A track without Pop.

After training today and after the weekend of competition my coach gave me a reality check with where i am right now as an athlete. I need to get fitter and i need to lose some weight.. to get back to where i was 4 years ago. As frustrated as i was i know what my coach says is honest and this is the story of what is motivating me right now to achieve my goals to improve as an Athlete and get back to the top.  

Since the age of 8 i stepped foot on the track representing the Northern Suburbs Little Athletics club. Back then i’ll admit i hated going to Little Athletics because i use to get so nervous as i was such a competitive kid. From the start of my track career it wasn’t an easy run. I always had to work very hard and couldn’t jus rely on my natural talented ability. Even to this date nothing has ever come easily..i’ve always had to work incredibly hard to achieve anything.
A fond memory I had back then  was getting so close to getting into the Trans Tasman athletics squad but just missing out. As frustrating as it was i realised that from that moment on i wanted to run and prove to myself i had what it took to belong to a national team. I was also swimming at the time for Ryde Swimming club and i was juggling swimming with Athletics being state champion for Backstroke as well as National champion. From such a young age i had been surrounded by elite athletes and i was always wondering if i would ever be as good as them.

My Poppy Alan was always there by my side. Pop drove me to almost every race and had been there every step of the way from start to finish. I remember throughout my school carnivals he would stand by the side line with his stop watch and watch me run and cheer me on. Pop wasn’t the most vocal of people, but he had the ability to make me feel confident about any race on any day. Pop was so dedicated to my Athletics that he would get up at the crack of dawn and travel out to all my races. One thing i wish i could take back was getting frustrated in front of him if i didn’t perform to my best ability more so than appreciating the effort he took in watching me race.

Pop was always at every one of my training sessions which started off with my first coach Sally at Norths when i was 11 and he is what motivated me to commit my time and effort to the track. As i entered highschool and i had to step it up in Athletics and the training got more demanding my Pop was there for me every step of the way and watched me develop. Sadly around the time i was in year 6 my Pop got diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease which was very debilitating on his physical strength. Despite the physical changes i saw in my Pop he still took me to every training session which when i look back i am incredibly greatful for.

One of my fondest memories was Pop driving me out to Eastern creek raceway for CCC Cross-country as well as the all-schools x-country championships. I must have been the biggest pain in the neck through stressing him out with my nerves but without him there i probably would have never have won the CCC cross-country championships 6 years in a row. i also would have never placed at All-schools and gone onto national cross-country.

Pop was probably there to see my proudest moments which right now i am using as motivation to continue my track career. I remember when i first qualified for Nationals in Perth. Pop decided to come with me despite his physical difficulties. I can still clearly visualise the course and i can still feel the nerves i had that day. As i took off to race pop made his way over to the stadium and waited for me at the finishing line. I just remember sticking staying in the front pack and when i had 1k to go i moved into 4th place and then crept into 3rd place. The finish line was in the stadium and i remember just thinking in my head i knew Pop would be so proud and  i sprinted to the finishing line and i had never felt so happy in my life knowing i’d just won my first national medal and also knowing Pop was there to see me race. That year was one of the best years of my life back in 2001. Sometimes i wish i could just hold onto that moment and re-live it.. not just as a memory.

As the years went on i remember Pop still taking me to training even though his physical ability to move were decreasing. The one thing which struck me most about my Pop was that he never complained and said what he was doing was too hard. It was probably more the other way round with me complaining about how tired i was after Alan Nolans crazy training sessions. Another fond memory i had was Pop walking around Rotary Athletics field taking one step at a time. I knew it was so difficult for him just do do one lap but he persevered  every step of the way determined to reach the end.

As the years went on Pop was there to capture every one of my moments whether it was school carnivals, zone, regional, state or nationals and he still took me to every single training session with his stop watch in his hand keeping track of my performances. I also remember how he use to drive his car around Macquarie hospital and time my laps as he saw me run.

In 2006 was the last time Pop watched me race at the Australian championships in the 3k steeple where i was trained by Ross Foster at the time. I remember we stayed at this comfy bed and breakfast in North Adelaide and remember helping Pop get in and out of bed as he had freezes with his Parkinsons Disease. I was so grateful that Pop came that year as it motivated me to race to my fullest potential. I knew because he was in the grandstand and he had come all that way to watch me run i had to perform. In taking on the steeple for the first time that year i knew it would be a risk but i gave it everything i could and i ended up winning Gold which is my biggest achievement to date. I also did a 30 second p.b. i was so proud to have Pop there and watch me run and achieve my best result. 

After 2006 Pop really started to show the debilitating  effects of Parkinsons Disease. His bones were wearing down, he had 2 hip replacements and he was no longer getting mobile which for him was so frustrating. I remember during this time i went through my darkest period at the age of 21 and i changed as a person which i am so regretful of now when i look back. i think i just found it difficult to deal with Pop not being there and in effect it took a hold of my track ability. I still trained but it just wasn’t the same. I felt like i didn’t have the dedication as i once did.

It was really tough for me to witness the declining stages of Pop who was only just 71 at the time. I remember seeing a rapid change to the point he could no longer get out of bed. He soon got diagnosed with Prostate Cancer which took its toll as chemotherapy would clash with his Parkinsons Disease medication. Pops mental ability declined and to me that was heart wrenching. He was taken into a hospice from his beautiful Chatswood home and he left my training and his bonsai collection behind with my beautiful Nan.

In March 2008 I went to visit him at his hospice and i think the reality struck that Pop didn’t have long to live. i remember crying outside the hospice as it was so difficult to see Pop in this state. It was hard to recollect after he had been there for me my entire life. On the 1st of April, my brother Leigh said we gotta go visit Pop. I ended up having an assignment due at Uni but instead i went to visit Pop. As soon as i got there with Leigh we sat next to him in his bed and not long after he passed away. I remember feeling this strange sensation as he left the world and almost visualised his soul drifting off into the air. To this day i am so grateful that i was by his bedside, like he was always there by my side.

Since 2008, training and Athletics i’ll admit has always been a struggle. It just hasnt felt the same without Pop. In 2010 i rejoined the UTS Norths Athletics club and in 2012 it’s been the first real year i have found that motivation to train hard and compete again. I still visualise Pop at the track and i know he is there looking down on me. I want to give athletics one last shot over the next couple of years- hence why i have adjusted my work and lifestyle to fit training in but i have this inner feeling that Pop wanted me to keep going and achieve my goals and dreams. I think right now i have the maturity to return and reach the top as well as the commitment. I am enjoying running and slowly improving again even if it has been 4 years of struggle with a broken foot, car accidents and more.

I’d like to thank my Pop for always being there for me and i know he is always down at the track in spirit. I always wish he was still here on earth but the main thing i have kept are the reflections and memories i’ve had. As my Lane 5ive sports apparel business gets up and running i know my Pop would be so proud of where i am going. Eventually i’d like to create a sponsorship deal with other athletes in my Pops name to help athletes travel across the world to their international tournaments in memory of him.

After training the past few weeks with an American Squad from Michigan its made me realise the work i need to put into training like i use to when Pop was here to get the results. And i feel like i’m ready to make that commitment. I know as Pop always said- There is a mental barrier where i need to believe in myself more so i can achieve my goals.

In conclusion i’d like to finish off with a quote by one of the world’s best athletes and my other biggest inspiration- boxer-  Muhammad Ali who is also a sufferer of Parkinson’s Disease.

I never thought of losing, but now that it’ s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.

Muhammad Ali

Love you Pop.

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