It is quite fitting that the conclusion of my trip down memory lane, coincides with the 12 year anniversary of the Beijing Olympics. After Beijing I suffered from, what sports people call, the post Olympic blues. It is a daunting feeling knowing you have 4 years of hard work and early morning before the next opportunity to compete at an Olympics. It is the reason so many sports people call it a day after the Games.
When I look back on it now I am sure I was suffering some form of depression. I felt cheated out of the moment I should have cherished, I felt sick every time someone congratulated me on my performance. I hid my medal away and only begrudgingly got it out to show people. I had completely lost the love for everything, found it hard to motivate myself to even get out of bed let alone get back in the pool. I remember getting to training crying whilst I put my costume on and I physically could not even bring myself to dive in the water so I just drove home again.
This darkness went on for months, until my coach pulled some strings with British cycling and got me to see the Legendary psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, the author of the Chimp Paradox. I recall the first time I met him, he listened to my sob my way though my feelings and when I finished he said ‘ Cassie lets get one thing straight- you get payed to travel the world splashing around in a puddle of water! There are people out there who would do anything to be in your position.’ It was brutal and cutting but my goodness that was the slap in the face I needed to start getting things into perspective. I worked with Steve for several months and together we got my ‘Chimp’ into its cadge. (if you have no idea what I’m referring to I highly recommend you reading the Chimp Paradox).
By the time I was back in the pool properly, training and competing well again it was late 2010, I was in the best shape of my life and was finally feeling good about myself. I had my sights firmly set on London 2012, I was more motivated than ever. The Open water qualifications was going to take place in 2011, a whole year before the games. I had qualified to compete at the Shanghai World Championships which doubled as the qualification event. All was going to plan, then disaster struck.
One Saturday morning I woke up and found it hard to lift my right arm, shoulder injuries had plagued my career since I was 16 and I was quite used to being in pain but this was different. I got to the pool and told my coach, as Saturday morning was the hardest session of the week, but he replied to get on with it. So that’s what I did, I trained hard and pushed myself to the limit. The next morning I woke up and I could not lift my arm past shoulder height. I booked in to see the team physio who after treating me referred me to a shoulder specialist, where I had several scans and MRIs. The whole time I was still training hard between 80 and 100km a week, taking copious painkillers to numb the pain. To give you some insight into how bad my shoulder was I could not cut up my food using my right hand, I used to get my flat mates to cut it up for me, I couldn’t brush my hair with my right hand and every night I would wake up to my right hand clenched into a fist because of the nerve damage. I know some of you will be reading this who have suffered from shoulder pain and can relate to this but for the rest shoulder injuries eat at you because everything you do from opening a door to reaching for toilet paper hurts and makes you feel sick.
When I travelled out to shanghai I begged my dad to come out, I knew that that race would ether make or end my swimming career, as I had to come top 10 to make the Olympics. In the holding camp I was on average 7-10 sec per 100m slower that I had been pre injury. On the morning of the race I was so nervous. I never normally suffered from nerves, as I revelled in racing and competing. I had taken the legal limit of painkillers to try and get my shoulder to hold out for 10km. I dived in and the start of the race went well, for 2.5km I was up with the leading pack. Then at about 3km my right arm got knocked roughly and the sheering pain in my shoulder took my breath away. I swam the next 7km -1.5hours delirious with pain. When the finish line came into view I gritted my teeth and pushed to the final stroke. On the touch I didn’t want to look at the score board as I just knew I had not come top 10. I had came 19th and my Olympic dream was over.
I cried for about 3 days straight, my dad who had travelled to China to support me tried to cheer me up with copious amounts of ice cream. When we landed back in the UK my dad came with me to see the shoulder specialist who told me that my shoulder tendon had been worn away and was ‘ hanging on by a tread!’ he also told me that If I ever wanted a good quality of life in the future and have a shoulder strong enough to hold any children I would have in the future, I needed to stop swimming as soon as possible. After that consultation my dad took me for cake and he told me that I had done amazing things in my swimming career and I had to think of the rest of my life.
I retired from swimming on the 7th October 2011.
After that I travelled the world for a year, it was very strange not having to be up at 4am to go to the pool and for the first time in a long time I didn’t smell of chlorine. When I landed back in the uk I had a full shoulder reconstruction, with good results. I have about 80% of the range of movement in that shoulder. It still pains me to swim or to lift my arm above my head but day to day it is pretty good.
I got to work at the 2012 Olympics, I was the Sky Sport Swimming pundit. I loved getting glammed up and talking about swimming. I was also asked to be the in venue commentator for the Marathon swim at the Serpentine. It was surreal to be sat on a boat talking about the race that I had trained so hard to be part of but for me it was Closure I needed.
As an Olympic medallist I was asked to go to the Opening ceremony, it was an incredible experience. When the Olympic flame was being lit in the arena, they played a clip of every British medallist. I recall getting goose bumps seeing myself in lights with a hundred thousand people cheering. I rang home and said ‘ mum I’m an Olympic medallist’ to a reply of ‘ its only taken you four years to realise?’ but I guess it had. It was only then when the magnitude of what it means to be an Olympic Medallist sank in.
I am Proud of my medal now, I am proud of what it took to win in, thousands of hours of hard work years of dedicating myself to swimming and believing I could win. I go into schools and tell ‘my story’, of how a little girl from Cornwall, worked hard and made her dreams come true. I would say I have shown close to 10 thousand school children my medal and I love it when years later by chance I meet one of the pupils again and they tell me they remember the jelly fish story!!
Now this has been a very abridged version of my swimming career but I would not have even been at the Olympics at all without a very special few, people who have supported me, cheered me on and pushed me to be the best I could be. So Thankyou to Mr D my first swimming teacher who made me love being I the water. All my coaches at Bodmin SC, Plymouth Leander, Stockport Metro and briefly City of Sheffield, Especially Sean Kelly, Mark Perry, Helen Slatter and Emma Deaking my Olympic dream team. The biggest and most heart felt thank you goes to ‘ TEAM PATTEN’ Daddles who despite nearly drowning me as a baby was always there for me, at every gala and always new exactly what to say in every situation. To Grudge who used to Pack my swimming bag, anti-fog my goggles, pack my lunch, taxi me to training and was always there in the background supporting me. Finally Sistee thankyou for spending much of your childhood at swimming pools, never complaining about spending birthdays on poolside at Nationals and just being my biggest cheerleader. Thanks guys I honesty wouldn’t have done it without you. Finally thanks Marty for just being you and loving me for being me.