Saturday, 25 November 2017

Awards are like buses, you wait for ages and then three turn up at the same time

You go through life without any real idea of the impact that you leave as you make your way in the world.  I have said on a number of occasions that I am nothing special; I will never be remembered as a famous celebrity, an amazing businessman, a great writer or a top class sportsman.  All I am is an ordinary person, husband and father.  The only thing that distinguishes me from most of the people I meet is that I had a stroke and they haven't.  Whilst this is not unique, there are many stroke survivors in this country, it is the thing that has had the single biggest impact on my life.  Since my stroke I have tried to be the best person I could be.  I haven't let the stroke defeat me and all I am trying to do is live the best life that I could possibly live.

In my life I have never won much other than the odd pub quiz and the occasional game of football.  So to win an award was something I never really considered.  The first award was at the West Suffolk Sports Awards.  I was nominated for the Triumph over Adversity Award by my wife.  I didn't really expect much to come of it as like I said I am nothing special.  It was a great surprise when I received an email to say that I was shortlisted for the award and was invited to the award ceremony at St Edmundsbury Cathedral.  They asked me if i would like to invite anyone to attend.  The obvious choice was my wife and as I knew my children wouldn't be able to attend the only other people I wanted to share the evening were two of my therapists from Icanho.  It's almost impossible to thank everyone from Icanho enough.  Yes I had raised £2,500 for them but sharing the awards evening was something else I could do to say how much I appreciated their help.

A couple of weeks before the ceremony there was another email explaining that the nominees for all of the awards were entered into the Peoples Choice award.  This was awarded on the basis of a public vote on Facebook.  Votes opened on Friday morning and would run until Sunday at midnight.

When I got the email on the Friday evening I looked at the vote and I had received a few votes but there were people who had over 70 votes.  I thought that it wouldn't hurt to put a post on my Facebook page and tweet about it.  Although not expecting much I checked how the voting was going on Saturday afternoon.  I was quite shocked to see that i had received over 100 votes and that I was just in the lead.  It was great to see who had voted and many people were my friends but there were just as many who I didn't know.  I was amazed that so many people had voted for me.  By Sunday afternoon the votes had slowly grown and I was still in the lead but it was getting closer.  I took the opportunity to re-post to Facebook.  In the end by midnight on Sunday night I was 20 votes in front.  I had won the Peoples Champion award.  Winning an award that was voted for by the general public was amazing.  

The Triumph Over Adversity Award
A few weeks later it was the West Suffolk Sports Awards and there was a gathering of the great and the good of the West Suffolk sporting scene.  The four of us enjoyed the hospitality at the cathedral.  We were on a great table with an amazing triathlete and a coach both of whom won their respective categories.  The first award that I was nominated for was the Triumph Over Adversity award.  I didn't really expect to win; I knew one of the other nominees and really thought what he had been through with cancer and his contribution to the local athletics would mean he would easily win.  It was a real shock when my name was announced as the winner.  My heart was almost beating out of my chest, it was a great feeling.  I looked round the table and everyone on the table was smiling, cheering and clapping.  It was a special moment hearing the audience clapping and cheering as I went up to collect the award.  I collected the award and was congratulated by the award presenter and had my photo taken.  I returned to my seat and on the way back a person got up from a table and came over to shake my hand.  It was all very surreal.

The Peoples Champion Award
A few awards later it was the Peoples Champion award, although I knew that I had already won the award it was still a great feeling going up to collect it.  The rest of the evening went past quickly and at the end of the evening I had my photo taken with Sally Gunnell.  Sally is one of my running heroes and hearing her talk earlier in the evening made me appreciate how much top athletes sacrifice to get to the top of their sport, truly amazing.

I have been very privileged to be involved with Bury St Edmunds Junior parkrun.  I have always thought that if you take part in an event that is run by volunteers you should be a volunteer on a regular basis.  I have been running at the main parkrun for a couple of years and used to volunteer on occasions.  However, since my stroke I have had to rely on others to drive me to parkrun so I don't like to make people hang round after they have finished.  For that reason I decided that I would volunteer at the junior parkrun which is only a short walk from my home.  I have loved being part of the team there and have made some good friends.  They are special group of people who like me think it is important to give back to the community; without people like this the community would not be the same.  The two leaders of the parkrun Steve and Hannah give a lot to the event and their passion for the event has made it such a great success.  You are probably wondering why I have made this diversion away from the topic.  The event was chosen to be put forward for a Peoples Choice Project award at the Suffolk Sports Awards.  This was open to a public vote across the whole of Suffolk.  For me it was a no brainer (I'm allowed to say that as part of my brain is missing!!) but it still had to be voted for and I was totally delighted when it won the award.  There were cameras at a parkrun to record a showcase about the event, this was to be shown at the awards.  

