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It’s a kind, kind world…..

February 2nd, 2013 Posted by News No Comment yet

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.

Escape to Brilliance

January 29th, 2013 Posted by News No Comment yet

I’m often asked the same question by people…“Why are you so motivated, focused and driven to be so successful and want to be the best?”

And I normally just give them the bog standard response:

“I just want to win or break records.”

However the truth is a very different story….

My life has, how can I put this, been very colourful! And when I thought about writing this I knew some people will be amazed or even inspired and some people may decide not to like me. But I’m going to be totally honest. This is no sob story or me feeling sorry for myself. This is what drives me everyday of my life. I want to do things few others ever will in their lives, like row across the Atlantic Ocean and attempt the fastest crossing record and break other world endurance records. I will continue to do these things after I’ve completed my goal of winning my place at the Ironman World Championships at Kona in the next few years.

I believe in life that there is a defining moment that can be an awakening of the spirit or a moment of truth that can change the rest of your life forever. It could be the death of a loved one or having a life threatening illness or some other major incident in childhood like being extremely poor. These things have the potential to change the course of your life forever. I’ve found over the years from the many books I have read that people who achieve exceptional things in life normally have these types of things in common. And these things can drive them to do extraordinary things.

So my moment. Was it a death? Yes it was, but that happened a few years down the line from my initial,life-changing incident.

It was just another normal day for me on Wednesday 7th September 2004 at 9.18am on a South London back street just sitting in the drivers’ seat of a car. I never even saw it coming. Well, in hindsight I did see it coming when I look back. At the time I thought I was totally untouchable and damn good at what I was doing. But at that moment I found myself staring down the barrel of 20 Heckler and Koch machine guns being pointed at every part of my body. They were being wielded by the serious and organised crime agency. This was my life as an armed robber. I was labeled by the Metropolitan Police and National Press as one of the most prolific and dangerous armed criminals in the UK. This is not something of which I am proud of today. I will not make excuses for my actions. I chose my path in life and made every decision that lead me to being in that position on the morning I got arrested. I was totally responsible.

From an early age I grew up around organised crime and criminals were my role models in life. Money, fast cars, big houses, boats. Basically cash was never a problem in my life. The people I admired did what they wanted, when they wanted and I thought “Why am I going to be just a regular guy, working 24/7, 365 days a year and have nothing to show for it?” Why would I want to pay tax and be screwed by the government every day of the week? So I left school at 15 and started hanging around with much older criminals and doing small jobs for them. Slowly I moved up the ladder of crime as I gained their trust. I was first arrested at 18 for 9 armed robberies on security vans and was found not guilty at the old bailey. Needless to say the police were not happy with my escape from justice.

So, back to me being caught and arrested and charged. I was initially remanded into custody and went off to prison to await my trial. But because I was considered such a high risk of escaping due to all my contacts in the criminal world, I was put in the most high security
special unit in Britain – Belmarsh. I walked into this unit and my wing was like a submarine. It was very small, with no natural light and I was faced with 7 other men to live with for the next two years. They included London suicide bombers, an Islamic bomb maker and a contract killer – just your normal next door neighbours 🙂

I had to wait two full years before my court case finally arrived however I had no chance of being found not guilty this time. Everyday it was like a scene out of a movie with armed police and helicopters escorting me to court to prevent people helping me to escape. The jury were in around the clock armed protection to prevent me tampering with them. So the obvious happened and I was found guilty and sentenced to a long time in prison. They got me.

I worked it out in my head whilst standing in the dock, as the judge sentenced me, that it would take me 8 years to get out. That was goodbye to my 20s – game over, lights out. I was thinking of every way I could escape, trying to get messages out of the prison to my friends but the authorities made this impossible. And the reality then sunk in and I knew I was in it for the long haul.

Over the years I moved from one high security prison to another, just wasting the years and wishing my life away so I could get out and flee aboard. I wanted to continue my life of crime in mainland Europe.

