Death by Treadmill

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Yesterday was a session that had me scared for quite some time. ‘Death by Treadmill’ for me this week was a 5*6min interval set working in very high heart rates. Mattias is in his element here, he seems to love making you hurt and it becomes one of the aims in the session to show that your hard enough to handle it! But realistically it’s exactly what is needed particularly for me at this point in time. In his very own words ‘time to stop being a little bi*ch and make some GAINS!’

It may not seem that tough by looking at it, but right here I am about 7 beats per minute off my max heart rate. That’s the key, working close to your max but try and make it as smooth and efficient as possible. It’s quite an incentive to hold technique actually, as soon as you lose it, you go straight to the back of the treadmill! Falling off and hanging by the hoist is not something you want to do in front of the rest of the academy athletes using the indoor track and hall. Maybe shows why I haven’t quite skied as fast as I probably should have in the past!

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For the last two, Mattias turns it up even harder, particularly on the last one. By going to within a couple of beats of max, you can see it was just time to hang on – hence the expression on my face….

On Snow!

Training has continued at a good rate over the last week or so, however its becoming very obvious my body is playing a bit of catch up. The amount of times I have come back after sessions feeling completely spent, feeling as hungry as a barking dog is beyond countless. This ‘Fika’ buffet that we found sorted that issue one afternoon – lucky its only a once a week operation!

All you can eat...

All you can eat…

The test race I spoke of in my last post was an absolute disaster. A 15km classic rollerski time trial where I lacked any form of power almost entirely and completely lacked the ability to raise my heart. It was a real disappointment as the interval sessions leading into this session had been only getting better, but this was a real sinker! It’s just important for me to realise that it is unrealistic to expect my body to work the way I want it to every session with what it has been through, particularly with the current high load.

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For the last week we were on camp with Dala Sports Academy and our coach Mattias up in Bruksvallarna. Unfortunately as luck would have it, all the natural snow melted the day before we arrived however with this being the first time back on skis for me in quite some time it was a great to be back at it! It was nice to have our first bit of sun in quite some time on the third day we were there – even if it was short lived.

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With only a 4km tough race loop to work with, the longer session were quite tolling but despite a tough schedule my body seemed to react quite well this time. Only the second last day we did a 12km freestyle test race which to my surprise went a whole lot better than expected. With the heart rates all still being lower than they should be throughout, I could tell my system was still dealing with a lot of fatigue however I  managed to post the 4th fastest time in the group. There are still some definite improvements to come, many of which will hopefully be there just from tapering a little and feeling a little fresher. Now at least I know I am getting right back up to where I was before the accident and have the confidence that the starting the World Cup season in Lillehammer in 3weeks time is within reach.

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After a tough week, even the coaches are a little fried but here is Philpot taking some revenge on Mattias – time to make the coach hurt for a change!

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Unfortunately our little Opel has completely packed it in now. We were driving it to a friends garage where we would replace the water pump that had decided it wanted to change it’s ambitions in life to pump water onto the road instead of into the engine. Since we are some of the luckiest lads around, we got within 200m of the garage when the water pump completely broke of, taking the timing belt with it. This essentially turns the internals of the engine into mince meat – RIP Opel Astra 1.6! Despite your sheer ugliness you will be missed!

Sweden!

It has been a while since my last post, but hopefully now that I have found the rhythm of life in Sweden once again I can keep the updates more consistent! It’s been a little over 1.5 weeks that I have been back in Sweden now and thankfully everything has been relatively drama free!

One of the few Sunny days - SHORTS weather!!

One of the few Sunny days – SHORTS weather!!

Straight away I have noticed the difference in training. Since I have been given the all clear to max everything out once again, the training has shifted to try and develop the areas of training that I have lacked substantially for the last period – this being high end intensity. The hours are still relatively high but the amount and duration of intensity session has increased. Surprisingly I have found myself not so far off where I was in my best shape before I left here to go back for the Australian winter. Aerobically my system has recovered amazingly well, I am strong again on the tough hillbounding sessions and this eliminates any doubt of whether my lungs are holding me back at all. I’m still suffering more than I am wanting to but the power and speed on the rollerskis is also coming along with but session feeling better and better! This has all added up to leave my body feeling completely spent all the time! As I write this, I feel almost as tired as our little rusted out Opel Astra!

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Speaking of which, it has just about thrown in the towel on us! (hopefully I don’t suffer the same fate!!) Smoke, steam and a whole lot of rattling has increased ten fold in the past week and the diagnosis? A busted water pump… But realistically this isn’t surprising really. This little beast took us 6000km and not the easiest of 6000kms either. So for $250 each, I think its served us well. We will still have a go at fixing it, but the chances of successful resuscitation could be minimalistic!

