I know what it feels like to have your whole life torn away from you, to go from being a top performing athlete to being unable to compete in a sport you love due to a life-changing illness. But I also know that there is the potential to live an amazing life after trauma and that’s what Class of Courage is all about.
This is my story…
Rugby Was Everything To Me
Ever since I was young my life revolved around my love of sport and like all young kids I had aspirations of ‘making it’. Rugby pitches were my sanctum, a place where I felt truly alive, switching from the introverted person I was in everyday life to someone determined and driven to reach the highest possible standards.
During my 20s my parents and friends would describe me as single-minded, selfish and driven – I’d add tenacious and resilient to that list. When I sustained a full rupture of my patella tendon and a broken tibia and fibula, the surgical advice to stop playing fell on deaf ears. My dream would always overrule logical thinking.
My Life-Changing Diagnosis
On Monday 21st March 2006 at precisely 8am my world turned upside down and, in that moment, my identity was shattered. The pain felt like someone had put my chest in a vice and was tightening it until all of the air was squeezed from my lungs. I was diagnosed with a potentially life threatening heart condition, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, and told I would never play rugby again.
When faced with this diagnosis I realised that placing such a strong emphasis on my athletic identity had made me pretty much one-dimensional as a person. My self-worth plummeted and I felt vulnerable, scared and alone as I stood looking at a future that was no longer planned and within my control. I felt I was no longer the confident, resilient and mentally tough sportsman I once knew; instead I constantly questioned the meaning behind my existence and who I had become in the eyes of others.
I was no longer making good life choices, leaving a long-term girlfriend whose mother had died of cancer around the time of my diagnosis to have a series of meaningless flings. That was the first time in my life that I felt shame, disappointment and hatred towards myself, but to break this destructive cycle would be an admission to myself and others that I was no longer ‘normal’, but a 26 year old with heart disease.
Turning My Life Around
The birth of my son Jerome at the end of 2006 was transformational, connecting me to my values and allowing me to realise that I am and always have been more than just ‘Ian the rugby player’. It was a liberating time in my life because I started to take responsibility for the choices that I made. I realised I could either wallow in self-pity or embrace the excitement that exists when you welcome the uncertainty of the future.
Many years later and my life has changed dramatically. I’ve undertaken extensive study, completing an MSc in Applied Sports and Exercise Psychology, gaining numerous qualifications in Personal Transformational Coaching and I’m also a professional member of the British Psychological Society. I’ve spent a number of years as a Human Performance Consultant working with sports teams and now, with Class of Courage, I’m supporting others whose lives have been turned upside down on their journey back to awesome.
I look forward to hearing your story when we meet in the near future.