Saturday, 22 September 2012

Letting go of the fear of failure - Part 2

So you know you are going into a sporting event, a challenge, an experience, that you cannot replicate, but you have to believe you can do it before you will achieve what you set out to do.

If belief comes from your own known ability, then how can you generate belief without knowing your own ability to do something?

The Answer:
- You use inspiration instead.

People can be many things. They can be cruel, wasteful, ignorant, selfish, selfless, prudent, generous, insightful, most of all though, people have the ability to be incredible. I believe what we experience others doing, is what can inspire us to do more than what we think we are able to do ourselves.

Sometimes inspiration can even be found in fiction - a film or a book. I suppose the most powerful form of inspiration is real however. Individuals pushing themselves to the absolute limit, doing the smallest thing that they never thought possible, even acts of kindness can be inspiring.

When we find inspiration at its most potent, is likely down to how we learn and are stimulated ourselves.
I'm most inspired by what I can take in visually and through music. Watching someone achieve something perfect in sport, or watching someone pushing themselves beyond the limit people thought possible, is the kind of thing that inspires me. To listen to music which moves me, with words that stir me is inspiring to me too.

Being giving the opportunity to do something in the same or a similar discipline as the people I watched inspire me, with music and words that stir me in my head, is when I feel strongest in my own ability.

Of course that's just my experience of inspiration.

Everyone's experience of inspiration will be as varied as how they learn to study for an exam, or what kind of music they like, who they relate to and what they are trying to inspire themselves to do.

I wonder, or more importantly I hope, that inspiration is enough to do what I am trying to do.

I'm under no illusions that most people think I am completely mad for thinking of doing the Race Across America in a mixed team, never mind solo. But then, how else would I be able to demonstrate that people with epilepsy are able, not disabled people.

To do it would be beyond what I think I am able to do, because I have never done half of the Solo category before, never mind the full race. But if the inspiration which I can pull from different sources is powerful enough and strong enough, then it will be the psychological advantage I need, to do what I am setting out to do.

If I can be inspired by people who have done what I have done and gone on to more, or that do more than I have ever done but are the same as me... then I hope that will lead to the belief in myself, that will allow me to ride the world's toughest sporting event and conquer it.

After all, when it comes to something like RAAM Solo, all you can do is prepare the best you can, have hope, inspiration and eventually belief.

You might fail. But if you never had the inspiration to believe you might have been able to do something in the first place, then you will never even attempt it.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Letting go of the fear of failure

The Team Epilepsy Forward Project, is one that is made up of 3 parts:
The 24HR Track Cycling WR, the Race Across America Mixed 4 Team record and of course the Race Across America Solo.
The ultimate aim, to try and raise funds for the UK's largest member led epilepsy charity, Epilepsy Action and most of all, become a case study for people with epilepsy to point to and make a mockery of the stigma of the condition.

Taking on one part of the project is by far and away the toughest, most terrifying, most difficult part of it all. The Solo RAAM.
The Solo race isn't terrifying because of the risks however to my health. In many ways it's more terrifying to me, that you wouldn't finish the race. There has always been a constant doubt in my mind as to my ability as a cyclist and more importantly as a person, to be able to finish the "world's toughest sporting event".

Many sports psychologists say if you don't believe you can do something, you will never achieve it in sport. The difficulty with the RAAM Solo however, is you can never truly train for the race. You can't simulate the 3000 miles Solo in under 12 days 20 hours, unless you actually do it. So you can never know if you are actually able to achieve it as a rookie rider.
Unlike marathon runners who many, a few weeks before their big event would run the same distance, the ultra cyclists can only train for a plateau of ultra endurance speed... and pain. After that it's just about hanging on for dear life.

The biggest fear for me, is the fear of letting people with epilepsy down. That, in a way I would be proving the stigma right. But then is that my own ego, or is it a real issue?

I wanted to show that despite adverse effects from medication, the experience of overcoming the condition and dealing with the every day of epilepsy, is something which is more powerful. At the end of the day, if I get to the brink of breaking point in the race, if my crew asks me: "Katie, why are you doing this?" I'll never lose sight of the answer.
After 23 years of having the condition, controlled or otherwise, the ups and downs, the stigma, the lack of awareness, information, the massive underfunding of the condition, I know that doing the Solo RAAM would be doing my part to try and tackle all of it, even just a little.

But I need to not be afraid of the embarrassment of failing. I need to accept, that merely finishing the race, even if it's unofficially, would demonstrate to some extent what I hoped in regards to the stigma.