Being back in Sweden has been really nice, and culturally you always notice just how different Australia is to anywhere else when you go abroad again. I’ve come to the conclusion that Swede’s must see us as completely strange in many ways. We will go training in shorts when the temperature is above 9degreesC, so long as its not raining heavily. Swedes on the other hand are very much season orientated. If it’s Autumn or close to winter, jackets and long tights are a MUST even if it is 14degrees outside! If it was summer and only 7 degrees however (which it often is here), its tanning season and a jacket and long tights would be seen as completely ludicrous! Rules and traditions are also followed as though there are enormous consequences, even if there are none! Brilliant creation like our Creme Freiche and Jam combos are absolutely mortifying for a Swede to even consider.

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Here’s another example; there is a street in town where only taxis and buses are suppose to drive, however because we are idiots we of course had no idea and drive down down there a few times a week! Yes, looking back it was strange that people crossing the road just didn’t seem to care if they were completely in your way and odd looks seemed to be increased compared to usual but not once have we been stopped or fined. Ask a Swede to drive down that same road though and it would be like asking them to rob a bank! This just outlines the genuine and trustworthy nature of Swedes though, so its not something to complain about.

Rain, cold and darkness is mostly what is to be found in this nation at this time of year. But if you know where to look, what else can be found are these amazing mushrooms. They sell for 170SEK (around $26) per Kilo! So this was a great day!

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Yes, talk has been pretty minimal on the topic of training, however I’ll be sure to give it all a bit more attention in the next post. Particularly after this weekend’s test race and the rest of this week’s intensity sessions. Despite the horrific fatigue and soreness from the increase in level of training, our time on the rollerskis has been made so much nicer in the last few days. We have both (Phil and I) had some horrible luck with rollerskis over the past year and between us gone through countless rollerski wheels, shafts and brackets. Phil has power and a bigger build to blame whereas for me its maybe just bad luck. But with all bad luck come good luck. Here are the new Marwe 620 XC’s that Håkan at Huselius Skidsport has generously given us to try and ensure the rest of our preparations for Falun 2015 World Champs are trouble free. Thanks so much Håkan!!

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Recovered

One of the luxuries of staying at home for longer is enjoying the longer days and warmer weather. Waiting for my visa to be approved is torturous! I need to get myself back to Sweden as quickly as I can as I know that is where I can improve the most. Sweden however is terribly cold and dark this time of year… That makes being stuck here a little easier to handle. I do have to start being careful with all the snakes about now, yesterday while running after my gym session I saw two Brown Snakes, the second looking as though it has just eaten a small rabbit or something of similar size – its been quite some time that I have had to be concerned about them. Here is a much friendlier visitor that was in the backyard earlier last week that a lot of people (primarily members of the Mens British Ski Team) were mistaking for a snake on Instagram – a big Blue Tongue Lizard of course! Come on fellas, I wouldn’t voluntarily get that close to a massive snake, my last name isn’t Irwin! Nor Kovacs for that matter – check out what that crazy man has been up to: http://pkovacsxc.wordpress.com/

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After almost exactly 2 months since my accident and after being given the all clear medically, last Thursday was time to see how my body reacted to a maximum effort in the form of a VO2 max test. This is the kind of test that no-one ever wins, your body will always fail, its just a matter of how long you can last – Go till you drop!! This ordinarily gets me nervous, primarily for the pain you are about to put yourself through but also due to the amazing desire to improve on last time. This I hope gives you an idea of how much I was stressing about returning to that treadmill. Performing well in previous tests has been a continual mental boost for me throughout my career – on paper I could match it with the best in terms of raw Aerobic output however now, after this particular accident, it’s all an uncertainty. With Silvana’s (my surgeon’s) expertise, thankfully every measure was taken to try and preserve as much lung capacity as possible, however the actual damage done takes a lot more to determine.

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It’s that fear again – the fear of my lungs having problems dealing with the most aerobically straining tests of all but also the fear of potentially seeing results that one of my greatest assets had disappeared. I was about as nervous as making my Olympic debut – quite simply ‘packing it!’ I made it through to the higher stages feeling very comfortable which put me in a much better head space. At 36 minutes is where I hit my record breaking result last time so I knew if I could just get onto the same stage as that (32-36min bracket) the result can’t be that bad! I made it through to 32min feeling like my system was still coping, after that though the speed at which I fell apart was dramatic! Usually I can feel my system struggling but I can manage it for a while – this time I just fell into a world of pain from the lactic acid. I forced it out to 35min which despite the discomfort was worth every bit back in satisfaction.

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Above are my results and by looking at them closely, there are definitely some unusual things going on. At least however my biggest fear hasn’t quite eventuated. If no injury had ever occurred and I had just been restricted to the training program that I have completed over the past 2 months, the lactate curves and level reached would be as expected if not surprisingly much better than expected. I need to keep reminding myself that I have only completed a handful of sub-threshold and only 1 above threshold workouts. There is good reason for falling apart at a faster rate at those higher intensities – my body has lacked the training in those areas entirely. So with all things considering, I am amazed at how fast my fitness has bounced back.

