Lynsey Sharp: Setbacks enhanced my medal desire

ONCE the initial euphoria had died down, my predominant emotion after winning a silver medal at Hampden on Friday was probably relief.

Lynsey Sharp overcame a series of obstacles, to win silver in the 800m at Hampden last Friday night and take the acclaim of a jubilant home support. Picture: Reuters

That was not just because my dream of winning an 800 metres medal had nearly been dashed by an enforced visit to hospital the previous night: it was because of all the obstacles I had to overcome in the year and more leading up to the Games.

I really don’t want to contemplate the effect it would have had on me if everything had gone wrong at the last minute. As the Games came closer and things kept going wrong, my focus on getting that medal kept getting stronger by the day. The more that was thrown in front of me, the more important it became to get that medal.

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Ideally, of course, every athlete would like to enjoy a trouble-free build-up to a major championship, and I certainly would not wish what I’ve had to go through on any of my opponents. But in a way, that crisis on Thursday night, when I had to go on a drip to counteract the effects of a vomiting bug, was actually easier to deal with because of all that had gone before.

I’ve written before about the initially innocuous foot injury I had last year, the 
operation to deal with it, and the second operation that was required when the skin graft from the first one did not take. And I’ve known for some time that I’ll need another operation, scheduled for the end of next month, to clean out the wound left in my leg and this time heal it completely.

But it has not just been a case of putting up with things until September. In order to prevent infection from spreading inwards, I’ve had to keep my wound open over the past few months. That has required a daily effort – and one that was absolutely essential to get right. If I had not done that, I would never have got to the Games.

The team of surgeons in London who carried out the second operation gave me 
precise information about what I had to do, and left me in no doubt about how necessary it was to do it. I’ve had to wear a PICO dressing overnight, which involves inserting a tube into the open wound to help drain it of any bacteria. It’s negative pressure wound therapy – or, to put it bluntly, it sucks out any infection,

I have to tape the tube in place and make sure a new 
silver dressing is in place. That’s a 15-minute procedure at bed time, but as it stays in all night, it restricts my movement as I sleep. The dressing stays in place all day, too, while I train, which means I can’t get it wet. I take a shower with a plaster on, then take it off and put on a new one. It also rules out swimming, which, in normal times, I find quite a useful alternative training method from time to time, and which I would have 
enjoyed when I went on holiday before the start of the season.

These things are minor irritants if you have to do them for a few days, and at times you can simply treat them as an integral part of the disciplined lifestyle you need to succeed in athletics. But together, over time, they can add up to be quite disruptive of your peace of mind. What is more, when you require daily treatment to keep infection at bay, you inevitably become worried about the state of your health – and that worry can have an adverse effect on your self-belief and hence on your training.

Left to itself, the wound closes up as part of the natural healing process, and when it does that, the infection has nowhere to go except further inside my leg. Even with daily use of the dressing, that has caused me a lot of problems, and over the past few months I’ve had to take around 20 courses of antibiotics.

There have been times when I’ve counted the days in which I have been antibiotic-free. I think my personal best at one point was something like five days or a week.

Anyway, although that vomiting bug I picked up last week was spectacularly badly timed, I was determined not to let it stop me running in the final. Stephen Maguire, Scottish Athletics’ director of coaching, was with me when I was throwing up outside my room and stayed with me when I went to the clinic, and his support was vital. Once I had made my decision to run, he backed me totally.

The bug disappeared very quickly after the race, even if it took me a couple of days to recover my appetite fully. Like every other Scottish medal-winner, I had a round of media appearances to make and perhaps the sheer excitement of the final weekend of the Games helped me return to something like full health.

I had the weekend off training, but got back on the track yesterday for a light session. The European Championships start a week today, and I’ve got a title to defend. In the longer term, I’ll be able to look back on the Commonwealth Games with pride and joy, but for the next couple of weeks, I’ll have to put it all out of my mind and concentrate on a new challenge in Zurich.