One thing I have learnt from other Solo competitors of the race is that, you have to let go of your ego and not be afraid to show yourself in a light that perhaps you wouldn't like to in an everyday scenario. In doing that, you loose the tension that is a monkey on your back, allowing you to be loose enough to just get stuck in to the race itself.

The race is slow and punishing and for a long period you have nothing to rely on but you and your bike. So the first thing for me is I need to know I love my bike enough to spend that much time with it! I know I do.
The second is to not be afraid of what I can and more importantly can't do. Each yard of every mile, you are for much of the time, alone with your thoughts. If your thoughts turn to doubts during the race, then you know you're in trouble. The RAAM is too big to try and landmark in many cases. I wonder, if actually the best way to approach the race is just to enjoy riding it, soak in the incredible surroundings and take in the privilege of being part of the race.
It's impossible to landmark in relation to the finish. Riding 100 miles is no mean feat, so focusing on how close you are to the end when you are in the middle of riding 100 miles will destroy you. Letting go to thinking about the finish and taking the race 50 miles, by 50 miles is the only way you can achieve what you are setting out to do. Getting to the 1500 mile mark might be a high, normally. But then there's no other sporting event on the planet, where knowing you're over half way there, means riding another 1500 miles.

I think where riders fail is when they stop enjoying riding. To a large extent, you can never enjoy RAAM, it's hell on wheels. But many parts you can.
The simple pleasure of riding your bicycle through some of the most incredible scenery. The little highs of your crew encouraging you every pedal stroke of the way, or when you hit a little mile landmark them going nuts. If you focus on that rather than the enormity of what you're actually doing, then you have a chance to succeed.

I have no doubt that the scariest part of the whole race will be on the start line before the race even begins. You have no idea what will be ahead as a rookie, you fear becoming another member of the 75% club, that didn't finish the race officially. But that's about my own ego talking.

The real question will be, is just riding 3000 miles in less than 2 weeks enough to make a point about the condition?

The answer is yes. I won't get a medal for it, I won't get my name on a plaque or prize money. I won't get my name in the record books. But at the end of the day, if I loose the ego and just go into the race to ride, then I'll let go of the biggest fear I have about RAAM.

When that's the case, I believe that's when you get the best out of yourself.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Figuring out who you are

I've always loved a good quote as you probably know by now reading the blog.

One I've always found interesting, although a fictional quote, but never thought about in depth till now is this:

"Later that day I got thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic. Those that are old and familiar. Those that bring up lots of questions. Those that bring you somewhere unexpected. Those that bring you far from where you started and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all, is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you, you love... well, that's just fabulous."

I think that regardless of what you are told, you have to take in what you can relate to yourself and make of it what you will. I think if you don't know yourself, then inspiration will be superficial and you may end up sacrificing parts of yourself for others.
Some could argue in life that it's necessary to be more giving of yourself to others than you would like, or if you don't realise you're doing it, than is healthy. But if you're not happy in yourself then what is the point in being in a situation where you're giving too much?
What is more important, I believe, is knowing yourself well enough to know where the line is that means you are unhappy in what you put in to life, particularly if you are not getting back from life what you would like.

There are examples where there are exceptions. Work is the most obvious one, you may not enjoy every part of your job, but at the end of the day you are getting to live a fuller life by having a job. So what you get out of that is enough to sacrifice more of yourself than you might like, compromise with yourself more than you would have maybe hoped. At the end of the day many of us just don't have the luxury to live to work, we work to live.

There is however a huge part of your life in terms of your personal relationships where in many cases you have to be selfish about what you want and who you are.
But at the same time, you have to understand who you are first before you realise in what areas of relationships you can't compromise.

I think it's difficult in an era of mass information to know who you genuinely want to be. Media loves to put individuals in a box. In the same way people with epilepsy sometimes self stigmatise their condition, people who could be put in a convenient box generally tend to put themselves there without too much help.

I think you need to take a step back from life sometimes, be it travelling the world and seeing new places, or just simply doing something you never thought yourself capable of. New experiences develop you as a person, they open up new possibilities to you and help you understand if something was worth giving of yourself for, or actually if it's not something which makes you happy.

The one thing I've understood through my experience of loosing my job in the Police all those years ago, is that I've been most happy when I'm taking part in sport. I've also realised over the years that I have a mentality of not being satisfied if I haven't reached my own personal best in my given sport. Not because of what others think, I've actually come to realise I don't pay much attention to praise and find compliments hard to take if I don't feel deep down I deserve them.
Instead I have a mentality of, for example, trying to be the best in the world at my sport of Ultra-marathon cycling. I've also realised that giving more of myself to my cycling in order to raise awareness of Epilepsy is a sacrifice worth taking.