The confusion comes when looking at the VO2 readings. As you can see on the graph, this test (blue line) shows lower VO2 levels at the same level of work. My best back in September 2013 was 89.7ml/kg and this test shows a bit of a drop to 80.75ml/kg. At first I was a little worried to see this, however the initial responses from the various physiologists I have spoken to have said its not an issue at all. If you are the same weight, and the test is running exactly the same protocol in terms of speed and gradients at each level, the only way you can reach the same level of work with lower VO2 readings is from an increase in efficiency. As I do more intensity training, these values will rise again (hopefully to what they were before) and I will be able to handle even higher levels of work. So to gain efficiency in movement by laying horizontal for 12 days is not very likely, however it’s almost certainly due to the training that I did before the accident. With my coach Mattias at DSA, my strength, endurance and intensity programs have completely changed and hopefully we are seeing some of these gains now even with this set back. To last another minute at the same intensity on the treadmill is completely achievable and I have faith now that I can reach this level of fitness and even go beyond before my key World Cup and World Championship events this season. It’s not in my interest and never has been to achieve the same results – I just can’t think about it that way and this time around is no different. I understand and appreciate the challenge of getting back to where I was last season and that should be enough, but that’s not the way I operate.

I now know that my body can handle the hardest of workloads, and mentally this is a huge relief. Intensity is going to be the primary focus in the coming weeks and as rough as that’s going to be, I’m ready for it!

Continued difficulties with my visa last week has delayed my travel progress. I am hoping to finally get the all clear in the next few days. Hopefully they realise that I’m not such a bad bloke and start becoming a little more welcoming!!! No, I understand the procedures that need to be followed but I do hope it’s all smooth sailing from here.

Momentum

Momentum is hard to gather for heavier objects but luckily I am a light weight! Maybe that is why coming back has been easier than I ever expected. For the first time I feel that I have been smart about about getting back into training. Usually with injuries  I fire things up too hot, too early and well and truly cook the goose! This time I have been scared, any reprocussions would be unbearable, so in a way this fear has helped keep me sensible.

The AUSXC Team camp was great. Unfortunately I missed the first day due to sudden family commitments in Sydney, however luckily that coincided with meeting up with Teresa before she flew back to Sweden the next day. Seconds before a man in a suit fell in, Manly was offering a beautiful view to watch and relax!

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The following day however was back to work!! As mentioned In my previous post, medically I was given the all clear to step it up a notch! The plan was to see how my system worked and responded by going above threshold by completing the first stages of the VO2 Max test. L4 is what we call it, but essentially a level of work around race pace and getting to the higher ranges of heart rate capacity. My body was for sure working hard not having touched on these intensities for quite some time, but all the feedback was positive. I had no pain with the higher strain on my lungs and chest and this has now meant I can continue rebuilding my form with high intensity training. This has already been implemented into the plan and I completed my first full set of L4 Double pole intervals yesterday. Maybe the early season isn’t a complete write off afterall!

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The following day was quite the challenge! A Christmas adventure race consisting of running, rollerskiing and kayaking around Australia’s Capital. This was my longest workout for quite some time but apart from one mess up trying to find a checkpoint, the whole session was completely drama free. My complete respect now goes out to kayak athletes – that had my shoulders screaming!

Photo cred: Finn Marsland AUSXC

Photo cred: Finn Marsland AUSXC

Due to the altitude and remoteness of the activity, I have unfortunately completely missed out on the amazing Australian spring skiing that was to be had this year. So the final session being a ski across the main range in NSW, was a little disappointing to miss. Sometimes it really is hard to not be an idiot and actually follow the rules of rehabilitation!

That afternoon was the NSWXC awards BBQ where I received my 3rd NSW Athlete of the Year alongside my sister Aimee.  The definite highlight was to see all the kids and younger athletes that I had coached earlier in the year. It was a little emotional to see just how much they cared about my health and what they had done to help raise funds to help get me out of this mess. Thanks NSWXC, a small yet unbelievably strong community.

Photo cred: NSWXC

Photo cred: NSWXC

This week I have been discussing with my Surgeon the progress so far and moving forward from here. I need to quickly mention just how amazing my surgeon has been. Her completely professional but friendly approach has given me such confidence right from the day of planning the surgery. Even after taking leave she has continued assisting my rehabilitation plan and I am so grateful! Thanks Silvana! The great news is that I just received confirmation that I am medically cleared to go for a Max test! There is a big difference in physical stress between higher intensity training and a maximal effort where you go until you drop, but at some point it has to be done. I plan to fly back to Sweden at the end of next week and I think it is definitely smarter to take the risk here rather than abroad. So now begins the planning of a potential VO2 max test for next week. Already I feel nervous about it; that fear is certainly raising it’s ugly head yet the feeling of overcoming it will of course be all worth it!

