Comment: Enjoy the journey to achievement as athletes do

Some swear by self-help books to propel them to greater things; I prefer sports films, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Some swear by self-help books to propel them to greater things; I prefer sports films, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood
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A nation wept, or at least displayed a trembling lower lip, when Sir Andy Murray announced his likely retirement from tennis last month. For me, I reflected on the hundreds if not thousands of moments in front of the television experiencing a spectrum of emotions as Murray slugged his way to glory on tennis courts across the globe. Three grand slams, including a brace at Wimbledon, two Olympic golds. Andy, thank you for the memories.

Sport has always been a big influence in my life. I grew up playing tennis in my early teens when we lived in Michigan in the US, going on to reach the fringes of the junior county team when we relocated to Hampshire. I played a lot of soccer in the States, too, then played for the local team when we moved to England. But when running took over, I gave up all my other sports and concentrated on establishing myself as a national standard middle distance runner.

Stars from the world of sport have always been important role models for me. Sporting figures that made the most impact in my formative years included Bjorn Borg, Anthony Carter (a wide receiver who played for the local American football team the University of Michigan Wolverines), Boris Becker and any number of Kenyan distance runners who dominated an array of major athletics championships.

While some people swear by self-help and motivational reading to propel them on to greater things in their business and personal lives, I prefer to watch sporting films, like the Pittsburgh Steelers overcoming the odds to win a series of NFL Super Bowls in the 1970s or the trials and tribulations of barefooted running enigma Zola Budd.

Last night at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium, the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams battled it out for Super Bowl LIII. As I write ahead of the game, New England’s quarterback Tom Brady, often referred to as “The Goat” (meaning greatest of all time), is favoured by Las Vegas bookmakers to lead his Patriots to an historic victory. Brady is one of my modern day sports idols, with a winning mentality and record that matches up to anyone else in US sports history.

The athlete has disclosed that the mantra he has used throughout his recent career comes from Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. The book has, Brady says, helped him through the tough periods in his life, including a professional ban for ball-tampering (christened “Deflategate” by the US media), and has helped him to appreciate what he describes as “enjoying the journey, not the destination”.

Three years ago, I started running again after a twenty-five year gap. It was a tough road back to fitness, never mind to any kind of success. But, about a year ago, I started to revisit some of the competitive racing triumphs of my past.

In 2018, the hard miles pounding the streets started to pay off, I ended up ranked in the top ten for my age group in the UK over the distance of one and two miles. I ran a 33 minute 10k and even got back on the track to run a 1,500 metres that also ranked highly UK-wide. I remember thinking: “Enjoy this because it may not last.”

Unfortunately, at the back end of the year I suffered an injury that may have curtailed my relatively brief return to competitive running. I continued to run on the injury, didn’t seek early physiotherapy and I now find it hard to run much faster than a jog without a good degree of pain.

My last race, a 10k up in the Highlands last autumn, was probably my best since I returned to racing. It is now looking like it will have been my last. Thankfully, I enjoyed the journey, I’ll hold on to the memories and I’ve got the race report from The Press and Journal framed in my office lest I ever forget.

- Nick Freer, founding director of Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners