year of Sixth Form I had what started as a swollen forearm. No big deal right? It turned into a full year of agonising back, shoulder, elbow and neck pain whenever I tried to kayak. If I sorted out one pain, another would start somewhere else. At it’s worst I would paddle for 10 minutes on the canal until the pain became so bad I had to stop, stretch and then attempt another 5-10 minutes.
I dreamt of being able to join in a club training session, and paddle for an hour without pain. I bought a road bike and channeled everything into cycling. After months of frustration, I had a physio, chiropractor and excercise plan that made sense and seemed to be working. By the time I left for uni I had battled my way back to a handicap 13, but I was now 18 years old.
The injury process, combined with a crushing lack of confidence at school led to the worst two years of my life. I don’t think anyone besides my dad really knew how much I was suffering mentally. I left for uni determined to become a new person (although tbh who doesn’t?). It didn’t quite work like that.
My whole mindset was still dominated by racing, and not only was I in a new location, training at a new kayak club, but my whole support system (my dad) was no longer there. I didn’t get any faster in 2015, but by the end of the year I was more confident.
Thanks to the very relaxed attitude of the Exeter paddlers, I remembered that my love for the sport didn’t start with racing but with being on the water. I became happier, I gained weight and looked healthier, and I got faster. In 2017 I dropped 4 handicap points, after three years of remaining the same speed,
I was the happiest and most confident I had ever been. I was winning races and getting selected for low level internationals. I was training consistently twice a day, except on the weekends. In 2018 I didn’t make much progress on the international stage, but I did become U23 National Champion.
By the end of 2018 what mattered most to me was no longer the race result, but whether I was enjoying the training process. I am proud of the change in my mindset, and in how much my confidence has grown. I no longer recognise the mouse who left school in 2015.
This is an extremely brief overview of a decade of kayaking, but hopefully it gives some understanding of what has shaped my attitude to sport (and life in general) and my determination to achieve my goals.
If anyone is struggling with injury right now, there is an end I promise. And it will end with you once more finding yourself and regaining your confidence, whether you are back doing your sport or not. What matters most of all is your happiness.