When considering what I should write about in my next blog it was difficult. The response from everyone to my last one was incredible and I can’t quite figure out how to surpass my story so far. (and I really mean “response” as this is a far cry from a “reaction” – to explain what I mean click here to read an explanation by my performance coach.) But I suppose a blog is about logging my ongoing progress and my thoughts and feelings so here goes….
Because the feedback from the last blog was so positive I thought it only right I offer my thoughts on this. I was amazed at how my story about going from hardened criminal to present day athlete really struck a chord with people.
When I wrote my last blog and published it no one really knew in the rowing world about my past. The only person I had confided in was the head coach at my rowing club and telling him felt like a big risk.
When I came out of prison I didn’t want anyone to know about my past. I think most people, like me, consider rowing an elitist sport that only those from Oxford, Eton or Cambridge can take part in and I really did not think I would fit in or be accepted.
I literally walked out of prison on a Friday morning after 8 years and on the Saturday morning I was rowing on the Thames with one of the most prestigious rowing clubs in the UK. London rowing club had world champions, Olympians and men who had won Royal Henley regatta.
Did I feel out of place? The answer is yes!
Anyone who knows me will say I’m a very confident person and have total belief in myself but it did concern me as I had no University education or a job working in the city. I was also worried anyone could google my name and easily find out about my past. This was a real risk as I was the new guy, who no one had heard of before but was very good on a Ergo (rowing machine) The fact that I held British and World records would also raise curiosity.
Obviously like any sport you always get people who over sell their own abilities and basically bullshit with how fast they are so people looking on the internet to see if I had these records and stumbling over my past from newspaper articles was a real danger.
When I came out of prison rowing was a god send and I thought it was a sport that would give me the success I so badly craved in this life. I never realised how social the rowing world is – you literally spend your lives together on the water starting at 5.30am and then train again in the afternoon. You spend vast amounts of your time with the squad and when I came out of prison it gave me new friends over night. I literally had about two real friends who weren’t criminals so rowing completely changed my social circle and I was mixing with high achievers in life who had positive focus and were incredibly driven.
So I completely submerged myself into this new world of rowing and I loved training alongside guys who were World Champs and ex Olympians – it was like a dream after where I had been for all those years. They inspired me and showed me what it takes to reach the top in sport and I probably drove nearly everyone crazy asking question after question – “How can I get better” was my favourite one 🙂
I was so determined to be the best and I knew I had the physiology. My ergo test results put me well under what was expected to make the grade for the GB rowing squad for a light weight man. I thought with my power and work ethic I would make it but I soon realised it meant nothing as rowing is an unbelievably technical sport. The problem is if you can’t put that power down into the water, in the correct manner you have no chance of winning jack shit.
My biggest disadvantage was I came into the sport at a late age for obvious reasons and my lack of water time showed. People who you see rowing at the Olympics have probably been in a boat since they were 12 years old and to close that gap in 12 months was nigh on impossible.
But I was desperate to be successful in life after leaving prison. I had to make a hard decision – was I going to take the gamble with rowing and stick it out and pray I could develop the skills I needed to win Henley and go for the GB trails? But I was 30 years old and the reality was I had probably 6 years left where I could be highly competitive and hopefully beat the best. For me that’s what its all about – I’m not into doing stuff in life for the experience. To me an experience is watching a show in the west end or going to a new country on holiday. I want success and success to me is winning and achieving.
So I had to make the very hard decision to choose a sport I was solely in control over – this was my destiny and it needed to be completely on me.
I learned how to train myself in prison by reading books and all the success I had there breaking records was by doing it on my own. So I knew I needed to travel that path again and I didn’t want a team or coach to help me get the success I want. This is not a reflection on rowing as a sport or people involved – this was about understanding myself and moving on.
Ironman was always on my radar ever since I saw it one Sunday morning on TV whilst in prison. I thought I’m doing that one day but just never expected it would have been so soon in my life. But it’s the perfect race for me as it’s a solo endurance event and a good racing competition.
So that’s how I’m here today looking at Ironman and the circus of Kona. My drive to want success in my life is from years of being a loser and rotting in a jail cell – that’s why I left rowing – I need to know I can compete and succeed and I believe Ironman gives me the best shot. I just wish I found rowing earlier as a kid as you never know I could have gone to the Olympics. But I went down another path in life and there’s no point looking back.
The response since my last blog went live was amazing both in the rowing world and from the general public. I’ve had messages from people starting up in the sport saying I’ve shown them that they can make despite it their background or circumstances. I’ve had World and Olympic champions saying I’ve inspired them and the humbling response most of all was from my squad and crew mates at London rowing club. The positive support has been unbelievable and all the pre conceptions I had about rowing have been wrong. I now know from experience that I’m more welcome now than I was when I joined that day out of prison. These men are not just great athletes but great people.
I’d also like to say a big thanks to Serco and Craft who have stood by me as sponsors since my story has gone public – they have shown great belief in me as an athlete and a person. I will be forever grateful and never forget their support.
The biggest honour was being asked to help inspire kids who are slowly going down the wrong path in life by telling them about my story. In a funny sort of way this has motivated me even more to be successful as I believe the more I achieve now the more powerful my story becomes for these kids. Hopefully it will show them what you can achieve in life from a young age rather than choosing crime and having your life potentially ruined. Changing peoples lives will be the biggest achievement I will ever do with my life and I believe I can do this by achieving and being successful.
So will I win my age group to qualify for Ironman World Champs? I feel with my two year plan then it’s a certainty. No doubt. It’s a done deal. I just need to go through the process of doing the training and the outcome is a foregone conclusion. It’s going to be hard but I would have it no other way – the harder the better! Some may say this is arrogance but my view is you have to have absolute belief in yourself to achieve anything.
So all my worrying about letting people know about my past was unnecessary. In fact it’s been the most positive step I’ve ever taken in my life and it’s given me even more determination to succeed and to prove to others anything is possible. No matter what your background is or what other people tell you, if you want – it go get it! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t or you’re not capable of achieving your dreams. I was told everyday by the governor in the Belmarsh high security unit that I would never amount to anything in life and that I was a career criminal. At that time he was probably right. But people can change. And that change can be hugely positive. I will prove that when I’m standing on the start line at Kona or rowing across the Atlantic Ocean breaking the world record.
Turn your dreams into reality. If I can do it so can anyone reading this blog. I’m no different to you at all.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.