Back in March 2014, Elaine and I got into the car to drive to Leicester in order to complete one of the tasks I’d set myself as part of my fundraising year for the mental health charity Mind. The task in question was that of meeting an Olympic medallist from London 2012.
After a fair bit of planning, I was actually going to meet not one, but five medallists from the GB ladies hockey squad who had won bronze a couple of years earlier. Middlesbrough to Leicester is about 150 miles… maybe 2¾ hours given a decent tail wind… what could possibly go wrong?
Well apart from delays caused by an accident, then roadworks, then a scheduled stop to do a live interview with BBC Radio Leicester, then getting lost on the Leicester ring road, everything went particularly smoothly, and we arrived just in time to watch the closing minutes of Reading’s 2-1 victory… some five hours after we’d left home!
It was fantastic – in fact a privilege - to have the opportunity to meet Kate Richardson-Walsh, Alex Danson, Emily Maguire (of Reading) and Leicester’s Hannah Macleod and Nicola White (who have both subsequently changed clubs), but something like half an hour after we’d arrived, it was back in the car for another 150 miles - and it’s uphill on the way home….
The journey back was quicker – in fairness we could have walked home in less than five hours… which of course is a lie – but essentially the few minutes we spent with those five talented, dedicated and charming young athletes was sandwiched between eight hours on the road. It was definitely worth it… but it was a very long day.
There are two reasons for mentioning this. The first is that the European Hockey Championships are currently taking place in London, and all of the above are in action: Emily Maguire for Scotland and the remaining four for England, who guaranteed their place in the semi-finals with last night’s 2-0 win over Italy. The second reason is that next Tuesday, I will be pointing the car south once again and making my way down to Milton Keynes, home of the National Badminton Centre, for my latest Time to Change challenge… that of playing badminton against a current England international.
The round trip this time is just over 400 miles, and instead of doing nothing more strenuous than having my picture taken, I will be dragging my ageing body (and similarly old racket) onto court and forcing my badly worn joints into action one last time. My opponent is Rhys Walker, currently ranked no.4 in the country, and I’m incredibly grateful to Rhys for giving up his time to show me just how the game should be played – and to Emma who arranged everything.
Badminton is a game I thoroughly enjoyed for many years, but the diagnosis of a degenerative hip condition a decade ago now brought an immediate end to all my sporting endeavours. I’d played cricket and badminton in pain for quite some time, but it was still a shock to be told that hip replacements would be necessary in as little as two years if I carried on….
So why decide to have a game of badminton after so long… so far away from home… when I’m guaranteed to be taught a sporting lesson; and the likelihood is I won’t be able to walk the following morning?
Well from a personal point of view, it’s an opportunity to meet and share a badminton court with one of the best players in the country; and even though I am (and always would have been) way out of my depth, it will be great to once again experience that feeling you can only get from sporting competition.
There might not be an obvious link between hitting a shuttlecock over a net and mental health, but on another level, this is one more example of being faced with a “challenge”, knowing that you need some help or support to complete or overcome that challenge, being prepared to ask for that help, learning that help is out there, and (however hard it may be) ultimately discovering just what you are capable of achieving....