To say the 2 year run up to the home games was difficult is an understatement. Shortly after Malaga 2017 I went into Atrial Fibrillation (AF). AF is an irregular heart rhythm which limits what I can physically do and is something I suffered from pre-transplant as a result of renal hypertension. I had been AF free for many years post-transplant and the recurrence came as a surprise. The treatment for this, in my case, was cardioversion which is a procedure where the heart is shocked back into normal rhythm. I was going back into AF every 3-4 months and every occurrence would mean a pause or slowdown in training for 3-4 weeks whilst I recovered. There was also the thought in the back of my mind that high intensity training might be increasing the risk of AF which added extra stress, although this could not be proven. A further procedure (ablation) in February of this year was carried out to try and provide a more permanent solution. This impacted training for at least 3-4 months where my focus was on reducing intensity and merely maintaining fitness levels, and there were also two further episodes of AF! Not ideal.
So approaching the World Transplant Games in Newcastle this year I had to seriously re-evaluate my goals – podium finishes in the time trial and road race were to my mind unrealistic so my main goal was to be fit enough to do my bit in the team time trial. Not only did I have to change my aspirations I also had to change my mental approach to competing. In fact this was refreshing – I decided I would approach competing with gratitude. Grateful to be on the start line in the knowledge I would give my best as that is all I could expect from myself, and to do this for my family who have not only had to put up with my training schedule but also endure regular setbacks with my health. This change in mindset proved to be amazing – I had no nerves at all, just excitement at the opportunity to compete.
My first event was the time trial. I gave it everything I had, racing on feel and perceived effort. I came in 4th in my age group when 6 months ago I wouldn’t have expected a top 10 finish. I was elated and the gap between 4th and bronze was just big enough for me to have no regrets. I also finished ahead of a number of very talented and strong competitors and to me that was as significant as winning a medal. The Team Time Trial, in the mixed category, with Rich Smith and Ottilie Quince was my number one goal. Two years ago we finished as the leading mixed team and 5th out of 21 teams. However there was no separate competition for a mixed team and Newcastle Gateshead was our opportunity for redemption. We smashed it riding a perfectly paced TTT winning gold in our category with a time that would have won bronze in the men’s competition. I loved it riding with two great friends, and the feeling of having a gold medal put round my neck, being a world champion in front of my three girls, is something I will never forget.
My third day of competition was basketball. An opportunity to yet again come out of retirement for the sport I played for 20 years pre-transplant. A punishing day playing a total of 5 games saw the GB team lose by just 2 points to the USA in the final.
No regrets – we played our hearts out in a final that could have gone either way. Again I loved the whole thing and many of my friends in the cycling team were there to support us alongside friends and family – I hope we gave them great entertainment if not quite the gold.
For me the Newcastle Gateshead games were outstanding – the venues organisation, spirit and level of completion, and amazing volunteers. The amazing power of organ donation and the joy it brings always blows me away - it has certainly given me a lot to think about and what my goals are for the next few years. The comradery within the GB cycling team was also very special. Lots of old friends and many new ones made, a truly fantastic team whose own successes, battles and spirit gave me immense joy. I would to thank Rich for being a great coach over the last two difficult years, friends who have guided me through bouts of illness in a professional and personal capacity, my wife and kids for putting up with everything (I hope it was worth it) and my brother in law and living donor Darren for his priceless gift. So will I be at the games in Houston? I’m not sure yet. There are many things to consider not least finances, time and motivation. However it goes without saying I will carry on pedalling and keeping in touch with the many wonderful people I have met through the World Transplant Games.