As someone who can barely stand in a pair of ice skates, and has never even put on a pair of skis, I have total admiration for all the competitors currently participating in the Winter Olympics over in South Korea.
Whilst Team GB has regularly won medals across a range of sports in the summer Games, success in the winter equivalent has been much less frequent – hardly surprising given a climate that is far more temperature than my constant moaning would suggest.
There have been some notable British triumphs down the years, particularly on the skating rink; the household names of Curry, Cousins, Torvill and Dean being responsible for three of just 11 gold medals across the 23 Winter Olympic Games.
(Actually that number increases to 12 if you count the ladies’ singles figure skating gold won by Madge Syers at the 1908 summer Games in London, which given the blog’s title, I absolutely do!)
Robin Dixon and Tony Nash are arguably less well-known, but their victory in the 1964 two-man bobsleigh event in Innsbruck has ensured they have a deserved place in British sporting history. Believe it or not, Great Britain has also won a gold medal in ice hockey too; although the team in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936 was mainly composed of dual-nationalist British-Canadians, many of whom had learned and played the game in Canada.
Apart from 1936, Canada won every ice hockey gold up to (and including) 1952, so whatever the make-up of the British squad, it was still a superb achievement.
Apart from figure skating, curling is one of only two other sports in which Great Britain has won more than one gold medal – Rhona Martin leading the women’s team to the top of the podium at Salt Lake City in 2002, some 78 years after the men’s team tasted similar success at the inaugural winter Games in Chamonix; the quartet including a father and son in Willie and Laurence Jackson.
The other sport is skeleton. What is truly incredible is this event could be dominated by a country that doesn’t even have a track! The University of Bath has a push-start track, but there are no ice-based facilities, and for five different British women to have won medals in each of the five Olympics since the sport was introduced is an amazing statistic.
Men’s skeleton had been held prior to 2002, with David Carnegie and John Crammond taking bronze medals in 1928 and 1948 respectively, before Dom Parsons’ third-place in Pyeongchang. However it is our female athletes that have provided a string of wonderful performances and unforgettable medal-winning moments. First came Alex Coomber with bronze in 2002; four years later Shelley Rudman went one better by claiming a superb silver in Turin, before Amy Williams’ fantastic and historic gold in Vancouver in 2010.
Amy’s medal was the first individual Winter Olympic gold won by a British woman since…
Jeannette Altwegg at the Oslo Games in 1952. Jeannette was actually a talented tennis player who reached the junior finals at Wimbledon before turning her attention to figure skating…
The subsequent feat of the inspirational Lizzy Yarnold in winning back-to-back skeleton competitions in Sochi and Pywongyang is unprecedented in British Winter Olympic sport.
Just as with her predecessors on the skeleton podium, Lizzy is an outstanding athlete, whose dedication, determination and bravery has been rewarded with success at the very highest level. The fact that Laura Deas joined Lizzy on the podium with last week’s third-place simply reinforces the strength of the skeleton training programme and the ability to identify and develop athletes with all the credentials to grow our tradition in this most non-traditional of sports…
With today’s official publication of Lucy Nichol’s book “A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes” (which I’ve pre-ordered and am really looking forward to reading), the next scheduled offering in the Trigger Press “Inspirational Series” is now “Today, Just Like Yesterday” written by yours truly.
I’m thrilled that I will be working with Hope Virgo on the promotion of the book – Hope’s book “Stand Tall Little Girl” was the first in the series mentioned in the previous paragraph. It is a remarkable story, powerfully told by a genuinely inspiring young woman. We’d been in regular contact well before Hope took on her role within Trigger Press; so from a personal point of view, the timing of her appointment couldn’t have been better.
Some of you have been kind enough to agree to help “spread the word” – for which I am extremely grateful – and if anyone else is willing to share future posts and messages, please just leave a comment or drop me a line. Any and all support means such a lot.
I recently became aware that Amazon has a number of categories or genres through which books are rated (presumably according to sales), so this morning I inadvertently (and equally deliberately) looked on my pre-order page to see if my book had attracted an early rating…
“Today, Just Like Yesterday” is currently 1,912,091st in the Amazon book charts…
You can just imagine the celebrations.
The book was further defined as being a biography, within the general social and health category, and specifically concerned with depression and mental health. In this chart, I have shot up to no.809.
Quick … more Prosecco.
A quick glance at the business end of the chart revealed that paperback, hardback and Kindle versions all attract individual ratings, meaning that many titles appear multiple times. Basically what I’m saying is that if each title featured just the once I could conceivably (without a hint of unwarranted exaggeration) be bubbling just under the top ten despite the book being seven weeks away from publication.
