European 400m hurdles silver medallist Rhys Williams on how he overcame long-term injury
I have never been one to moan about injuries or give it much air time. I’ve also never been one to broadcast my injuries publicly as it’s always been something so personal and I did not like talking about it.
Having had my fair share of bad performances coming back from injury, my belief was if you put yourself in the position to race, you have to face the consequences. With injuries and set backs, this has made me more hungry to do better. Come race time, I have the mentality of ‘no excuses’ – if you’re not firing on all cylinders, you shouldn’t compete. End of.
Too often athletes moan about minute problems, that in reality do not affect their performance one bit. My injuries over the last four years have made me the person I am today.
This time three years ago, I found myself in the position of being unable to watch the sport on TV, follow results or even talk about the sport I grew up to love. Fortunately those times are now behind me. It was only the other day that I looked up some indoor results for the first time in years, and watched the recent indoor athletics competitions on TV. My love and passion for the sport is back and I’m so happy that’s the case.
“Come race time, I have the mentality of ‘no excuses’ – if you’re not firing on all cylinders, you shouldn’t compete. End of.”
In 2006 after the European Championships I started getting pain underneath my big toe. It was dismissed by physios, but the pain would not go away.
As athletes, we all train hard – maybe too hard at times. This resulted in me getting a stress fracture. However, after rehabilitating and doing everything by the book I spent the next 12 months with my foot in a cast.
That was the first of three stress fractures I sustained in the run up to the 2007 World Championships. I’ve experienced what it is like to see a major competition slowly slipping away. No amount of aqua jogging or time spent in the gym helped bring me back to fitness.
The next 12 months in the run up to the Olympics saw me having an operation to remove a bone from under my big toe along with another stress fracture in the same foot. That’s four stress fractures and an operation.
Every athlete experiences the frustration of an injury and how they must stay patient, knowing that their injury will gradually heal. My patience was pushed to the limit. Missing the Beijing Olympics was a tough pill to swallow. During this time I spent a total of 20 weeks rehabilitating at the Olympic Medical Institute. Here I could have as much physiotherapy and massage that I needed. I was grateful that so many people were trying to cure my injuries.
At that point I felt as though my athletics career could either end there and then, or I could continue to try to find the root cause to the problem that started back in 2006. That’s when I was told to contact 400m runner Roger Black for some advice.
Roger had been through a similar scenario, so what better person to speak to? Roger put me in touch with a South African man called Ronald Holder. Within one treatment, Ronald had cured my foot. And along with that, my ambition to be the best 400m hurdler was back.
Since then I have gone from one extreme to the other. I’ve had no further injuries, and haven’t even had to miss any training sessions from slight niggles. I am now in a fantastic position, with an exciting two years in the run up to the Olympics.
With two consecutive years of training under my belt, I’m now approaching my best. It’s even more exciting, having recently moved from Cardiﬀ to London where the Olympics will be held. A new coach, a new training group and new surroundings – I’m in a great place.
Going into the 2011 season, I can look back and know that I’ve come a long way from where I was three years ago. So many athletes can experience set backs in their careers and some don’t end up pursuing their dreams. In my case it has only made me hungrier to be the best. I hope after reading this, other athletes can see the importance of remaining positive and maintaining their motivation after injury setbacks.