Then on November 14th 2009 I had news my best and only friend in this world, who I trusted with my life, had died carrying out a robbery in Holland. He was trying to steal 200,000 Euros. The tyre on his car blew out as he was escaping and he crashed on the motorway. To this day I cannot describe what happened to me that night sitting in that jail cell. Something just hit me and a light switched on in my head. I looked around at those 4 walls of my cell and thought what have I done with my life? I’ve not achieved anything. I had cash, nice cars, expensive watches and wild parties but what had I achieved that was meaningful? Absolutely nothing and I had spent my whole 20s rotting in a cage being locked up for 23 hours a day. If I had been in that car with my friend and died that night in Holland what would I be remembered for? What legacy would I leave behind? I had done nothing positive with my life. For the first time in my whole adult life I saw what a fool I had been for all those years. I had got caught up in this shit, nasty, negative world of crime. I made a promise to myself that night that I was going to turn my life around and start achieving, being a winner and being successful. The drive I felt is something I cannot describe in words.

But I was lost. I was in prison but wanted to achieve. I’m not academic as my tweeter followers can probably tell! So what can I do? Then one day in the prison gym I saw a guy rowing a million meters over a few months on the rowing machine and thought “I could do that!”. So off I went. Now you can call it fate or even destiny but I found I was not just “okay” at using an ERG, I was actually exceptionally good. One of the prison officers who worked in the gym – Darren Davis – checked on the computer for some of the Concept2 rowing records and came back and printed them off for me to take back to my cell. I sat there and thought “I can almost break some of these records now!” So off I went and trained and trained but the prison authorities were very skeptical. Could this inmate really break 10 year old records by rowers or other endurance athletes? However, to be fair and I will always be grateful, they gave me the chance and let me attempt one of the records. And I absolutely smashed it to bits and even the governor of the prison was shocked and amazed. Then I carried on until I held nearly every British record on the books. Doing that gave me the confidence that I had the ability and showed me I had a gift at something in life. I then knew that my body was going to my tool to break free of the chains of prison and give me the success I wanted.

I finally got transferred to an open prison in 2011 and was allowed to come out during the day to work in a gym. I also joined a local rowing club where I would go on my Sundays out of prison. I wanted to use all my free time productively so I spent that whole day learning to row on water with current GB squad rower, Laura Wheeler. She taught me how to row on the water as she had seen me on the rowing machine in the gym and thought I was fast.

Then I finally got released from prison after nearly 8 years and walked straight into a high performance rowing club for light weight men based in London. I was training alongside Olympic athletes on a daily basis. I never told a person at the club about my past other than the head coach who was a hard Australian task master but he was fine with it and gave me a chance as he could see how hard I worked.

I will cut this short now as I could fill a book with the things I saw and experienced over those years. I remember not seeing the sky with my eyes for years because of all the anti helicopter wire on the exercise yard and I will never forget the many different characters I met along the way. I just want whoever is reading this to know that in life anything is possible. I broke world records that had stood for up to 10 years in some cases and had no sports nutrition whatsoever. I just made my own drinks out of sugar and salt mixed with water. I had no heart rate monitors or compression clothes but what I did have was determination, an iron will and a drive to succeed and to be the best and start winning.

I ran my first 100k ultra marathon while I was still in prison on my first home leave with no proper running training. Only 36 finished out of 200. Again this was all down to the belief I had in myself. It’s all in the mind – if you believe it you can achieve it. That’s why I know with total confidence everything I say I will achieve I will as I won’t stop until I do. You can do anything if you want it that bad.

I’m even sponsored by SERCO – a company who run private prisons. And through that sponsorship I am hoping to give talks to young offenders and show them there are other paths you can travel down in life. That’s also another reason I’m so determined to achieve. To continue to prove that if I can do these things from the person I was ten years ago, driving around wearing a bullet proof vest and robbing cash in transit vans, then anyone can. The only person who ever puts limitations on you is yourself – think big, go big, achieve big.

Like I’ve said before the next couple of years are all about Ironman and achieving the goals I’ve set for myself and nothing will stop me. I will be at those World Championships as an age group winner and I will do it without a doubt. Then in 2018 the biggest challenge awaits with me and 3 other men from the London rowing club who are all international rowers. We are attempting to break the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a 4 man crew. Obviously the banter is great between us already as they know my past. This expedition is a very expensive thing to do so when I suggested I had a plan to get the money their faces were a picture :-). I won’t go on any more as I’m sure you’ve had enough of reading!

So thanks for taking the time to read my story and let’s just leave it like this….

“If I can do it so can you.”

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