The para vaulter: A disappointing end to the year

December hasn't been an easy month for Lizzie, but she's not going to let it defeat her...

I’ve put off writing December’s post because, to be frank, a lot of the month was pretty naff. I hung on to see if it got any better but no such luck – so these are some of the ups and downs!

Obviously, I always aim to get better and better at all the sport I do. I work hard at home and at training to be as physically fit as possible, and I put a lot of effort into planning and thinking about how to improve. 

Hard work is much easier when you can see the results, but it’s really frustrating if you hit a rough patch despite all your efforts.

 Rosie making sure I don’t overdo it by pinning me to my bed!

Rosie making sure I don’t overdo it by pinning me to my bed!

I’m pretty sure I haven’t trained too little or too much. I haven’t neglected any aspect of my training. I’m resting enough and eating well. The only explanation is that physically my body is struggling more than before.

The neuro signs are the biggest problem for me at the moment. The tremors are worse, making it much harder to balance and attempting to do so utterly exhausting. My grip is worse than usual, which makes some moves on the horse particularly hair-raising.

My sensation and proprioception are even more impaired than usual so I’m constantly tripping, bashing into things and losing my balance on and off the horse.

This is mostly a problem at vaulting but also when riding, pushing in my wheelchair, working out at gymnastics or just going about daily life. I’m covered all over in bruises that I fortunately cannot feel but nor can I explain them. They betray the hundreds of whacks I’m incurring each day!

I know my illness is progressive and it’s entirely normal for neurological symptoms to be aggravated by cold weather. I know that there’s a possibility they will improve a bit in the spring. I know that getting annoyed with myself isn’t helpful.

 A wobbly moment on Sandie

A wobbly moment on Sandie

But…I’d be lying if I said it’s not demoralising. My head keeps trying to do things that my body cannot match. This means I keep getting injured, which makes it all even harder.

In the space of a week, I:

  • had an unusual sublux in my left hip while doing a basic trot move when the horse took a slightly bigger step than usual
  • sustained whiplash from a fall at gymnastics
  • popped my ankle out multiple times in sitting trot.

Fortunately the ankle goes ‘in, out, in, out’ with the horse so we just have to start walking or cantering on an ‘in’ stride to be OK – you really couldn’t make it up!

These are all silly injuries that I could've done without, and that might not have happened if I had more control over moving my body.

The whiplash in particular has had a major impact on my general health and on my ability to train – as in, pretty much all I can do right now is stretching.

I can’t change my body, and simply trying to train ‘more’ or ‘harder’ just makes things worse.

Since my body isn’t going to change, something’s going to have to change in my brain if I want to move on from where I am at the moment. In short, I need a change of mindset.

Fortunately, this is something that I do all the time at work with children, so in theory I should be good at it!

 My mum perked me up with a vaulting-themed Christmas card!

My mum perked me up with a vaulting-themed Christmas card!

First, I’m just going to accept that the situation isn’t great, and that I can’t control it, but I can control my reaction to it.

There’s no point beating myself up over it, or being an irritating self-pitying twerp! I need to be patient. I hate not training because I feel that every missed session sets me further and further back, but I also know that I have to accept that recovery should be an essential, not a luxury.

Second, I’m going to remember that it’s not the end of the world. There are far worse things in life, and in the grand scheme of things missing some training isn’t a disaster.

Third, I’m going to make a compromise. If I can’t get on a horse, I can work on balance, strength and flexibility on the ground. If I can’t move or support my head, I can bloomin’ well tense my muscles up lying down! As the RDA motto goes, ‘It’s what you CAN do that counts’.

Fourth, I’m going to see it as an opportunity (yes, I know, cheesy!). This is a good chance to work on other areas.

There are always easier skills or ‘brain skills’ to be worked on, and when I’m at home feeling grumpy about not training, I can instead just trawl through vaulting videos for inspiration.

Fifth and finally, I’ll have a plan. It’ll have competition dates, goals, routine ideas, moves listed in order of how well I can perform them right now, ways of testing progress, and so on.

Seeing it written down like that makes it feel manageable – it helps me to realise that I can (and must) afford to rest when I need to.

It reminds me that even when my health is bad, I’ve been through it before and still gone on to do cool stuff, even if it takes years – which hopefully it won’t this time. Fingers crossed, by the next time you hear from me I’ll be back on track!