A little while after the recording I got an email from Steve asking if Stephanie and me to join the rest of the junior parkrun team.  I was surprised to be asked as there are so many great volunteers who take part regularly.  It was great to be asked to share in an evening where another award was to be given.  I had no hesitation in accepting the invite.  

We now have to jump forwards in time to the day of the awards.  I woke up and I was so fuzzy that i could not talk properly, it was one of my worst speaking days since my stroke.  Although disappointed I felt I had no choice but to cry off the awards ceremony.  I think Stephanie was relieved as it was quite a journey to the ceremony and she would have to drive. I emailed Steve to tell him and hoped that he could find someone to take our places.  I went to work even though I wasn't feeling great but in the end I had to go home.  Stephanie took me home and suggested that I should rest and maybe I would feel better and would be able to go.  She told me that Steve had messaged her to see whether I was likely to feel better as they would like me to go if possible as I was an important part of parkrun.  I slept for three or four hours and I confess that I did feel a lot better afterwards.  I probably wouldn't have gone except that Stephanie thought I would enjoy it and that junior parkrun was important for me.  She also thought that I would love see them be awarded the trophy.  We did decide to go in the end.

The awards were held in a posh hotel on the outskirts of Ipswich.  The room looked very beautiful with lots of starry lights in the ceiling.  It was a great venue and the food was lovely too.  The Junior parkrun award was later in the ceremony so there was plenty of time to listen to all of the awards.  All of the awards were given to some great people and there were many deserving awards.  The time came for the Elena Baltacha award.  Elena was the British number one British tennis player but tragically died from liver cancer in May 2014.  She was an inspirational person and her legacy lives on through her foundation.  Please read more about her on her Wikipedia page 

The award is given to a person who shows the positive outcome and difference that sports can make on someone's life.  The award was presented by Elena's husband Nino Severino.  He began the nomination "The winner of this year’s award is truly deserving of this award and is an inspiration to all showing how sport can not only aid recovery from a major health problem, but can help others.  At just 53 years old he suffered a stroke whilst racing to the finish line during the Ickworth Park 10k race in 2016 that would change his life.... 

Nino Severino presenting the Elena Baltacha Award
At this point it dawned on me that he was telling my story. I could not believe it. I had no expectation of winning an award and here was someone on stage talking about all of the things I had gone through and how I had dealt with my problems.  All of the people on the parkrun tables had realised that they were talking about me and the looks on their faces was astonishment.  I am sure I looked equally astonished.  Listening to Nino tell my story made me realise for the first time that I had achieved something that many others couldn't.  I have never thought of my self as anything other an ordinary person dealing with a bad hand that life dealt me.  Here was someone describing me and I thought if it hadn't been me I would have been in awe of what this person had achieved.  It genuinely brought a tear to my eye.  The nomination continued for a little while and at the end I was invited onto the stage to accept the Elena Baltacha Award.  Nino presented me the award and he spoke to me in glowing terms and that I had achieved something amazing and I should be proud of what I had achieved.  I told him that accepting the award named in honour of his wife was incredibly humbling.  We turned towards the audience for the official photo and I could not help notice people standing, clapping and cheering - particularly all my friends on the parkrun tables.  It was an incredible feeling listening and witnessing the audience reaction, I was on cloud 9. 
A picture of me with the award

If you want to see the whole speech plus me receiving the award just click on the link below.

So is this post telling you how great I think I am.  No it's not.  Am I proud of what I have achieved? Yes of course I am.  I haven't done this to boast about things, I have done this to tell stroke survivors that you all have the opportunity to be a success.  I am fortunate in that I am fully mobile (my problems are cognitive, vision and memory related).  You have to find your own Everest to climb.  For me running was that challenge, after all my stroke happened after a race. Stroke survivors must celebrate every success however insignificant others may think them.  Your Everest could be walking down the street, it could be doing a crossword or even feeding your self unaided.  The trophies I won are for all stroke survivors you are all amazing and you need to tell yourself that every day.  Your body tried its best to kill you but you survived.  To paraphrase a quote "The stroke whispered in my ear, “You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.” Today I whispered in the strokes ear, “I am the storm.”


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