Written by Jim Roberts
Edited by Andrew Thomson
Head in the Sand
So I have been back in the UK for just over a week now and today feels like the first day I have had the chance to stop and take a breath.
My time in Phoenix was both productive and very successful. The Ability360 Heat regained our National Championship trophy, after an extremely hard fought final game against Minnesota. As I mentioned in my previous blog Championships are never given, they have to be earned, and Minnesota really made us earn that win. With the score tied at the start of the fourth quarter it really could have gone either way but fortunately we came out on top.
I was also hugely honoured to be named MVP (most valuable player) for the tournament. Obviously, it is nice to be recognised for my contribution during a tournament, but in reality an MVP trophy is secondary to the team’s result. Wheelchair rugby is a team sport and it takes the entire team to win a match, tournament and the trophy. I had the privilege of being part of an extremely well drilled team who shared the same goal of winning a National Championship.
After landing it was straight back into the GB camp, looking to get some chemistry back and fine tune some lineups before the upcoming European Championships. Everyone was in good form and it was a pleasure to be back with GBWR. Everyone is in the same position as me, with the uncertainty hanging over us of what will happen after the funding cuts. However, despite the uncertainty, everyone was still giving their all to make the team as good as it can be.
So taking a breath… and reality really hits with a thump!
Scared, stupid, and stubborn are just some of the emotions that I’m feeling at the moment.
I know a lot of these feeling have been building up for a while but this is my attempt at getting some of them out in the open having had time to reflect on the impact of the funding decision.
The GB wheelchair rugby program is still searching for private funding so that we can continue to compete as a national team. Going to Phoenix was a way of ignoring the problem and the decisions that ultimately I am going to have to make, burying my head in the sand, so to speak.
Whilst I was in the States I was keeping an eye on what was going on back here in terms of funding decisions and options. I have been reading the news articles and keeping tracks on the funding targets and it has made me question myself a lot, question my life choices and the path I have decided to take. Whilst there is some genuine support for GBWR’s plight for more funding the general response seems very mixed.
I read one comment to a newspaper article that read, “About time we stopped funding these people’s hobbies”.
This comment made me question whether I am even really an athlete?
“Hobby – an activity or interest pursued for pleasure ore relaxation an not as a main occupation”.
I think when I started playing wheelchair rugby it was a hobby for me, as is surely the case for all athletes when they take up their chosen sport and embark on the journey to becoming a ‘full time athlete’ . However, I know it isn’t just a hobby now, I know I’m an athlete. I do not see the difference between myself and a professional football player (apart from the salary of course!). Wheelchair rugby at the moment is entirely my main focus, I’m consciously adapting my lifestyle for the single goal of becoming better at my sport. I train my endurance and strength, I work on developing my skill set, I watch game footage to improve my tactical awareness, I’m constantly trying to make good informed diet choices. I know how hard I work and nobody can take that away from me.
So is it the fact that the Olympics and Paralympics only come around every four years mean that they aren’t what the public perceive as “proper sports”? Football, cricket, rugby in the U.K. are all mainstream in the publics eyes, yet there are countless athletes all over the country, day in day out honing their craft, unfortunately we only get to hear about them in the media every four years. It’s a difficult thing to do, putting your life on a four year cycle. In sport, as we all know, there are no guarantees, one goal can mean the difference between heartbreak and jubilation. Even if you are one of the ones celebrating, it’s amazing how fast people move on we as people always crave what’s next…
Chuck Aoki, a USA wheelchair rugby player recently wrote a blog highlighting his difficulties after a Paralympic Games and I have posted the link below.
This blog resonated with me a lot and I was fortunate to be able to talk to Chuck about it during the USA National Campionships. It showed me, that as athletes, we share a lot of the same insecurities and concerns. I chose to pursue a career in wheelchair rugby, my friends and classmates are all getting on with their jobs and careers, I wonder if I have been left behind the curve of my contemporaries. I worry if choosing to build my life around a four year cycle was the right thing to do.
I wanted/want to represent my country at the Paralympic Games. I wanted/want to get a medal at one of the biggest sporting events in the world. I know these weren’t/aren’t just dreams and I set what I believed were/are achievable goals.
But I have a fear inside of me, did I make the right choice?