It was a massive compliment when Sarah asked me if I would be interested in partnering up to help represent her business. Initially I was going to refer to her as my sponsor, but that made it sound as if I am in recovery, so I settled on Boss. In my introduction on the Affinity Bodyworks website, Sarah kindly refers to my “inspirational story”. It is not for me to say whether that is an accurate description and whilst future blogs will revert to Sarah’s and my shared passions and beliefs, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain what she is referring to.
Saturday April 22nd 2017 was the day that a sequence of events combined with the skillsets of some very special people meaning that my life didn’t end fifty-two years after it had begun. I was called to the beginning of an obstacle course race in Dorset and can recall entering the start-pen. The next thing I remember is waking up in the Intensive Treatment Unit at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton. I have no recollection of what happened in the intervening period so what I know is courtesy of friends, family and other people who helped me.
Whilst in that start-pen, I had a heart attack. There were no warning signs, no chest pains, no tingling sensations in the arm, no nothing. I considered myself as fit, if not more so, than my peers but life doesn’t come with guarantees. I hit the ground and started fitting, some plaque had broken off in my coronary artery and blocked it.
I accept that the following sequence of events is unlikely, but it is nevertheless true. Standing behind me in the start-pen was a cardiac physiologist who had seen what had happened and immediately administered CPR. The Race Directors had included on site paramedic support in their emergency protocols and as I was still in the start-pen, I was close to the onsite paramedics who shocked my heart back into rhythm using a defibrillator.
The race was located three miles from where the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is based. The crew stabilised me and flew me to Musgrove Park – I had gone from start-pen to A&E in about an hour. My heart had to be shocked back into rhythm again before I received numerous scans in advance of having an angioplasty to unblock my coronary artery that left a stent in place to once again allow the free flow of blood. Twelve hours after entering that start-pen, I woke up disoriented in ITU surrounded by my family. I was discharged on the Tuesday when my wife drove me home with a wounded but functioning heart and no brain damage.
Early on in my recovery I was recommended to a worldwide Cardiac Athletes support group. The importance of being part of a group who know exactly how you feel, the doubts and fears that pass through your mind, and just get why you want to get back to doing what you love should not be underestimated. After a few weeks I commenced the NHS’ cardiac rehabilitation program that is rightly primarily aimed at getting patients back on their feet, but I was impatient to recover my athletic fitness levels.
I was told not to run but I could walk but should stop if I got out of breath. I never did get out of breath and my average walk was five miles with my longest though the Wiltshire countryside being about ten. With the help of some light weights I slowly started to recover my strength but what I really wanted to do was to run. You really don’t appreciate how fabulous that simple act is until your ability to do it is taken away from you. Back in the 90s my belly was a half a foot bigger and my lungs were filled with nicotine, no doubt a key factor in my predicament. Back then I started a journey to fitness with walks and runs between lampposts, so I adopted the same tactics.
My first lamppost run terrified me but at a pace barely faster than a brisk walk, both feet were off the ground at the same time and I was running. I repeated this slowly extending the distance of my runs as I reduced the distance of my walks until I was running without stopping. Medical advice prevented me from obstacle course racing until August when I took part in an event where the race where my “adventure” (as I now call it) began was represented. Coupled with an unexpected reunion with the cardiac physiologist who had administered CPR, the day was one of contrasting emotions.
I raced a further six times in 2017 and thought I was back to “normal”. It took me some time to realise that fixing my head was as important as fixing my body and I concentrated on the latter at the expense of the former. My tunnelled-vision determination to recover my athletic capabilities created a mistaken belief that I was fixed as if nothing had broken. But I was wrong.
I have heart disease. Whether its genetic or due to my 90s lifestyle, I know how serious what happened to me was and that it will always be with me. Due to my prompt first responders I have no cardiac scarring but the days of pushing myself to my limits are gone, primarily out of respect to my very understanding wife. I can’t imagine what she went through in those hours after she got “that” telephone call. Her own athletic background provided an understanding and appreciation of the driving force behind my recovery by pretty much giving me free rein even though I know I scared her on numerous subsequent occasions.
So, what have I learned in those almost three years that have since passed? My wife’s love is so great that it allows me to keep doing the thing that I was doing that terrified her so much back on that April day. I still love obstacle course racing and continue to race regularly but have finally stopped doing so in winter, partly because the cold does not agree with my blood thinning meds. We are never too old to make friends for life - my network has expanded massively and thankfully in the OCR world I am back to being Steve and am no longer “the heart attack guy”.
But most importantly I’ve learnt that it is OK not to be OK; I can talk to my family, friends and others who understand and help. One day they will ask me to do the same for them.
My engagement with Cardiac Athletes provided a platform to talk about my fears, see that it wasn’t just me that life had singled out and understand that others were going through the same, if not worse. My psychological recovery lead to some fractious times with family, friends and my gym coach because I was so pre-occupied with what happened to me that I couldn’t see how everyone else had been affected too, I have since read books on stoicism in an attempt to better understand and manage myself when tough times have to be dealt with. This has undoubtedly helped me deal with the passing of my step-mum since my last blog.
The Greek philosopher Seneca said “How many have laid waste to your life when you weren’t aware of what you were losing, how much was wasted in pointless grief, foolish joy, greedy desire, and social amusements – how little of your own was left to you. You will realize you are dying before your time!”
Life can be short and bad habits can catch up with you, but life can also give you second chances and joyous moments such as the birth of my grand-daughter two months after my heart attack. We must treasure our health and take responsibility for it by making vital investment in our physical and mental wellbeing. We owe it to ourselves and our families and friends to make sure we can share ourselves with them for as long as possible.