That was Intense!

One of the nice things about still being at home instead of already being in Sweden is that I don’t miss out on the Aussie Spring! This last week has been amazing weather and that always makes a big training week even nicer!

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Fortunately, this last week I have found the progression in my health and training to continue at the same amazingly fast rate. Already I am back to hitting higher hours again – It was just over a 20hr week! With skiing at lower levels feeling completely comfortable once again, and beginning to return to similar energy levels to what I am use to, it was time to progress one step further. Last week was my re-introduction to interval training, and I was pumped for it!!

The first two sessions were limited to Level 2 which for me corresponds to heart rates of less than 150. The first session of 3*10min L2 classic was pretty easy session but a sensible, tentative approach is certainly necessary given my situation. 4*10min skate was the second session later in the week which was also shouldn’t be that demanding, however I had some trouble keeping it tame! Finally moving at speed again and feeling like I had some power to burn was just such a good feeling and admittedly I may have gone into L3 a few times…. on each interval… However, in my defence it was very difficult given that I am still unable to wear a heart rate monitor strap. Internally, apart from the stiffness and random shoots of nerve pain, I feel relatively pain-free, however on the surface I am dealing with a lot more sensitivity. The skin is still completely numb, however underneath that layer and around the surgical sites is still amazingly painful to push on. I am pretty well known my my ability to over-react on the odd occasion and whilst getting out of the car the other day, the wind blew the door onto my ribs – it felt like I had been shot!! This was definitely one of those occasions… The unfortunate situation is that one of these sore sites lies directly where my strap goes. So after a couple more weeks and a few spoonfuls of concrete I’ll hopefully be fine again, in the mean time we are talking about strapless options. And now it sounds like I am talking about a new bra….

Photo Cred: Carla Zijlstra

Photo Cred: Carla Zijlstra

I do most of my training close to home on the quiet country roads. There usually is close to no traffic, however was quite surprised to be stopped by Ant Evans and his wife Carla, both legends in what they achieved in their sporting careers but great friends. They too were surprised to see me, half naked in the middle of no-where but you have to make the most of the warm weather while you have it! Aussie spring has already been just as warm as some of the nice days of the Swedish Summer we experienced – the roads are already melting slightly!

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Anyway, yesterday I completed my first L3 (heart rates up to 167) session! 4*8min classic climbing intervals was certainly a great opportunity to start opening things up just a little more and to my relief, it felt great!! This has been one of my major concerns, many people continue to get large amounts of pain with heavy breathing after such procedures and this worried me truck loads! Power was not anywhere near as bad as I was expecting, and stayed pretty consistent until the last 3 mins of the last interval. My muscles simply just gave out, they were cooked! But breathing felt comfortable and painless right the way through, which was a hugely satisfying result. Its all just about being patient and waiting for my system back up to speed again!

This week we have a National Team Testing / Training Camp at the AIS in Canberra. I won’t be doing the VO2 Max testing, that will come later! But the plan is to use the treadmill with poles to work into higher intensities in a controlled, safe environment. If successful with no issues, I will then slowly be able to start training closer to the highest intensities.

To boost the positivity of this last week, with thanks to the recent generous additions towards my fundraiser, the goal has been reached and exceeded!! As I have outlined many times before, this has helped me more than most would imagine. The financial issues created by this accident are ongoing and keep popping up as I continue – travel insurance is the latest problem I didn’t consider. With a pre-existing medical condition now required it has added another blow, but with these latest donations pushing the fundraiser over the line, I am confident I will get through it all irrespective!

Once again, its all becoming a novel already, but I really need to say a special shout out to a few people. To the Sim family – Ben, Sami, John and Sonja. To Rod Peile and the Southern Alps Ski Club – As a corporation you show just how much local support there is for us Athletes. And finally to my Ski Club, Cooma Ski Club! What an amazing group of people you all are. Year after year you have supported me, dug even deeper this time and still are one of the most enjoyable group of people to be around.

