In preparation for my interview with Dame Sarah Storey, GB’s best ever Paralympic athlete, I thought I’d share an updated version of post I wrote last August in my other blog. You will gain insight into why I’m so excited about tomorrow’s interview. You will also see how past experiences have helped shape the steely confidence that I possess today – that strength, confidence and determination is what allows me to nurture and inspire other women into making strong confident decisions.
Original posted 14/08/2014
Last year I had a nasty cycling accident. I badly dislocated my shoulder, chipped a bone, and was in HUGE amounts of pain. It’s not something I recommend. My injury was an unusual dislocation, and there was a team gathered around me in A&E watching the consultant “put me back together”. My injury was so unusual (2% of all shoulder dislocations) that when you look it up on the website, most of them tell you “this type of dislocation is so rare, we won’t even both telling you about it”. I winced when Mark Cavendish fell in the closing stages of the Tour de France in Harrogate. After my accident, I was unable to type, drive, or sleep comfortably for weeks. I couldn’t bear anybody to come near me or touch me for the first two weeks, and was taking pain relief every day all day for about two months. (I’m the person who typically refuses to take a headache pill). So I was somewhat put out – perhaps unreasonably so – when I read that Mark will be back in racing action this week.
20 years ago … almost to the day, I had a much nastier racing accident. I had competed in an early morning time trial and then headed off to Eastway for a circuit race in the afternoon. My husband had gone out for a long ride with his mates – he didn’t really like racing at Eastway. Eastway was a racing circuit, closed to traffic, so it made for safe racing, both off-road (mountain biking, cyclo-cross), as well as time trials and road or circuit racing. The circuit was closed in 2006 to make way for the Olympic VeloPark. That afternoon, I had a nasty fall. A slight touch of wheels on an uphill round the back of the circuit – the guy in front of me slowed down more than I anticipated (yes men and women raced together) – and BANG! I was off … bounced a bit, so did the bike, and sadly landed on my head. When I came round, I was being lifted into the back of an ambulance. My first question “where’s my bike? is it ok?”. I was reassured that the bike was fine and that somebody would look after it for me. I passed out again. When I next came round I was on a trolley in a corridor in Homerton Hospital. I had no idea where I was or why I was there. To cut a long story short, I was severely concussed – my face was battered. I looked like somebody who had been given a severe beating, my face was so swollen, bloody and bruised. After several x-rays to check my skull, jaw, wrists, hips, pelvis, I was taken up to a ward. Each time a nurse popped their head round the curtain, you could see them visibly recoil when they saw me. I knew I was a mess. That’s why I always wear a cycling helmet. It took many weeks and months to fully recover from the head injury. I had a few weeks off work – great timing because the Tour de France was on TV. You might remember, that on Stage 1 in 1994, Laurent Jalabert had a horrific accident at Armentieres. His head injuries looked just like me. I followed the progress of his recovery with great interest. And from that day, I was hooked as the world’s No 1 Jaja fan. He came back from that accident a much better and stronger rider. I’m not going to discuss the usage of drugs in the sport at the time. The point is this … how did Mark Cavendish (and 20 years ago, Laurent Jalabert) achieve such rapid recovery.
Why I even saw Cavendish at the Commonwealth Games leaning out of one of the support cars handing over supplies to fellow Isle of Man rider, Peter Kennaugh.
What lessons can we learn as entrepreneurs and leaders from the world of sport?
1. Firstly, you get what you pay for. The NHS is an incredible institution and in my time, as a former racing cyclist and motorbike rider, I have had more than my share of expert care in A&E. However I am pretty sure the private healthcare and specialist knowledge afforded to Mark Cavendish contributed to his recovery.
First lesson: get the best possible specialist expertise that you can.
2. Undoubtedly the medical professionals attending to Mark Cavendish are very familiar dealing with racing cyclists. Many of the top cycling teams have their own medical teams and therefore he was treated by medical professionals with personal insight and knowledge . I’m sure that he didn’t have to lie on a trolley in A&E being asked all sorts of detail that he couldn’t remember because of the overwhelming pain – for example what other bones have you broken in the past, what did you have for lunch, where do you live etc. And being refused morphine case your blood pressure is too low. But that’s NORMAL for me. I have low blood pressure. The health professionals treating him would have had that personal knowledge and experience of him at their finger tips. The physiotherapist that I visited didn’t even have access to my xrays.
Second lesson: personal care and attention counts. A lot.
3. As a professional cyclist, Cavendish is financially dependent on his ability to race. Racing cyclists, whether at amateur or professional level, quickly become familiar with the rough and tumble of falls. However you can’t let that get in the way. It’s not uncommon for cyclists to finish a race with blood dripping, broken collarbones, broken bones in hand or wrist. Just search “Johnny Hoogerland crash Tour de France”. Most of the photos are too graphic for me to show. This year one of the pre-Tour favourites, Alberto Contador, broke his leg in a crash. Needless to say he carried on cycling until the pain was just too much. Guts and determination to get back on the bike are essential.
Third lesson: determination takes you a long way.
4. As part of a professional cycling team, Cavendish is surrounded by supportive and focussed individuals who have a shared goal. The team wants to win. The team wants all of its riders to perform at their very best.
Fourth lesson: Everybody needs a strong support team with ashared vision, whether you are a professional athlete, a law firm manager or freelance performance consultant.
5. We saw three popular team leaders crash out at this year’s Tour de France: Cavendish, Contador and Froome. Yet all of them set an example to their team by continuing for as long as they possibly could. Cavendish crashed in the sprint finish; he knew that to be allowed to start the next day, he had to cross the finish line on his bike. So that’s what he did despite the extreme pain. When Contador finally quit (30 minutes after the crash), we saw him chatting to his team mate Michael Rogers and patting him on the shoulder. Rogers had sacrificed his own race dreams to ride for Contador. Two examples of leadership in action.
Fifth lesson: strong leadership is an essential foundation stone on which to build a successful team.
Lessons to learn from professional sport? Yes I believe there lessons for everyone in how to build a powerful team. Specialist expertise, combined with personal attention, determination, a shared vision with strong leadership.
I am very excited about interviewing Dame Sarah Storey. I know from personal experience just how tough cycling is as a sport. I also know how difficult it is to balance sport with being a mum. Dame Sarah Storey is one of my big heroines. She’s done amazing things for women’s cycling but also for Paralympic sport.