I know that if I am able to achieve my goals in regards to my cycling and more importantly my awareness raising for epilepsy, then I will finally be satisfied.

So what would I do once I feel deep down inside myself, I've truly achieved my personal best? Well I guess I will understand more about myself when I do and I'll be able to tell you then. But for now, I know what and where I want to focus my energy at this point in my life.

I know people with epilepsy find it hard to fit in, especially in areas like team sports where at a participation level, being chosen to be part of a team could sometimes be more about how you perform in a drinking competition, rather than on the field. But that's not me, and when it comes down to it, I don't believe that's the spirit of sport either.

So to anyone in a scenario where they feel under peer pressure like that to get pissed for example, I would say this:
"If you can find someone to love the you, you love... well, that's just fabulous."
...and if you can't, keep looking!

We should never be ashamed to be the people we are, once we've found out who we want that to be. So if you know you don't want to compromise, then don't and keep looking for that special boy or girl, that special team, a special cause, maybe even that special job, that, in the end...

...will be just fabulous.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Holding on as tight as you can to inspiration

Without sounding smug, London 2012 confirmed something I already knew.

- That sport seems to have a power like no other to make individuals more aspirational, more inspired, more motivated, more connected with people they've never connected with before. It can not only only give an individual a feeling of belonging and pride, it can give that to an entire country.

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics changed without a doubt, the way the UK saw itself, saw disability and ability... the way it saw sport.
It took the genre out of cynicism, of stories of corruption, of tribal fighting and drinking culture, of being about just money and took it back to it's roots and stripped sport to it's core. It showed as Seb Coe said, that: "In every Olympic sport there is all that matters in life. Human's stretching themselves to the limit of their ability". It brought together nations in friendship and within the UK itself, neighbourhoods together in friendship too.
From the local boys and girls carrying the Olympic Flame to it's destination to the local heroes being called on by that flame to excel in every way possible. For us, in the United Kingdom, we united as a country to see triumph we never thought possible. And everyone had a hero of their own to inspire them, be them learning to ride their bike on the same velodrome as Wiggo, or be them from the same place as the triumphant county of Yorkshire.

On Monday, during the Greatest Team Parade, sadness this incredible summer had ended was palpable. People were asking - "what now?" The Olympics and Paralympics have been like a drug our country has had the most incredible high from. But the side effects could be even better than the drug itself.

Athletes can become heroes or heroines to inspire people to take part in sport. But they wouldn't have become those incredible individuals they are, had they not been part of the participation pool, that gives so much satisfaction on a basic level, but also creates new heroes and heroines for the future.

There is a sadness to the ending of what has been the most incredible summer of sport. Sport of the best kind, of sportsmanship, pure tireless work and training, of focus, of drama and intensity and athletes putting their bodies on the line to represent their country and do the jersey on their back justice.

But London 2012 can already say: "Generation Inspired."

The question is, how will that translate into grass routes level participation?
Well I can only tell you my personal story of one particular athlete, who is a London 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and how she has inspired me to take on a very particular challenge to raise awareness for Epilepsy.

Joanna Rowsell is an Olympian and like another hero of mine Dai Greene, she is an Olympian with a medical condition. When I first saw Jo take to the boards at a world championship I remember vividly wondering if she had cancer? Her performance was astounding and like the misunderstandings there are with epilepsy, I misunderstood Jo's medical condition, alopecia.
I'm ashamed I thought that Jo's alopecia was the result of side effects of cancer, but then I had never heard of alopecia. Because of Jo, I ended up researching the condition and to me, she is the perfect example of how you create awareness through inspiration, rather than ignorance and self stigmatisation through a role model's fear of exposing their condition.
She has never worried about removing her helmet to stand on a podium (usually the top step I might add), where her condition is in full view for everyone to see and for young people with the same condition, to see and be inspired and to have a specific role model of their own to relate to.

But I don't have alopecia, I have epilepsy. So how did Jo inspire me I hear you ask?

Well, she inspired me for two reasons, I could relate hugely to feeling like I shouldn't be ashamed to show signs of my own condition. In my case, it's the white streak on the right hand side of my head where I had my neurosurgery and my purple medical bracelet I wear 24/7.
But Jo inspired me as a female cyclist too. At the Olympic track cycling test event in the Stratford Velodrome, I saw great courage, courage of pushing yourself to the absolute limit. I was a field of play volunteer within the velodrome when Jo rode one of her toughest events, the individual pursuit. She showed her guts, quite literally, pushing herself to the point of being sick. But she also won the race.