The Fuel of Progress

It is now 1 month since my surgery and today was my first 4 hour day! As I look back at those weary, uncomfortable and uncertain times, I never would have thought I’d already be back to the current state that I have found myself in now! First things first – the fund-raiser. As I outlined in my previous post, it makes me quite emotional to even think about how much generosity has been show towards me. The target of $20,000 was not just dreamt up, it was a figure that was calculated according to what would be needed to give my sporting career another chance. This may sound extreme but its the simple truth. With a massive expense accumulated, my insurer finally deciding they were not going to cover a single dollar. This combined with missing out on more than half my income for the winter along with other factors to consider, it would have been financially impossible to continue without any support. As an endurance athlete, your body is your greatest asset and mine was a complete mess to say the least. For the past few years now, I have decided to throw all my eggs into the one basket – not to juggle too much and really pursue my goals as an athlete, but all of a sudden that basket was broken. You can start to imagine just how low these early days were but thankfully now these are well and truly passed! With $18,826 raised, my health finally back on track and training progressing much better than ever expected, I feel as though I have in fact found some amazing luck in one of the most unfortunate of situations. To everyone who has donated, you have given me the opportunity to continue. This unfortunately is something that I will most likely never be able to completely repay to you all. The only way I can deal with it mentally is the hope that one day I will be able to donate the same money to someone in need – given them another chance.

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Night terrors, fevers and chest pain during the night have continued since the operation but gladly have began to ease. The medications leave you feeling pretty toxic, cloudy minded and lethargic so I have really just focused on eating healthy. To be honest, one of the most frustrating consequences of this injury has been the inability to sneeze! Spring for me is definitely the least opportunate period for this issue also, being a bit of a struggler with ‘hay fever’. Have you ever tried to hold in a sneeze because you didn’t want to make a noise or be rude?? Its incredibly unrewarding and 4.5 weeks of it has well and truly been enough. 2 days ago I had my first sneeze, and what a satisfying milestone to reach!!

Sushi night!

Sushi night!

As you can see from the above photo, Sushi was one of these healthy dinners where I managed to cook way too much rice! Making quite a lot extra just meant we had plenty for the next day too – quite a good mistake I’d say! One of the other ways to help get back to feeling human again was a day down at Mornington Peninsula. A light run on the beach and sand dunes was a great feeling, and a fresh day became even fresher when a ridiculously big wave decided to come in…

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This was then followed by a relaxing afternoon at the hot springs and this had such a relaxing-ly positive effect on my sure muscles that seemed quite upset by the re-commencement of training!

‘Eat more, train more’ is a strategy I have been working with for about a year and a half now. Primarily because I have always struggled to gain or even maintain decent weight during heavy training periods. This year with a new strength program, I had managed to finally increase my weight to 71.5kg. After the 12 days of lying in hospital, I re-weighed myself to see a depressing 66.3kg. This was definitely one of the lows, I had done a lot to build up my strength and muscle mass and to lose it all so quickly was tough to see. With a change of strategy to ‘eat more, gain more’ plus a pretty solid re-entry into a modified strength program I was shocked to see the scales now read this!

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As said earlier, because strength training is not aerobically tiring I have been able to work into a solid strength program in an attempt to regain what has been lost. This was a pretty low point too at first. When you try and squat a quarter of the weight you previously could manage and have your legs give out on the third set, it almost seems like a lost-cause! Just like normal however, my coach Mattias said something ridiculously optimistic which later became reality. Squats are already back up to 90% of what I was at my best!

Running feels great now and is right back to normal. The only thing is that as a result of the nerve damage, my upper right side of my chest is completely numb and when I run, my right pec feels like it is made of rubber. Rollerskiing is coming along so much better than expected too. I managed 1hr 45 classic today with the desire at the end to continue! Still I am taking the conservative approach though, this is the first time in my life I’m going to be smart about injury rehab! With general chest tightness after exercise and soreness when I sleep it reminds me to stick directly to the plan. This tightness has meant that my mobility has gone from horrendous to comical! For any Yoga enthusiasts, warning! You may find the following image offensive….

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Just like any athlete, progression is what fuels me and right now I’m feeling great!

Forward Steps!

Since last week lots has happened and thankfully it has mostly all been in the right direction! On Wednesday I went for my out-patient appointment which hopefully will be my last major visit to the hospital. During this appointment I met with my surgeon who carried out various checks, analysed new x-ray images and removed the stitched from the multiple incisions that had been made. The news was all great! Everything had held up really well post-surgery and everything was healing at a very good rate. The lung had sealed completely against the chest cavity where the hole had been and the staple line in the lung was very fine and looking as though it had healed strongly in place. For those with a medical background, here are the x-rays. The first is the pre-surgery – you can see the tube in place, however the x-ray was taken whilst off suction with the lung beginning to collapse. The second is post surgery – no tube and the lung  Through a lot of assessment, I was then given the amazing news that I would be able to start training just two weeks after surgery. All very cautiously at an extremely low intensity to begin with, however being able to work into around a 50% workload by the end of that week!!

Pre-surgery

Pre-surgery

Post-surgery

Post-surgery

This news put me in a great frame of mind – the only concern was that my system was still obviously feeling the strain from the trauma all last week. Every night I wouldn’t be able to maintain control of my body temperature at all causing quite extreme fevers which was obviously causing a lot of concern. I unfortunately had another evening in Emergency as the fever was so bad that I was concerned it must have been something more severe. With the medications I was on being very toxic and the inflammatory response being quite major from the accident and operation, the doctors have said that these can cause the fevers. I have therefore just been trying to eat really healthy and take some slow steady walks to help the system re-cooperate and fortunately by Sunday night the fevers had seemed to finally pass!

