The roars of the crowds in the stadium seemed a distant whisper as the words echoed in my head;
“We’re returning your classification to S10, SB9, SM10”.
My legs started to shake as I fought back the tears and signed the confirmation paper.
I took one look at my coach sat a few rows up and shook my head. He knew. I knew he knew.
I turned around and saw my mum in the stands, she seemed so far away but she could feel my heart breaking. She knew. I knew she knew.
My body walked back to my team but my mind lingered elsewhere and didn’t return.
My teammates knew. I knew they knew.
I grabbed my iPod and sat down, slowly lowering my head into my hands as I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore.
That was it. It was over. Everything I had worked for. No. Everything I had fought for.
Three years of fighting and it had been taken away from me in three days. The future of my swimming career depended on this moment and whilst earlier it had seemed firmly in my grasp, in my control, I was now hanging on to it by a thread. A thread that was about to break.
Three years I battled as a S10 to make GBR teams. Three years I journeyed to medical specialists because they had requested new medical evidence. Three years I had been challenging my classification. Three years I fought for this medical review.
And in three days it was gone.
Three years, and for what?
That was it. It was over. My dream of Rio gone. Ripped away from me in the space of a few seconds.
The decision to have surgery in December was one of the hardest decisions I had to make and suddenly I realised I was face with an even harder one. A decision I didn’t want to make. A decision that had been at the back of my mind for months. A decision that would rip away the biggest part of my life. A decision that could break me.
The decision to quit swimming.
I tried to avoid it when I returned to Manchester. I got back in the pool and tried to return to normal even though my coach knew I was looking at cycling. He knew that as as an athlete my goal was to compete at a Paralympic Games and after a rough season I think we both knew which road I was contemplating.
But this wasn’t meant to happen. The surgeon had told me the damage to my shoulder was more severe than we first thought and I wouldn’t swim much longer but I wasn’t meant to reach this crossroads so soon. I was meant to swim at Rio and choose a new direction afterwards.
This wasn’t meant to be. My journey was meant to last a bit longer. There had been only one final short stretch of road left with Rio gleaming in the distance. But that had changed.
I was once faced with a short and bumpy road but I was now quaking in the shadow of a huge, rocky, and unstable mountain. The rain clouds began at the bottom and covered it entirely but there was a faint glimpse of Rio at the summit. And the thunder came pounding inside my head. And the lightening struck my heart in two. The rain was pouring harder than ever before drowning me in my own emotions. I had lost my umbrella and the earth was shaking beneath my feet, about to crack open and swallow me whole, ready to take me back to the bottom, the bottom of the pit where that demon lived. The pit I had worked so hard to claw my way out of. The ground was so unstable and the decision was breaking every bone in my body and I couldn’t move forward. It was crushing my lungs and I could no longer breathe. The demon was lurking in the background, waiting to pounce and drag me to the pit where it used to have a hold over me. And it was going to be following me every step of the way. Watching. Waiting for me to fall.
One decision. And I was going to need my umbrella more than ever.
I might not be able to swim up that mountain, but I might be able to climb it on my bike.