Martin Francis suffered a horrific injury in May 2006 whilst windsurfing at his home beach. Here he tells of the mental anguish of dealing with the aftermath of an injury which sees him still off the water, nearly a year later.
(In future issues, Martin talks about his Fitness plan devised with Boardseeker Fitness columnist Tim Matthews to get him back on the water.)
Over to Martin…
Injury is something most windsurfers don’t like to think about. We just shove it into a dark place in the back of the mind and get on with it. But on May 17th 2006 my worst nightmare unfolded as I crashed down hard on my mast from a failed push loop table top snapping my left femur like a twig. I will spare you the gory details as they have already been told many a time and it’s a day I’d like to try and forget.
But hurting yourself isn’t the hard part. The whole ordeal lasted a few days; being pinned together and having my blood levels topped up! It was the 9 months from getting back home to making those tentative first steps back on a board that was the hardest time. The stress, boredom, frustration, discomfort and pain sometimes felt harder to cope with than the immediate pain I suffered on impact.
So here is my step by step guide on how I dealt with the mental pressure of coping with a long term injury.
The full reality of what I had done didn’t really hit me until a week after I had done it. This was probably due to flying around with Lucy and her diamonds in the sky from the pain killers I was administered! But when it did I was hit by a wave of mixed emotions; firstly one of relief that what I had done wasn’t more serious but then the panic of what I was going to do now? Not been able to windsurf would affect me massively as it was my job.
To calm my panic, I decided to get all the information I could from the doctors, surgeons and physios to find out exactly what needed to happen to get me back in business again. But once I had gathered all this information, the panic set in again as I stressed how I would cope with weeks of immobility. Lying down for extended periods of time may sound attractive as you envisage it being nice and comfortable but this is not the case. The best ways I found was to either sit and read a book (and that’s amazing because I hardly ever read books), watch funny DVD’s or talk to your mates over the phone, not about the discomfort and pain but just random stuff.
Prepare To Be Mothered
This obviously depends on what you have done and how you have done it. I’m sure if I had fallen over on a night out on the beers my Mum would have shown me no sympathy at all. Thankfully I’ve managed to keep all those bumps and scrapes under wraps so I had a set of parents ready to wait on me hand and foot as I went home to recover. At first I was really glad of it due to the fact I felt so ill that I couldn’t do anything. But as I got some of my strength back things at times could be a little tense. You know what parents are like when they take over; sometimes it’s a bit much. This goes for your doctors and physios as well. Sometimes it seemed they were talking down to me. This is only because they were trying to help and wanted the best for me.
There is simply no way of avoiding it! From getting home to being able to get back on the water, it was a permanent fixture in my day-to-day life.
After being released from hospital I went to stay at my folks place as most of my housemates were off to the Canaries for a summer’s worth of PWA competitions. The first week of being home my Mum was there most of the time but it was the following week when I was left to fend for myself, 9 to 5, that the frustration began. Like when I tried to have a cup of tea and realized that I would have to stand next to the kettle to drink it. Not been able to get to the phone before the answer machine would click in, blisters then calluses appearing on different parts of my hands from my crutches and to top it all off been stuck in the house not able to go anywhere with only bad daytime television to keep me company.
But I eventually found a way around most of my problems. For instance to get over my cup of tea problem I made a flask before my mum disappeared and asked if she could put it next to the sofa so that I could enjoy my PG tips in front of the box.
The main thing for me was to keep in touch with my friends. I have to say a big thanks to all of you who took the time to check how I was and all the general banter that went on MSN and SKYPE. It’s amazing how a 10 min conversation with your mates can change your mood for the better….until the windy day arrives.
Dealing with windy days
Whilst I was still on my crutches I think I accepted the fact there would be no way I could sail. It was as I got more mobile that it got really frustrating. The most agonizing time was when I felt fully fit, training 6 days a week last November. It then decided to blow a solid 30knts every day for weeks on end and my local spot got some of the biggest waves it had ever seen. What didn’t help either was that I had moved back to North Wales where I lived within spitting distance of Rhosneigr which needs no introduction as a windsurfing location.
But I decided to be really strict with myself. I didn’t go to the beach as there was no point winding myself up more than I already was. It was really hard, one of the hardest things I have ever done but I focused my mind on something else completely. In the beginning, I read a lot of books, watched the whole box set of Band of Brothers (!) but I found that doing something more productive with a definite goal was the best thing to keep me focused.
All my life I have been passionate about music so I set about making my own mix album. I got decent software to make a proper job of it. It was very time consuming and at the end of it I produced an album aptly named 5 PINS which has had a great response from those who have heard it. Then my mate Simon suggested I do something to boost my computer skills so I began to fathom the mystery of web design. I also went about different ways to better myself as a professional sailor. I went along to the Tiree Wave Classic as a judge which was really productive. I learnt what stands out during a windsurfing heat so when I’m back training I know what to concentrate on and I also had the offer of more work judging at other events so another ribbon to my bow. I can’t guarantee that this completely got rid of the frustration but it really did make my life easier.
When you are getting to the stage where you’re mobile, putting the hours in going to the gym can really get you thinking positively about the fact that you’re doing something towards your sailing. I have been working really hard with Fluid Force’s main man Tim Matthews at getting myself into condition. This has really helped me think positively about my return. I have always tried to maintain a decent level of fitness but have never gone about it in a professional manner. It was always just the occasional run when I hadn’t been on the water for a while. The training I did and am still doing is very specific to windsurfing and hopefully will help mould me into a better sailor (more of that next month).
Before breaking my leg I would have been the last person to come to talk about this subject. The only thing I was ever scared of was my Mum in a bad mood and the monthly bank statements. Having this happen to me has made me learn a very big lesson that I’m not invincible. I suddenly became very anxious and scared about a great number of things. My overall confidence had taken a knock and I knew it would take a bit of time to re-gain.
Pressure from others can really help but sometimes too much peer pressure increases the fear factor, it really depends on your personality or even how you’re feeling that day. Luckily I had just the right amount of pressure/support from my windsurfing peers to get back on the water. I also spent many hours mentally rehearsing those big moves and made myself believe I had the mental strength to do it. The trick is to be honest with yourself and admit when you need a little push or knowing when to be easy on yourself.
What it all boils down to is losing control. My injury didn’t just affect my windsurfing, it altered my whole life. I suddenly went from being in control of what I was doing with plans for the future to having no clue what so ever and I have to admit I was and to some extent still am really scared. But it was a small bit of advice that I got from one of my ex-work mates when visiting work. He was asking how I was etc and as he left to carry on work he said: “Remember, WHAT EVER DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER.”
I have heard the old saying before but this time it struck a cord. That has made me so determined to come out of this not only a better sailor but a better person as well.
When I’m back on the water I will be fitter than I have ever been, more focused than ever, more professional about how I go about things and a hell of a lot more appreciative about where I've been and what I’m doing. I am part way into becoming a qualified web designer and I’ve had the time to think about the direction I want to take my professional career, even getting involved with writing a new freestyle scheme for Team15 to name a few. I don’t know who said it first but I’ll say it again -
||“WHAT EVER DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER.”