Road to Recovery

If you’ve ever thought a sports injury would stop you exercising or playing your favourite sport ever again, Chris Peil from the Move Well Project has some good news for you.

“My role as a rehabilitator is to support people in being able to do the activities that they want to do, at the level that they want to do them, without having the injury,” he says.

Like many of us, Chris knows what it’s like to have a health care professional tell you to give up – but understands that could simply be in order to avoid straining already stretched NHS resources.

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Chris is a mobility practitioner and exercise referral specialist

“The easiest way to stop somebody being injured from an activity that they’re doing is to not do the activity. So we will often get the advice ‘Oh that hurts you stop doing that’…

“So it’s a different mentality – it’s much more like a professional sport mentality of ‘Okay we’ve got this person who has an injury, and we’re actually going to help them to get back to fitness for what they want to do’ as opposed to ‘oh it’s unfortunate this person’s injured, they can no longer do that’.”

Refreshingly, the mentality he refers to involves being proactive in your recovery, not passive.

“One of the big issues – and this is what the Move Well Project is about – is that, traditional therapy, traditional medicine tends to take the view that the person comes in and something is done to them.

“They are given a medication or they are given a massage and they just lie there, they do nothing.

“In reality that is not how you get conditioned back – to being resilient enough to do the activity without a normalised risk of injury.”

Chris has helped people ranging from registered disabled who want to improve their quality of life, right through to “the strongest guy to have ever walked the planet”.

Eddie Hall
The World’s Strongest Man focuses on recovery too (picture – BBC)

We’re talking Eddie Hall, who was crowned the World’s Strongest Man in 2017.

Anyone who’s seen the 30-year-old from Newcastle-under-Lyme in action will know he can dead-lift half a tonne – that’s the weight of a horse.

I was also pretty impressed by a one-armed “human dumb-bell” display on Instagram!

And yes, Eddie Hall gets injured too – most recently his hip.

“Ed’s injury was from pushing the boundaries, so anyone who’s in elite sport is having to push the boundaries of how much stress you can create in training and then recover from in order to get to be higher performance,” says Chris.

However, there is a difference – in that Eddie Hall incorporates the idea of recovery into his tough, well-documented training regime.

“He focussed on the other side of the equation, because it’s easy to create stress, creating stress in training is quite easy, recovering from that stress enough to actually be fitter, stronger, that’s the thing that you can actually potentially speed up and that’s where he focussed.”

This incorporated plenty of sleep, correct nutrition, hydration, “hands-on therapy” and even using a hyperbaric chamber to increase his oxygen supply.

“It’s the Yin to the Yan…” says Chris  “He balanced out everything he was doing with the most recovery work he could possibly do.”

Chris does see plenty of people who want to train like a Champion without deploying the necessary life-style changes.

Okay, maybe not a hyperbaric chamber.

But one of the most common mistakes, Chris says, is that people will “throw themselves in very quickly once they get effectively ‘signed-off’ by the physio – ‘yes you’re okay to train again’.”

Kettlebells
Kettlebells are just one aspect of strength training

Instead, a gradual, balanced approach is the key – and the good news is – if you’re careful, you can still challenge yourself, even in the process of recovery.

“Too much stress too quickly increases injury risk, not enough stress means that it’s not resilient enough for the demands.”

Chris also believes wearable technology, which gauges things like your heart-rate and even sleep quality, can lead to a more tailored training approach.

But a lot of his work is simply about helping people cope.

Chris Peil - Kettlebell
Chris has competed as a strongman, an Olympic lifter and an indoor rower

He sites examples of helping one woman avoid spinal surgery and “another lady literally had a broken back and we got her back to be able to function when she’d been off work for a significant period of time”.

So there you have it, it would appear there is hope for everyone!

Although I’m sure Chris would stress that – if you do have a sports injury – it’s still important to see your doctor or a health care professional before making a comeback.

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The Marathon Man Who Faced Amputation

As Austin Rathe embarks on this Sunday’s London Marathon, his experience of lying in a hospital bed with two shattered legs will be a distant memory.

Austin had never run more than a mile before the accident
Austin had never run more than a mile before the accident

Yet it was these injuries that motivated him to take up running in the first place.

Austin, now 32, was hit by a car in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in March 2001 – and at one point doctors considered amputating one of his legs.

He says he himself was never told about this, but his parents were informed.

The possibility of amputation was discussed a few hours after the accident and there was still a risk after surgery.

A fully-recovered Austin with his surgeon Peter Livesley in 2004 (Photo from BBC)
A fully-recovered Austin with his surgeon Peter Livesley in 2004 (Photo: BBC)

Peter Livesley, the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on Austin, explained: “Not only was the bone broken, but it was in pieces and the skin was broken as well.

“That’s about as serious as you get before losing the limb.”

A long convalescence followed, but when I caught up with him this week, Austin was keen to stress that, unlike many of the people featured so far on this blog, he wasn’t worried about missing out on his exercise regime – because he didn’t have one in the first place!

Wheel of Fortune - the lure of the London Marathon is seemingly irrestible (Photo: Ryan Pierse, Getty)
Wheel of Fortune – the lure of the London Marathon is seemingly irresistible (Photo: Ryan Pierse, Getty)

“The thing is, I wasn’t ‘side-lined’. When I had the accident I never did any exercise at all,” he told me, “It was not a part of my life in any way. Of all the things I missed, I didn’t miss exercise.”

He continued: “I was always going to be able to walk again, but I was not sure about running, so I had to push myself,” he said, “When you go through those experiences you have to have something to aim for. It’s months and months of physiotherapy.”

Pleasure at the fairground - he's back on his feet after the accident in 2001
Pleasure at the fairground – he’s back on his feet after the accident in 2001

So the man who had never run more than a mile made the decision to run a marathon while still in his hospital bed.

Fast-forward to the 2004 London Marathon and he completed it in four hours 15 minutes and 26 seconds.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? There’s no “fast-forwarding” in real life – nobody can wish the time away to full recovery.

Austin’s convalescence from such serious injuries was considerably longer and far more arduous than my own, which, though annoying, is trivial in comparison.

So what advice does he have on handling the situation?

“It feels like a very long time, but in retrospect the good thing is you don’t feel that time. It’s very boring when you’re recovering but it quite quickly becomes a memory. It can be difficult and depressing for lots of reasons but it does go away.”

When I spoke to Austin just before the 2004 London Marathon he had no intention of running another one, but other marathons followed, with a three-hour-52-minute personal best in 2007 (“Every time I finished one I said ‘that’s my last one’ – but it becomes more attractive. Each you forget how it hurts!”).

He wants to raise £2,000 to help disabled kids play video games
He wants to raise £2,000 to help disabled kids play video games

He’s not sure whether the injuries sustained in 2001 still impact on his running now.

His left shin (where pins, now removed, were drilled in to secure an external fixator) swells up on long runs and he has to watch his knees.

Nevertheless, he says he’s “determined” to enjoy the 2015 London Marathon (“I’m not bothered about time, anything between four and four-and-a-half hours will be fine”).

Austin wants to raise £2,000 for Special Effect, a tiny charity which helps kids with disabilities play video games – you can donate on his JustGiving page here.

Read my original BBC article about Austin Rathe here. Admittedly it is difficult getting to view Anthony Bartram’s TV report, but you may be luckier than me!