Regular guest blog by @HeleneRaynsford who is the 2008 Paralympic Gold Medalist & 2006 World Champion -Single Sculls (rowing). Now retired & working in Public Health. Recovering from Breast Cancer.
Exercise, sport, physical activity… whatever you want to call it, we know how we should be doing more of it just like we should eat more veg, less sugar, less fat, not smoke, drink less… etcetera. Sometimes it can all sound like the perfect lifestyle to aspire to but it feels just a little bit tough to achieve with the modern busy lifestyle. For me, my relationship with physical activity was strong from a young age. I was that annoying child dancing up and down the isles in the super market! When I was growing up I loved to dance and actually disliked sport, unless it was rounders, swimming or gymnastics.
I went to the Royal Ballet School and for me being physically active was a career choice. Sadly, I injured myself in my late teens and then went to pursue a career in medical sciences. In my final year, I had an accident and it opened my eyes to the world of Paralympic sport. I did not set out aspiring to be an athlete but just wanted to have some fun, keep fit, meet some new people and regain strength so I could keep as independent as much as I could. To be honest, there was only so much longer I could tolerate my lovely Mum making “broom broom” car noises as she helped me push up steep slopes in my wheelchair! What greater motivation does a 21 year old need to get fit!
As a member of the GB Rowing Team, we trained 2/3 times a day 6 days a week at the Olympic and Paralympic training venue in Caversham. It was a mix of rowing on the lake, on a rowing machine, weights, hand-biking, swimming and Pilates. Following success at the World Championships in 2006 and Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008, I was forced to retire in 2010 as I injured my back meaning I needed titanium rods to hold it all together. I returned to my career in public health and took up kayaking to try to keep fit.
In early 2013, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, it runs in my family but naively I never thought it would happen to me. I started six months of chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy and reconstruction. Any surgical option was going to affect my mobility but thankfully I found a fantastic surgeon who understood how important it was for me to keep independent, as mobile as possible and still have the ability to exercise. Currently exercise is taking the dog out or gentle swim as I am limited until my next surgery. Often I feel like caving to the side effects of my ongoing treatment, taking the pain killers and hiding under the duvet. BUT, gentle exercise really helps with the pain and means I am back at work doing the job I love and having a life where Cancer isn’t limiting me.
In early December 2014, I will have what will hopefully be my last major surgery in this cancer journey. I am making a real push for the next few weeks to increase my activity levels so I can hit the anesthetic and rehab after as fit as I can possibly be.
Most people who know me associate activity with my gold medal from Beijing. It was a great honor to have represented my country in sport but at the end of the day it is just sport. “Being physically active has brought me independence, confidence and is now helping me improve my quality of life. To me, those benefits are priceless!"
Blog moderated by Ann Gates, Founder of Exercise Works!