A particularly nice walk during the late evening

A particularly nice walk during the late evening

This meant that today was a pretty special day for me – It was my first day back into training since the accident. I think as athletes we become addicted to training. It becomes part of life and pushes us to become obsessively goal orientated, right down to every workout. If you have a bad session or fall short of the time, distance or number of intervals it kills you mentally as you feel like you aren’t progressing. This has been one of the harder challenges for me to face during this period, but now finally I am able to return to a schedule and begin progressing once again. I managed 30mins of running at the slowest pace I have ever managed in my life but damn it felt good. Early on my chest felt stiff, however as I went into it, I really felt everything begin to relax and work properly once again. I then visited an old friend from school, Kolby Rook who has managed to build up a very successful massage business in Bundoora (MK Massage). Like so many others, he has gone out of his way to support me while I am here in Melbourne and as part of the support has organised with the Gym that is attached to his business to allow me free entry to begin my rehab.  So a huge thanks to MK Massage and Gensis Fitness!! (http://www.genesisfitness.com.au/)

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Believe me, I will be safe about my return to training as I know just how detrimental over-doing things early on can be to a successful return to strength and health. This afternoons session was based around simple mobility and working through the motions to get the muscles moving again. As you can see, weights were all extremely minimal, but it was nice to just get the muscles working again. Tomorrow is a new day with new aims and goals – back to the life of an athlete!!

Now to the most important part of the post, a message of thanks to the hundreds who have so generously pulled me out of this amazingly unfortunate hole I have found myself in. From more than 200 donors all over the world, over $16,000 has been raised! I am lost for words and completely warmed by just how many people have shown their support. Yes, of course the money is important as it enables me to financially continue as an athlete, however its equally as important to me as the mental boost this has given me. There are some amazingly kind and generous people that are right behind me, wanting to see me come out of this and succeed. For this I can’t thank you all enough. I wish I could write a list of everyone who has contributed, however that really would turn this already wordy blog post into a Novel. But I must really mention a few:

To NSWXC and now to NSW Freestyle also – Our state community based teams are stronger than ever, but have put together some amazingly supportive fundraising schemes to help. Really even shows a different discipline will come to the aid of another in tough times and this really means a lot.  To Rottefella, a binding company who doesn’t even directly support me, their generosity was simply unexpected but shows how much they are focused on supporting athletes! To my old Geography teacher, Mr Ryrie who was always supportive at school, but has shown a kind man never changes over time. To the Weinert family who have helped so many skiers during their involvement in the sport and have helped me so much over the years achieve my own dreams. To James Bennet and the ABC for presenting a segment on my accident and situation and really raising a lot of exposure (link to the segment is: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-06/olympic-skiers-insurance-fight/5725064).  And finally to Cliff from the Sundeck Hotel – To hold a fundraising race and donate amazing amounts to our National XC Ski Team each year should be enough for most, but here is another amazingly kind man. I thank you all so much.

Amazing Support and Some Progress

I firstly need to send out a huge thanks to everyone who has so kindly assisted in helping me get back on my feet. When National Team Coach Finn Marsland helped set up the ‘Help Reubuild Callum Watson’ page, he showed a lot of confidence in the possibilities and so far he has been right! This is only possible due to the huge number of generous supporters from all over the world and to you all I am so thankful! Cross Country Skiing really is such a supportive community to be part of and its been quite overwhelming just how generous everyone has been so far already. With everyone’s help, just over $7500 has already been raised! The insurance company will not budge an inch, I will explain the whole story in a later post about the exact situation once I know the complete outcome, however with this amazing support I feel confident that the target can be reached and I can make it through in the long run. Here is the link again: http://www.gofundme.com/djob50 

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I am very happy to be writing now from a very comfortable bed at a friends house in Melbourne. After just over 12 full days in hospital, I was finally given the all clear to leave which couldn’t have come soon enough, but actually came as a real shock!

The doctors actually came in straight after I posted my last blog update and had some really good news. The X-rays finally gave a good enough result which showed that I was able to go off suction to really test how the surgery went. as soon as the suction was taken away I became extremely nervous and feared to even move! I was so scared of that very familiar bubbling and cracking feeling across my sternum, along with the fierce pain as air would begin to enter my chest cavity. After 15 minutes, I felt nothing. 30 minutes later, I could still not feel anything and I finally dared to start moving around a bit more before standing up. I then got even more confident and went for the short walk to the bathroom and what an amazing feeling that was. For 12 whole days, I hadn’t been able to walk anywhere except for the small steps around my bed. Finally I was no longer attached to a machine and could walk!! Well I had honestly forgotten how to walk properly so progress was slow but to my drowsy eyes it felt SO fast!! I will never forget that feeling.

