LAST August Frank Baines’ biggest worry was whether he would walk again. Even when those concerns were assuaged, he did wonder if he would ever be mentally tough enough to get back to the top in a sport that demands psychological grit as well as physical brawn.
A training session mishap saw him crumpled in a heap after he lost control in a dismount from the high bar and left him with four broken vertebrae in his neck and back.
“In the accident I just got lost in the air and I thought the best thing to do in this situation is to tuck up and try to protect everything, said the 2012 European Junior all-round champion. “Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out,” he said. “Maybe if I’d stayed straight I would have landed on my back but the extra rotation meant I landed on my head. I just remember thinking ‘this really hurts’ I felt like a zombie.
“My first fear when I landed was that I wouldn’t be able to walk. I actually got told after the accident that a gymnast, similar to my standard, ten years before had a similar accident and hadn’t been able to walk afterwards. So I’m dead lucky to still be able to walk and train.”
Looking back, Baines can thank his lucky stars but the 18-year-old, who has been named in the artistic gymnastics team to represent Scotland at this summer’s Commonwealth Games, did not feel so blessed at the time.
He added: “It felt like someone had hit me over the back of the head with a baseball bat.
“I hit the back of my head and the trauma caused my eyes to swell up so I looked like I’d been in a bar fight. And I had to wear a big neck brace. After I’ve finished with it I’m going to spray it red and yellow so I can use it as an Iron Man suit. It wasn’t nice being trapped in that for six weeks.”
Baines can laugh about it now but he says the demons were hard to conquer.
“After the accident I remember waking up at night thinking ‘Jeez, I don’t want to do it again’.”
He certainly didn’t want to attempt the tricky double twisting, double straight dismount that had floored him.
“You realise it was a freak accident, a one in a million, and, touch wood, it’s not going to happen again. It was all about doing my first one. The good thing about gymnastics is that you can do it into a foam pit in training, so I didn’t have to land hard at first.
“There was no pressure on me. I was told to take my time and do it how I liked. But my heart was beating, that’s for sure, when I first went back up on the bar.
“I’m doing a bit of an easier dismount now. It still fulfils the requirement but it’s a bit easier, so it’s less scary for me. It was nerve wracking doing my first one back. That was at the Scottish Champs, but I managed it fine so it was just a massive relief to be able to say I could do it again.
His rehab took more than two months, with even a basic handstand feeling alien for a while but the spell on the sidelines has helped Baines’ all-rounder status, with the concentrated leg conditioning and strengthening helping him on the floor and vault and, having fought back and earned the qualification standard, he wants to put all that to good use in the hope of helping Scotland to the team gold.
Born in Liverpool, and a member of a club in Southport, Baines qualifies for the host nation thanks to his dad, Paul, who hails from Inverness.
“I feel like I’m Scottish as well as British, so it’s just a good feeling to be going to the Commonwealths in front of a home crowd. I’ve just seen the arena and it really got me excited because it’s massive. It made me a bit nervous but it’s all good.”
In only his second year as a senior, he was stuck in a tug’o’war as the country of his birth tried to convince him his loyalties lay south of the border. That battle was won by Scotland and Baines hopes it is a sign of things to come in Glasgow.
“There was a lot of persuasion from the Scottish guys, the two Dans [Keatings and Purvis] and Adam Cox, because they believed it would make it more of a competition between England and Scotland if I was Scottish.
“I’m looking forward to it. I train with a lot of the English lads and they tried to persuade me the other way but I felt more Scottish, to be honest. There’s a lot of competition already in the gym. I got a lot of stick at first but it’s all smoothed out now and they’re all looking forward to it. They think it should be good now there’s more competition.”