October 31st is an important date for me because it marks the day that my dad passed away.
For those of you that don’t know or haven’t read the blog, my father took his own life on October 31st, 2008. I write this post if nothing else to raise awareness of suicide. I see that as a part of my responsibility to come to terms with the death of my father. If you have experience with suicide, then you know how hard it can be to come to terms with that kind of loss.
My father is very important to me, and he taught me a great deal. As I grow and mature, I realize even more how much of an impact he had on me. At this stage, I can see things the way he saw them, or at least at this age I can understand more of what he was talking about. In 2008, when he died, Emily had been born only two weeks earlier. My father didn’t have the chance to meet her in person. So there are lots of things that are important in the last ten years. The anniversary brings up sad memories, but I want to remember my father in a very positive way by sharing a rowing story with you all.
One of the stories that I think is important to record is when I was at the end of my lower sixth form year (equivalent to 11th grade in the US).
I was at the junior national team trials and competing for a place on the Great Britain national team. The trials took place in mid-July right after Henley Royal Regatta. To be selected for the team, we did a lot of seat racing. We raced in straight fours (4-) and Coxed Fours (4+). Each seat race was a thousand meters to fifteen hundred meters in length. It was all very intense because I was seat racing against the best junior rowers in the country. It was also very mentally challenging because I had to perform at my best all of the time. In junior national team selection, the top ten sweep rowers on each side were selected to the team that would attend the World Junior Championships. The next ten sweep rowers (places 11th – 20th) participated in the Coupe de la Jeunesse.
I had set a goal the year before that I was going to make the junior national team. I wanted the chance to represent my country. But when I was about three or four days into this seat racing — I think had done about anywhere between fifteen to twenty thousand-meter pieces by that time — I was exhausted and was ready to throw the towel in.
I called my father, and I told him that I was mentally and physically exhausted. He said something to me that has stayed with me since then.
In his earlier years, my father was into hiking and mountain climbing. He told me that it was essential to acknowledge and appreciate how far you had come once you get near the peak of a mountain. He explained that you are usually feeling the most exhausted when you’re close to the peak and close to meeting your goal. Recognizing the distance that you had traveled and acknowledging your progress could give you the strength to push through and get to the summit.
These words were just what I needed to hear at that particular point in time, and the lesson has stuck with me over these many years.
The next day, we were seat racing in coxless fours, and I was switched after one particular piece. The person I switched with was Fred Scarlet, who later on in his career rowed in the seven seat of the Great Britain Olympic eight that won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
We raced down the course and fought all the way down. It was close, and I ended up winning the seat race by a slight margin of 0.9 seconds.
In seat racing terms, anything less than two seconds is considered inconclusive. However, it’s possible that particular seat race proved very decisive, because that year I ended up getting selected for the 10th spot on the bow/starboard side, and Fred ended up going to the Coupe. I was fortunate enough to earn that place on the junior national team by that slim margin or due to my performance on the six-minute tests on the ergometer.
Either way, I ended up making the junior national team, and I think it was partly due to those wise words from my father reminding me to give myself credit for everything that I had done. Just when I felt exhausted and ready to give up, he taught me that I can always find more strength if I acknowledge how far I’ve come.
If you’ve made it this far in this post, maybe you’re at a point in your life where you’re tired. You’re bringing a product to market, or perhaps you’re training for a race, or it’s possible you’ve lost someone important to you. Whatever it is that you are doing or experiencing, I pass this story on to you to help provide the inspiration, strength, and courage to continue to persevere.
Sometimes we’re metaphorically swimming and the shore seems a long way away, but maybe the shore is closer than you think.
I share this story with you on this day I remember and honor my father. I hope and pray that it makes a difference for you in some shape or form.
The national suicide prevention hotline in the U.S. is 1 800 273 8255. More resources for the UK can be found here. For worldwide resources and help, please visit this Wiki page.