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4 hours later and I was still feeling great, meaning I had complete confidence it has worked! The X-rays taken confirmed my optimistic approach and a couple of hours later the doctors came in and said I could walk outside. That was another feeling which hit me really hard and will always stay with me. After 12 days under fluorescent hospital lights, everything seemed to bright, colourful and fresh. The other thing I noticed very quickly was just how much I could smell! Spring had seemed to decide to show itself in my time locked away and it smelt so sweet. As you can see, I definitely went a little crazy in there…

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When I finally went back inside it was around 6pm and the final X-ray for that day was done with results that made my spirits lift to a new high – I was allowed to be discharged from the hospital that night!! From being stuck to a machine to being discharged – what a day! Having that tube removed was quite a gut wrenching feeling as no additional drugs or anaesthetics were used. It felt like a part of me was being pulled out of from deep inside my chest and every time I reflect on it, it makes me shiver…

The past few days have been very slow however I try and do slightly more each day. Just to be able to cook good meals and have my own space is something that surely helps the recovery phase. The hospital ward I was in seemed slightly more crazy than I had ever anticipated and I think towards the end of it, I was growing very tired of it all. Looking back, there are a few funny experiences, particularly when one older lady confused Teresa as a Nurse. Teresa was being amazingly kind to that lady and was helping her if she dropped something, but she was never really that appreciative. I think that explained why she was so bitter all the time, here she was probably thinking I was just receiving special attention all the time from ‘nurse Teresa’!

Receiving some 'special treatment' from 'nurse Teresa'

Receiving some ‘special treatment’ from ‘nurse Teresa’

Another lady beside me was in a really bad way but would make matters worse for everyone by not using her nurse buzzer and instead just screaming to get their attention at any time of the day or night. This did become incredibly difficult to handle at times, however I soon learnt that she had a very sad story I felt particularly guilty to feel these frustrations. She received no visitors the entire time I was there and the reason was, her entire family had passed away including her two sons. Many times she would be just screaming at the nurses for a banana! The catering service never gave bananas and this was a regular disappointment to her. My Dad can be amazingly kind and generous and on my last day brought her up a big stack of bananas! It was incredibly rewarding to see her reaction, and even more generously he came back the next day even after I had left to give her a card. This made me realise just how much a small amount of thoughtfulness can go. The actual financial value of those gifts was very low, however to her, the level of thought was what really counted and was worth so much. That is just something small I have learnt from this experience.

Tomorrow I return to hospital for my main check up appointment with various scans and tests to monitor how I have progressed so far. After seeing the results, I will be able to discuss more clearly with the doctors the actual recovery time and when I will be able to return to light exercise. It is exciting, however I am just hoping the news is good, so fingers crossed! I will be sure to let you all know how it goes.

The Skiing Accident with Unbelievably Unfortunate Consequences

I should apologise for the lack of posts since the Olympics. I treated it as almost a bit of a break from social media, however my sporting career has taken many turns and changes since then! All very positive with many promising gains up until now. I will write another blog in the coming days to explain what exactly I have been up to, however now there are more urgent matters to write about.

Nationals Quarter final. Photo Cred: Bring Into Being

Nationals Quarter final. Photo Cred: Bring Into Being

Unfortunately during the National Sprint Championships I had a major accident which not only withdrew me from the race, but has seriously impacted my health and preparations for the coming European winter. It was the semi-finals of the freestyle sprint. The pack was tight and through a fast section of the course I clipped skis with another skier and fell in the path of the skier behind me. With no-where to go, he ran straight into me, however unlike most cross country skiing crashes, the consequences were far more dangerous. It was almost like slow-motion as I saw the ski go straight into the top of my chest. I knew that I had been hit hard, however as I tried to get up, I felt burst of air gurgling from where the ski had hit. I immediately knew what that meant but couldn’t quite believe it. As I began to cough, more air could be heard passing through my chest and suddenly I went into panic with an overwhelming inability to breath. The response from fellow athletes, spectators, and organisers was amazingly quick and I really need to thank all of those who were first at the scene. Mark Pollock and Ben Derrick did an amazing job to calm me down which in my mind was what saved me from passing out. Amazingly Bob Dunn was watching the race and as a qualified trauma doctor I feel incredibly lucky and grateful for all he did for me that day. Peter Dewez, was also very quickly at the scene and offered a huge amount of assistance to both me and Simon. Without their help, I may be far worse off right now.

