Written by Will Downes-Hall
Five miles and thirteen obstacles. That’s the basics of the sprint version of a popular obstacle course race here in the U.K. But for me it may as well have been Everest…
Four years ago I was finally getting my life back. My marriage had ended four years previously, and I had moved out taking with me some books, clothes and my bass guitar leaving my ex-wife and three daughters with the house because I wanted my girls to have something my brother and I never had, one home to grow up in, one set of friends, one route to school, one neighbourhood to call theirs.
Shortly after moving out I hooked up with a woman I thought I could spend the rest of my life with. Things didn’t quite turnout the way I’d envisaged, however. Soon after we started getting serious she decided she couldn’t cope with me being away from home for long periods of time (back then I was a successful Close Protection Officer with contracts that took me all over Europe), and if I wanted a future with her I had to give up the career I loved and find a job where I could be home every night. I should’ve knocked it on the head then and there! Like an idiot I thought I could find a compromise. I couldn’t.
Then things started to turn toxic. I began to realise the ‘step-mother’ I had chosen for my little girls was turning out to be just like all those step-mothers we’ve read about in a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm! No matter what I did I couldn’t make the relationship work. In my efforts to keep everybody happy I nearly lost my daughters, my whole reason for being on this planet. This mentally and physically abusive relationship ended soon after I came to my senses.
Then came the task of repairing the damage I’d done to my relationship with my girls. I was fortunate in that they were still young at the time, and most of the previous few years had gone over the heads of the younger two at least. Today my daughters are 16, 15 and 13, and we love the bones of each other and couldn’t be a tighter unit.
So, I was out of that frying pan and only just with my sanity intact. I still have the mental scars today.
PTSD doesn’t always have to be from the battlefield…
Moving back in with my Dad was my only option as I was now homeless and jobless. But at least I still had my Bass and my books! Living with parents in your 40’s isn’t a great idea, but it was a necessity if I wanted to see my girls on a regular basis. We settled into a routine. I found work which meant I could see my daughters every other weekend. Things were starting to come together. My mental health was on the mend after being diagnosed as suicidal. But not having the funds to get counselling I had to literally talk myself out of my funk. I learned some valuable lessons and now I have the tools in my tool box to conquer any situation put in front of me.
Be grateful for every experience you are presented with, positive and negative, because they all have something to teach you. It may not be apparent right away, but one day something will happen and you will realise you have the tools you need to handle it thanks to those experiences in your past.
Here’s where we came in; four years ago. So, I had just started a new job. This job promised me full-time work from 0800 to 1700 Monday to Friday with weekends off to see my girls! A warehouse operative, I got to have a laugh with a great bunch of guys and get paid for it. Being physically fit the work was easy, and I was going on the Fork Lift course shortly too, so that would be fun. I was running five miles five times a week, in the gym five to six times a week, 71kg at 5’5 1/2”, 8% bodyfat, deadlifting 200kg. Not bad for 43 years old.
Work was ramping up. I’d been told when I started in the October that things would get ridiculous by Christmas, and they had. The atmosphere in our little corner of the world was jolly and the work was still manageable. Then one day it happened, the event that changed everything and turned a simple obstacle course race into Everest…
I learned long ago to set my plans in sand and my goals in concrete; life has a funny way of messing things around. And it did on 13th December 2013. At 0830 on Monday our five tonne fork truck had a close encounter of the fifth kind (physical contact, according to the extended version of Hynek’s scale of alien contact) with my left foot. My buddy had leapt on the truck to move it not knowing I was crouching beside it to reach under some racking. He didn’t see me as he pulled off and drove straight over my foot, crushing and splitting the bones of my fourth and fifth metatarsals, my toes.
Even with my steel toe cap boot on it was a sight! So, off I went to the local A&E, driven by one of the directors as this was a small family run company. The staff at their hospital were very kind and gave me small black sandal to wear and told me to stay off it for a couple of weeks. Painkillers were taken sparingly as I don’t like pills. We were coming up to our Christmas shut down, at the end of the week, so I came into work for the rest of the week knowing I’d rest my foot over the festive period. That I did. And I returned to work in the new year eager to impress the bosses with my positivity and willingness to just get on with it. The healing process and recovery went really well and I was soon back in the gym. I had even signed up to do a half-marathon later in the year as a goal to achieve for my rehab. Training went well. I did the run in the following October, only ten months after the accident; not so life-changing after all…
Unforeseen complications made themselves apparent later that year in the form of advanced plantar fasciitis. It had been getting progressively worse for months. I just thought it was a strain in a ligament in my left foot due to the accident and it would get better, I’d run it off. I couldn’t run it off. The scans showed a plantar ligament of 13.3mm width looking like a lace doily; a normal plantar ligament is 3mm of smooth whip-like connective tissue. After all the treatment techniques, the podiatrist could think of I ended up in an air boot; you know, one of those rigid plastic frames with padding and inflatable air bladders. Most days the pain was intolerable; some days it was excruciating. I carried on working. Various ‘well-meaning’ family members and friends urged me to take a claim out against the company because, “It’s obviously from your accident!” So, being at a low ebb, that’s what I did. As soon as that happened things got REALLY bad!
Back track a couple of months to just after I started wearing the boot. I saw the 22 Push Up Challenge on Facebook and asked a pal to nominate me. So, that’s how I started the push-ups, as a way of taking my mind off the injury and focusing on people in greater need than me.
Ok, so I’m at work wearing the boot 19 hours a day for the last two months, still at the gym, still doing the push-ups and posting to social media. One day my manager, awesome man and good friend, told me the directors felt it best if I don’t work with the boot on as it’s against health and safety. So, it’s my choice if I take the boot off or don’t come to work. They had me over a barrel. I went off sick but I still posted my push-ups as they didn’t affect the foot. Being off work wasn’t helping with my anxiety levels. Then I was told sick pay was discretionary and the directors wouldn’t pay it as I was doing push-ups. Then I was called in for a disciplinary hearing for exercising while off sick; written warning. I couldn’t now go to the gym at all. They’d taken away the only thing that was keeping me sane! If it wasn’t for my girls and my Mum and my sister I’d have been in a very bad way. All in all I was off work for a total of six months with no pay. But I never missed a day’s push-ups; what if I don’t bother with the push-ups and someone needed to see them or needed a phone number? I couldn’t take that chance.
Finally, I was allowed back to work. After another written warning for a minor infringement that was a slap on the wrist at best, I was told by a senior manager that the directors were actively bullying me out of my job because I put a claim in. They didn’t like black sheep in their family. That hardened my resolve to leave on MY terms.
Here’s where the point of my story becomes evident… During this time, I’d met my partner who has proved to be an absolute rock. She encouraged me to study for my level three personal trainer qualification. I gained that and secretly set up interviews and employment for myself, all the while re-habbing my foot and getting stronger in the gym again. The day came when I could look the directors in the eye and hand them my resignation. No big-arsed speech or recriminating rhetoric; just the quiet satisfaction of knowing I held true to my moral code, I never lied, I never let my behavior fall below my standard, all through the bullying, the blanking in the staff canteen, the spurious written warnings, not being invited to the staff Christmas do, I never once let my employers know how much they had got to me. That day was truly momentous.
Although I was now a self-employed personal trainer making my own hours, living my dream, Everest still loomed like a great dark shadow on my horizon. Would I ever be able to walk ten yards without pain, let alone RUN five to ten miles and negotiate obstacles? Only one way to find out…
Flash forward to 19th August this year. I’m stood in the driving rain at the start of my first obstacle race. I made it. Everest isn’t all that after all…
Will is a personal trainer, an Alpha Dad 2.0 Contributor, and an ambassador for Combat fuel, good2go apparel and three zero coffee