Anyway, amongst the fine pieces of work within the current top hundred is Jonny Bairstow’s “A Clear Blue Sky” – bowling at Jonny (a fellow former pupil of St Peter’s, York) was one of my 100 “challenges” back in 2014. Lucy’s book appears at no.24, which is really impressive. Chris Young’s “Walk a Mile” is at no.47, with Hope completing a trio of Trigger Press authors at no.58.
So whilst I’m not fully aware of exactly what “promotion” entails, it would appear that the Trigger Press team is very good at making potential readers aware of their authors – as well as producing books of real quality and depth (as witnessed by the many positive reviews).
In truth, my reasons for wanting to tell my story never included things like sales and ratings. It is possible to sell a dozen copies and have a lasting impact on someone … yet I could sell 1,000 and positively affect no one. I would pick the former every time…
However, I do appreciate that by definition there has to be a commercial element to the process, and I am certain that Hope and I will work really well together to make the book as visible and available as possible. I recognise that with every sale, the profile of dysthymia will grow … and that has to be a good thing given what I believe is a general lack of awareness of the condition.
The messages that it is fine to talk about mental health, as it is equally fine to ask for help will also be highlighted; and anyone who has followed my “adventures” over the past four years will be well aware how these themes have underpinned the challenges, and given me the resolve to keep going through the tougher times.
Today’s blog started with Lucy Nichol’s book and it’s only fitting that it should end in the same way. Congratulations on the publication of “An Unfortunate Series of Stereotypes” Lucy. From what I’ve read of your blogs, I know the book will be superbly written … good luck with everything!
At the first stroke … it will be 54 days until “Today, Just Like Yesterday” is published.
I thought I would be excited by now, but publication is perhaps just too far away and the writing process too recently completed for any great sense of anticipation. Hopefully that situation will soon start to change as the former draws ever closer, and I’m definitely looking forward to working with Hope on the promotion of the book.
My parents had the opportunity to read the final draft a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure prospective readers will understand that their reaction – along with that of my wife Elaine - was (and will always be) the most important; and the fact Mum and Dad’s response was so positive means the world.
I don’t have any real idea who will read the book. Hopefully some will be family members or close friends; others may well be total strangers. Some will have made or are still making a real difference to me and my life, but even though I never took Biology ‘O’ level, I think I can state with total confidence that without Mum and Dad I wouldn’t be here at all … so having their “approval” (if that’s the right word) on top of a lifetime of love and support is everything any son or daughter could hope for.
Obviously, as parts of the book are based around lived mental health experiences, there are some sections that are quite tough to read, but other chapters relate the stories behind many of the 100 “challenges” I have completed to try and raise mental health awareness. My aims were to offer a book that is raw and real, powerful, positive, occasionally uplifting and even less occasionally funny.
With the help of Stephanie at Trigger Press, I genuinely believe those aims have been achieved, but as with any good pudding, the proof will come once the contents have been objectively digested. I may not know some of my readers very well (or at all), but they will certainly learn a lot about me, and I am actually quite anxious about how the book – and by definition how I – will be received.
My reason for opening up about my own condition and for undertaking all the challenges was to show that is fine to talk about mental health, and it is also fine to ask for help if you’re struggling – and, in that regard, nothing has changed. If just one person finds the strength to talk, or the courage to ask for help after reading my story, then laying myself proverbially bare across 240-or-so pages will have been totally justified.
There are so many insightful and knowledgeable people on social media who are challenging mental health stigma; from offering inspirational quotes right through to questioning the timeliness and availability of services; all those people are amazing. I don’t really have any particular words of wisdom, nor do I know enough to recognise faults in the system … but I’ve still written a book.
And even if the messages it contains seem basic enough to be glaringly obvious, anyone who has taken that first tentative step towards some form of recovery knows just how daunting the reality actually is. I’m just an ordinary bloke (the “man on the Clapham omnibus” for those of a certain vintage); I’m neither brave nor particularly talented … but when I was at my lowest point I reached out for help it was there. I still struggle (most days if the truth be told), but I’m loved enough to want to fight, and strong enough to be able to fight.
It took many years for me to realise I was not alone … but my wish is that for someone out there, it might take just a few pages.
At the third stroke, it will be 53 days…
By the age of 18, I had been suffering from an (at the time) undiagnosed mental health condition for six or seven years. The early 1980s were a world apart from the present day as regards general awareness, understanding and acceptance of mental illness; but I can say for certain that even if I had known the name and nature of my condition back then, I did not have the maturity, objective clarity or courage to talk about my feelings and experiences, let alone commit them to paper.
I have just read The Unseen Battle by Ruth Fox, a teenager who has the above qualities (in abundance), as well as an obvious flair for the written word.
The book is not very long, but the content is incredibly powerful and emotive. There isn’t much background or padding; simply a true account of how a young life can be suddenly and dramatically affected by an illness that is (or can be made to be) invisible to the outside world.
It’s raw … and it’s real.