I really need to clarify that this is the kind of accident where it was no-ones fault. In close racing, all it takes is for skis to clip at the wrong time and you can be thrown to the ground instantly. We gave each other room, it was just unfortunate timing. For the skier behind me, Simon Hammer from Switzerland, I feel incredibly sorry for. He was also heavily injured and bleeding from the nose and other abrasions on his face. He had no-where to go and no time to avoid me so it was definitely not something he should feel guilty about. He was also treated at Falls Creek Medical but in true kindness and sportsmanship he would not leave until they let him in to see me and make sure sure I was doing ok. That meant so much to me.

The response by the Ski Patrol felt like an agonisingly long time, but in actual fact 3 units were on site within minutes! I was then taken on the special ski-doo sled down to the Falls Creek Medical Centre. Upon arriving, Bob Dunn was there to help and carry out the medical checks and procedures. I’m not sure what the chances are, but unluckily the ski had managed to penetrate between my ribs, punctured through the chest cavity and into my right lung causing it to quickly collapse. With a strong dose of various drugs an emergency chest tube was put in place to stabilise me. The drugs put me in a different world but I was still conscious for the whole procedure and was one of the toughest things I have ever been through. My brother Ewan and Diane Phillips were there to comfort me and I’m so glad they were as I would not have dealt with such a traumatic procedure otherwise. I was then flown by helicopter to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne where I was handed over to their Trauma Team

Chest Tube

Chest Tube

My mum had straight away driven from Cobram so almost immediately she and my girlfriend Teresa were there. Even in my groggy state it was hard not to find the humour in it, it was planned for me to introduce Teresa to my parents the following weekend at the Hoppet. Instead there I was all drugged up barely able to see straight on a hospital bed saying ‘Mum, this is Teresa!’! Dad was in Sydney at the time, however drove straight down to Melbourne that night to see me and experienced the same ‘not ideal’ introduction…

The original plan was to see if the first tube would do the job of holding the lung in place to let it heal naturally. The way the ‘chest tube’ works is that it is connected to suction which essentially creates negative pressure in the chest and that’s what holds the lung in place. Unfortunately on the Wednesday 4 days after the accident, the seal began to leak allowing air to travel back into my chest cavity. With increasing levels of pain, my lung then began to collapse until finally when I was changing positions to try and find more comfort, the tube half slipped out leaving me in shear agony. I never even imagine pain could be so fierce. It was beyond screaming or crying, I couldn’t even look at Teresa or hold her hand as she tried to comfort me as concentrating on getting through each breath was all that I could manage. My chest began to cramp and everytime it did, it would cave in completely not allowing me to breath. I was then taken to emergency where the last thing I remember is the doctors moving me causing me to cramp again but this time it wouldn’t release.

This was by far the most traumatic experience of my life and was far worse than the original accident. Another tube was put in place, however when I came to my senses once again, I was physically, mentally and emotionally cooked. My brother was the first to come into the room to see me and all I could do was cry. As Teresa and the rest of my family also came in to see me I couldn’t stop for quite some time. Although it may sound stupid in retrospect, right there and then when my chest wouldn’t stop cramping in more agony than possibly imaginable I genuinely thought they were my last few seconds of life. That experience has without a doubt had its effects.

The second tube was bigger, positioned much deeper into my chest and had three inlets throughout the chest cavity. It was unbearably uncomfortable at first and for the first day and a half, I couldn’t even stand up. This tube was in place until that Sunday, 8 days after the accident where they tested twice to see if the lung had sealed. Unfortunately I found myself devastated each time. I then went in for surgery the next day for which I was incredibly nervous for. I didn’t know how much pain I would be dealing with when I woke up, however I was very happy to find it was minimal compared with the previous ordeal!

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The Surgery went very well and turns out it was entirely necessary. The ski created a hole which was around 1cm long and 2cm deep into the lung. I sit here now in the same hospital bed 12 days after the accident and now I am waiting for the 3rd chest tube to complete its work by draining the remaining fluid and air from my chest. The prediction is that I will have the tube out either on Thursday afternoon or Friday and should be out of the hospital by Saturday or Sunday if all goes well.

I have been limited by the small length of this suction tube confining me to the inside of this small area in my ward. I have a tube stuck in my chest, it hurts to breath whilst moving and standing up is a painful challenge. I can feel myself wasting away and therefore should feeling like the most depressed and lost sole around, but somehow I find myself always smiling thinking positively about the future and even laughing!! I owe this mostly all to Teresa who, just like Dad, has been here with me everyday with me. There I have to say that my family, Teresa and coach Mattias have been amazing through this period and that along with so many visits and kind messages from fellow athletes and friends have been what has gotten me through this horrible experience.

Photo Cred: Jimmy Miller

Photo Cred: Jimmy Miller

I’m sorry for the lack of proper updates up until now, however I have only just felt up to getting all my thoughts into writing. I will keep you all regularly updated on my progress. Finally I feel like I am on the home stretch!! Its a long road ahead, but I’ll make it.