The absolute commitment to that particular race made me think even more seriously about my own time trial of a different kind - trying to break the women's 24hr track cycling WR.

I'm very thankful I managed to make it up onto a wall near Charing Cross Station during my lunch hour, to send her a personal message on Monday during the parade. I'd actually made a bit of a hash of what I had planned to do - to salute her with my Olympic Torch personally, so I wrote a message on a board instead and proudly held it high, wearing my Olympic Torchbearer uniform in the process. My torch was in the window of the jewellery shop who had so kindly donated a necklace to my charity Epilepsy Action. Unfortunately I hadn't realised the shop was shut on the day, so it all almost went a bit Pete Tong!

But the athletes representing us during London 2012, deserve all the cheers and thanks we can give them. From me - thanks to Jody Cundy for pointing me out to Jo in the crowd, as they stood on their float lapping up the applause for their incredible achievements.

There was however, one notable absence in the parade and you could argue, the Olympics only took a few days to create it's first legacy. One of personal inspiration and self belief - Andy Murray becoming the first British man in 76 years to the day, to win a major tennis title.
Andy beat Novak Djokovic in five sets to win the US Open only a couple of weeks after winning Olympic Gold and Silver in London.

I hope the attitude towards sport in this country changes every generations view of it. The likes of Jo has showed exactly how to be an inspiration and lead by an example of physical achievement which no-one can dispute. She's let her legs do the talking.

My only worry is that apparently the world is going to end in 2012!

So to whoever is responsible for this can I ask you a favour...
Please make sure you let us see BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012 first, before you wipe us all out.

Many thanks,

Katie, age 6.
... plus 20.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A question or disability or ability?

Our super-humans, Team GB, portraying disability in the inspirational light it can be...

But is it a good thing or a bad thing?

There are 2 arguments, does it create an 'us and them' scenario, or does is show the resilience that disability creates in people and inspire disabled people themselves to be the best they could ever be...
Does it inspire a disabled generation too?

To look at me, you would think I am an able-bodied person with no disabilities. But I'm not. You might think I was just normal, but then I would ask, what is normal?

I don't know anyone who is normal, I think we've all got some form of disability, no matter how mild it might be. The medical conditions that create disability aren't finite, they have a range, varying severities. You could make an argument to say Usain Bolt himself is disabled when it comes to long distance running, even the USA Basketball team are all likely to be classed as having the disability, "giantism".

So in a way, the media could portray to everyone an us and them scenario, but then, they wouldn't be portraying disability.

There's a reason I have waited to post about this, till the Olympics were finished and the Paralympics started. It's to make this point: Paralympians are no less ordinary than Olympians and in the same vein, what people may have failed to notice is that Olympians may be, or will likely be disabled under certain circumstances just as much as Paralympians could be.

There are obvious examples, Dai Greene, Joanna Rowsell and Jo Hopkins all have medical conditions and therefore would be classed as disabled, but they are all able bodied.
The more discrete examples could be of extreme strength causing delicate skill issues, extreme speed causing endurance problems or the other way around. Many athletes could have dyslexia or even mental health issues, but would you consider them just as disabled as Paralympians?

The answer, so it's fits into an easy box to sell, is we probably would consider obvious disability to be different. The reality is that we shouldn't, neither should we look to Paralympians as the model for disabled people to be. We don't expect that of able bodied people in relation to Olympians.

What we should do however is consider this, every person has a right to access sport, or any other pursuit they wish. Paralympians are physically no more or less extra-ordinary than Olympians, in the same way that people with disabilities are no more or less physically extra-ordinary than people without disability. We just use a different scale to measure each individual by and it's as huge as the scale by which every individual will be disabled in some way, in a particular scenario.

What we have to take away from the Olympics and Paralympics is this. If ever we needed inspiration be it a young girl from Sheffield, watching Jess Ennis win the Olympic heptathlon, or be it a young boy who is a arm amputee watching Jon Allan Butterworth pick up 2 Silver medals in the Velodrome, we can all relate to someone. Even if it because of a fellow countryman we all have someone we can relate to and inspire us to be the best we can be. It maybe not in sport, but just in life.

The one thing sport and indeed disability teaches us is how to overcome, be it an injury, life threatening or otherwise, disability or not, we can all take inspiration from the resilience it took our hero or heroine, to achieve the incredible feat they have by competing in the Olympics and Paralympics.
They might have a recognised disability, they might not, but it doesn't mean they aren't able to be one of, if not the, best in the world at what they do.

We all have something were good at, it might be our job, our hobby, a special skill...
- so why don't we aspire to be the best in the world?

The answer to the question: