So, the honour of the first blog and podcast interview in this series of getting to know the School of Calisthenics team falls to me. I asked Jacko what he thought I should write about. ‘Whatever you like’, he replied! Perfect, I’m going left-field on this one then.
Those of you who have listened to the podcast, been to a workshop or read blogs before, will have heard some of my history. The stories of how we started calisthenics and my dislocated shoulders have been told so many times that those who have been part of the community since the start could almost tell them for me.
Jacko interviewed me on the podcast this week and we talked in depth about my coaching journey, how my rugby career nearly ended aged 12, my life as a scuba diving instructor, my passion for Paralympic sport and what I actually do at the School of Calisthenics. I don’t think we mentioned shoulder reconstructions once, so give it a listen and I hope you find it interesting.
To avoid repetition in this blog I’m going to share something more personal. It’s a simple premise that has defined pretty much everything I have done of any significance in my life. It is encapsulated perfectly in a poem by Robert Frost.
For me this section of the poem is what some would describe as a ‘life-verse’. It’s something that gives me confidence to stay true to who I am, focuses my efforts and motivation and serves as a consolation in times of struggle.
Two roads diverged in the woods,
And I took the road less travelled.
That has made all the difference.
The details of the decisions that have taken me off the beaten track are less important than the underlying message that I hope will resonate with some of you too.
When I finished my business and management degree all of my friends applied for graduate schemes at blue chip companies and got on the career ladder. I flew to Australia to become a professional beach bum disguised as a scuba diving instructor. It cost me a small fortune at that time in my life, but it was something I wanted to do. To travel and get paid to do it.
Living on a beach gets boring after a while and I thought I should probably get a ‘proper’ job so I flew from Zanzibar back to the UK and eventually landed a job in Sports Development. After a couple of years the department went through a restructure and I had to reapply for my job. I was successful and it came with a pay rise. Two weeks later I handed in my resignation as I had been offered a job off the back of my strength and conditioning coaching internship. The starting salary was the same as what I had started the sports development role on two years prior. Someone said to me;
‘Everyone wants to be in sports development and you’re leaving, why?’.
It actually seemed pretty simple to me.
‘Because I don’t want to do it anymore and I want to be a strength and conditioning coach’.
I spent the next five years working crazy hours, mostly in a university environment with the performance athletes. I’d also built a reputation as a Paralympic specialist Strength and Conditioning coach with some athletes on the side. There are 100’s of people who would love the job I had, but I decided to leave, not to take another employed role but to start my own Paralympic sports performance business. When I sat down to tell the guys who I was working for I said,
‘Anything I am doing that is not focused on Paralympic sport is not taking me closer to my goal’,
Which at that time was to go to the games in Rio 2016 with the British team.
Even though it was unconscious for many years it seems I’m drawn to the road less travelled. In fact, I find it irresistible. As soon as something gets easy, I seem to search for some way to make things uncomfortable again.
The truth is that taking the less trodden path has paid off. As a scuba diving instructor I was able to travel the world doing something that I loved. I was in the ocean, teaching, coaching and looking for sharks. These things make me happy.
When I left sports development I started a career as a strength and conditioning coach, something that I honestly believe I was created to do. I love coaching, learning, being with people and Paralympic sport gave the chance to be innovative and creative.
Quitting a perfectly good contract as a coach in a university to pursue my dream of being selected to represent Great Britain worked out too. I was selected by ParalympicsGB as the strength and conditioning coach for the Rio 2016 holding camp and lead the physical preparation for the Para-Swimming team at the Games. Prayers are answered and dreams come true.
This is what the truth looked like, but with it comes a reality.
The quote from Robert Frost’s poem is often cut short after the first two lines. But the story behind the poem reveals a deeper meaning, and the third line is crucial.
It is not just a point of encouragement to step out and be brave, but also the stark realisation that this choice is not always for the better. Sometimes the road less travelled isn’t all sunshine and roses. Sometimes it’s thorns and thunder. Good things can happen, but hardship and challenge are inevitable.
On average, the path of least resistance is more lucrative, more secure and more predictable. But I think it also holds less surprises.
I trust my gut feeling a lot and it rarely lets me down. It’s a small voice inside me that knows what is right.
This was supposed to be a blog about my story. Instead I think it actually sheds some light on why my story has played out like it has so far.
I love life and I find the road less travelled exciting, energising and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I encourage others to explore it for themselves because their dreams might be waiting for them just around the corner. But I have learnt it comes with a caveat. You have to be prepared to work your backside off. This road is less travelled for a reason. It can be brutally difficult at times. And it is for that reason that it is so rewarding.
Calisthenics reflects this perfectly. The easy option for me with my training and injury background would have been to stick with the standard weight training I was doing. Safe and predictable. Instead I made a decision to try calisthenics. All in for 3 months and if I didn’t like it, I’d go back. If at that point 5 years ago you’d have told me what I would be doing now, I would have never believed you. It’s incredible how the journey has played out.
For me the School of Calisthenics is all about the road less travelled. It’s written into the ethos of ‘redefine your impossible’. These things don’t sit waiting to be found on the path of least resistance. They are instead hidden in the woods, through thickets of thorns, brambles and stinging nettles. If you want one, you’re going to have to work for it. But ask anyone who has taken the challenge and done it for themselves and they will tell you, despite the scratches and scars, it is worth it.
What might the road less travelled have in store for you? Martin Luther King Jr said that you don’t have to see the whole staircase, you just need to see the first step.
I hope you enjoyed reading this.