Many of Ruth’s experiences resonated with me (with the obvious exception that she is a really good footballer and I was rubbish), but the speed that her story … her life descended to the darkest of places took me totally by surprise.
I’m not going to go into much detail – you can read the book for yourself – but there were genuinely shocking moments after which I had to stop and try to digest the words I had just read. To try and understand what Ruth was facing; to try and understand her feelings; to try and understand the effect on those closest to her.
To remember that Ruth was (and still is) a teenager.
There were times when I felt uplifted (help and support doesn’t always come from the most expected sources), frustrated (help and support doesn’t always come … etc.), upset, moved, inspired. I almost felt a sense of pride in everything Ruth has achieved (on as well as away from the football pitch) – although that might be a father of two daughters simply imagining “what if?”…
At one point, Ruth declined a long-overdue offer of CBT because her condition had improved during the lengthy wait for the system’s cogs to start turning, and she felt someone else would benefit more from the opportunity. Such self-awareness and selflessness (in the most difficult circumstances) is incredibly impressive.
The pivotal part of the book is (for me at least) encapsulated in just three words, which I am deliberately lifting out of context: “Sorry for everything”. What is it like to believe that you are weak, to feel guilty because you are convinced you’ve failed and let everybody down, to feel trapped in an endless tunnel of blackness…?
And then there is a knock at the door…
Ruth Fox is an amazingly brave and articulate young woman. There are many chapters in her story that are yet to be written, but if you want a brutally honest account about teenage mental health, this is a book that deserves to be read, with a message that needs to be shared.
Over the past four years, my 100 “challenges” to raise mental health awareness were completed on behalf of (and with the full support of) Mind (2014) and Time to Change (2015-17).
Although that first year included some fundraising – over £1,000 was raised for Mind thanks to the amazing generosity of so many people – the work on behalf of Time to Change was purely to raise awareness and to reinforce the message that it is fine to talk about mental health and being able to ask for help is a sign of courage and strength.
As some of you will know, I have been offered the chance to share some of my own mental health experiences and the story of the 100 challenges by Trigger Press, a mental health publisher based in Newark. This blog is not about promoting the book (rest assured there’ll be promotion overload in the very near future!); it is simply to highlight the work being done by Trigger Press, but perhaps even more importantly, to make you aware of their parent charity the Shaw Mind Foundation.
It is a name that will be new to most of you (as it was to me), but a quick look at their website was enough to make me realise not only how fortunate I am to be involved as an author, but also how right it feels that my 2018 challenges should be undertaken to raise awareness of their amazing work, and that I try to support both Trigger Press and the Shaw Mind Foundation in any way I can.
Again, this is not a request for donations (that will come in the lead up to July’s skydive!), just a gentle nudge to visit their website if you have a few minutes to spare, and see for yourself what the Foundation is doing to support and improve the lives of those in need.
What I love is the fact that the proceeds from the sales of the Trigger Press books are ploughed back into the charity, so that the maximum amount of help can be given. The organisation runs projects and events in addition to offering recovery and support books; there are some dedicated and genuinely inspiring people doing great work and making a real difference … here’s the link; please have a look.
Maybe if I imagine I’m simply telling a story, it will be easier.
But it isn’t just a story, it is my story … it is my life, and the feelings I am reliving are real: unexplained profound sadness, moments of loneliness and despair all wrapped up in a mixture of frustration and anger at what I perceive to be my lifelong inability to deal with certain situations, people, or emotions.
And now I’m “having to” explain my weakness and my failings – in way too much detail.
There have been times that I have resented being put in this position – even though I actually put myself there in the first place. Book writing is a process. That’s all: a process … a “means to an end”. Just keep telling yourself…
Why can’t you be stronger? Colder? Tougher..?
Actually, do you have to tell your story at all?
Would anyone actually care if you didn’t tell your story?
So why put yourself through this..?
The answer..? The answer lies in the mirror…
Just do what you’ve always done; look at yourself in the mirror, in any mirror – in every mirror.
Go on … look!
That darkness behind your eyes. You know that if you stare hard enough and long enough, you can actually see it. It was there when you were at school, at college, at work, at home. It was there when you were 15, it was there when you were 50…
The darkness that convinces you that you’re no one special.
You’ve never been anyone special.
And you won’t suddenly become special when you’ve told your story.
So why tell it…?
Because not everyone sees you the way you see yourself.
There are people who can see past the face that you present to the world. They somehow see through the darkness to that elusive glimmer of light you fight so hard to reach. They believe in you, they have faith in you … they care for you, they love you…
So you’re telling your story for them...
And if just one person you don’t know sees their reflection in your story and somehow finds the courage to reach out … to talk … to ask for help; then maybe, just maybe you will stare into the mirror one day, and see that glimmer of light for yourself.
Richard... Jack of some trades... you can guess the rest