Incredible highs... and crushing lows
Sport has always been a big part of my life. Since the age of 8 I have competed at a national level in swimming and cross-country running. However, it it wasn't until my late teens that I discovered triathlon, and I was immediately hooked. The draw of a sport that was one of the most physically and mentally demanding out there really appealed to me, and I knew I would excel. I progressed quickly from novice to elite, and was privileged to represent Wales in the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Following this I moved up to longer distance racing and have achieved a number of top 10 finishes in Ironman 70.3 distance pro races.
Back in July 2019, I won the Snowman Triathlon (Round 4 of the Welsh Super Series). I delivered one of my best ever performances and was in the shape of my life. The Snowman Triathlon is widely regarded as one of the toughest races in the UK, so I knew it would take me some time to recover. Post race, I started to think ahead to 2020, with lofty ambitions of qualifying for the Ironman World Champs in Kona and the Ironman 70.3 World Champs. I felt these goals were realistic and achievable. Little did I know that this would be my last race for over 18 months, and my world would suddenly come crushing down...
A week went by after the race, and I was still very tired... okay that's pretty normal I thought. 2 weeks... still no change, I was starting to worry. A month... I wasn't recovering. After numerous tests I was diagnosed with active Epstein Barr Virus, which later developed in to Glandular Fever. As it turned out, glandular fever (as horrible as this was!) was actually the calm before the storm.
In January 2020 I was struck down by another virus whilst on a training camp in Portugal, and was close to being hospitalised. Then in mid March I caught Covid-19. Initial infection onset was very mild, but for many weeks I always had a level of underlying fatigue. At 3 months it was clear I was suffering from 'Long Covid' and my condition began to deteriorate rapidly. At my lowest point I could barely walk up the stairs or look after myself. I could have accepted multiple diagnoses at this point including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and 'exercise intolerance' (a lifelong medical condition), which would hold long term implications and lead along a predetermined path. But I did not want a diagnosis, I did not want anyone else putting limits on what I could do or what I could achieve. Ultimately, my belief was that I knew my body better than anyone else.
Things began to change for me when I started to ask the right questions - What can I do to get better? What aspects of my life do I still have some control over? What is my starting point? How can I draw on all my knowledge and experience in my life so far to overcome this? How can apply the psychology I have learnt to myself? How can I change my mindset and mentality? How can I stay hopeful and positive?
I took a holistic approach to understanding and evaluating my health - accepting where I was at physically and mentally, and engaging in psychological and spiritual practices that would reduce symptoms and enable me to 'feel' better. I had to redefine who I was, what I could do and due to my limited reserves of energy, I had to prioritise what was most important at that time - my health.
I was able to apply the psychological processes that had lead me to the top in triathlon to this new version of myself and drew on the skills, knowledge and experience I had gained from my 10+ years experience of work across various mental health settings (including 3 years as an Assistant Clinical Psychologist) and undergraduate (BSc Psychology) and post graduate qualifications (MRes Clinical Psychology and current MSc Sport Psychology).
I am still not fully recovered, but once I transformed my mindset and effectively applied psychology to myself, my condition dramatically improved. But from October to January 2020 my symptoms massively reduced and was able to enjoy a significant number of weeks fatigue and symptom free. I am confident I will get back to my previous levels of performance in training and racing. Back in the summer of 2020 this would have been viewed as impossible.
As a result of my experiences I am more passionate than ever about wellbeing, helping others to explore their own limits and enabling others to develop and apply the skills I have learnt in order to perform to and reach their true potential.