There are moments in our lives where we find ourselves at a crossroad, afraid, confused, lost and without a map. The choices that we make in those moments can define the rest of our lives.
I feel like right now, I am at this point in my life. I have faced a number of smaller junctions on the way to these crossroads, but have always felt like I knew which path to take and which journey to pursue. It was always a logical decision and relatively easy to make. But this one. This is the big one. A great big, scary crossroad, full of ‘ifs’ ‘buts’ (not butts) and ‘who knows’.
I’m frightened. I’m confused. But I’m also excited. Eager. And willing to take a step into the unknown.
For years I have been Eli Thorogood, the triathlete. I have probably spent more time in the swimming pool than I have in lectures or classes. More time on my bike than at a desk. More time running than revising. The places I spend most of my days at; the swimming pool, the gym, the track, the treadmill, the open roads, the rollers. The kitchen too of course, what with eating being one of my all-time favourite pastimes. Training is my priority, and everything I do is set around my training schedule. Racing is the one thing that I absolutely live for. It’s in my nature to thrive off competition, pressure, challenge and success.
The problem with this way of life is rarely spoken of. The harsh reality of sport is that not everyone can make it. Out of the hundreds and thousands of kids at Youth Football Academies that dream of one day becoming the next David Beckham… How many go on to go anywhere near that? It is a select few that achieve this, and kudos to them. Everyone says that in life, you get out of it what you put in. With reference to sport, I tend to disagree. The amount of effort you put into sport, physical, mental, psychological, monetary, whatever you do, is rarely rewarded with an objective return. I know you’re always told not to focus on tangible rewards, and it is the intangible, intrinsic ones that really matter. Don’t get me wrong, I have experienced sheer joy, happiness and pleasure as a triathlete, and I have triathlon to thank for the wonderful experiences I have had of the world. But with elite sport, results are your livelihood. Your life genuinely depends on your success and your ability to be the best.
Elite sport is demanding. So demanding in fact, that it has broken me numerous times. I’m what I would call chronically injured as it seems I can’t go a couple of months without something cropping up! I’ve had some serious injuries, including six stress fractures, and me and my body deserves more than that. I’ve put my body through hell trying to achieve my goals, and it is crying out at me for some TLC. You can push yourself to your limits, but edge over that limit and you end up breaking yourself. Perhaps my body was never designed to be able to handle the amount of training required to be an elite triathlete. Perhaps my biomechanics really are THAT BAD that some training is actually detrimental not only to my performance but also, scarily, to my health.
My major goal was always going to be seen as a tough task. But if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough! I wanted to be a part of the Welsh Team at the Commonwealth Games. Up against three world champions, it was always going to be a far fetched dream. But not impossible. Unfortunately, and in somewhat due to circumstances beyond my control, I failed to meet the individual selection criteria. Sport is a cruel mistress, and it has been a tough pill to swallow, knowing that I won’t be competing. But as a lot of people have said, everything happens for a reason and I was simply not the right person for the team. Maybe I wasn’t good enough. Maybe if I hadn’t got the puncture in the race in Turkey I could’ve shown that I AM good enough. Maybe. But maybe’s aren’t good enough for me. I have other goals and I want to turn them from maybe’s into definitely’s. No one says you can’t have more than one goal after all!
I’ve reached a point where I feel I can no longer keep elite sport as the biggest part of my life. In all honesty, I don’t enjoy living on a tight budget, flitting between houses and not having a real purpose to everything that I do. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE triathlon. I always will. And I have thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to be able to live like a professional triathlete. But I’ve got to the point where I can no longer prioritise racing and living in this way. I’ve almost gotten too comfortable and have taken advantage of it. How many people get to swim, run and ride their bikes all day long without having to worry about another job? Not many. And I am extremely grateful to have been able to do this for such a long time.
I’m lucky in the way that whilst living my dream, I also have managed to get a degree (well, I am yet to actually graduate, but I’m sure my last two exams won’t go that badly!). I have a job lined up in Central London starting in August. If anyone had told me I’d be working as a professional in London this time last year I’d have laughed. It is something that I thought was beyond my capabilities but now has become a reality. I’m excited at the new challenges I’m going to face, the new adventures and the different kinds of success.
I am proud of what I have achieved. I have been a part of Team GB at the Youth Olympic Games and the Australian Youth Olympic Festival. I have raced at World Championships, European Relay championships, European Cups and the highest quality domestic races. I have enjoyed my triathlon journey, but sometimes bouncing back is a tough thing to do. I’m not giving up, I’m just moving forward. I don’t want to be Eli Thorogood the Triathlete. Triathlon is part of me, but it doesn’t define me. I want to be Eli Thorogood, and I want to be happy. If taking myself away from triathlon made me happy, then that is what I would do. But it’s not, so I won’t. I am distancing myself from the life of a professional triathlete whilst still doing it purely for the enjoyment.
I’m going to miss the crazy, funny shaped, haphazard lifestyle of being an elite triathlete. But I am a star shaped peg trying to fit into a square hole. I know that I am worth more than risking more injuries, more sporting heartbreak, and more sporting disasters. It’s time to find that star shaped tunnel to fit my star shaped attitude, and project myself in that direction.
For now, it’s MY time. I can choose what I want to do. I have two weeks left in Loughborough and less than three months before I start my job in London. I’m planning on going back to Aberystwyth once my exams are over and spending some time with my family. I’m going to keep training, but if I wake up one morning and feel like going for a 6 hour bike ride with my dad then I will! Even if I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing a track session and a swim. I’m going to race through the rest of the summer, and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. No pressure. When I start work in London, I’m going to find a triathlon club, sign myself up and get involved in a new environment. I plan on racing for years to come, but choosing the races I want to do and the way I want to race them. If I want to do a half marathon one weekend, what’s stopping me? If I fancy hopping on a plane to Mallorca and racing a half ironman, what’s stopping me? If I want to turn up to a Park Run at 9am on a Saturday morning, WHAT IS STOPPING ME? There’s nothing to say that in four years’ time, when I’m still swimming, cycling and running my way through my spare time, I can’t try again. I’m just taking a little stop off on life’s journey to appreciate other things.
A final note of thanks to those that have put time, effort, and their extraordinary support and belief. My coach, Craig Twigg. Craig only started coaching me at the beginning of the year, but he has been an incredible part of my triathlon journey. Thank you for getting me into the best shape of my life, and thank you for teaching me never to give up. If anyone ever asks me for advice on coaching, hand on heart, Craig is your man. My training partner, Soph. Thank you for making this last year at Loughborough an absolute pleasure. You are a fabulous triathlete, an even better friend and a joy to be around. With your attitude, talent and determination, I know that you are destined for greatness. My friends, thank you. I’m sorry if you ever felt I prioritised training over you, but I hope that you can see why I did it. My family. You might not choose them, but if you did, I’d choose this bunch any day. I am sorry that I won’t be able to put on a show for you in Glasgow but thank you for being the craziest, most fantastically, brilliantly wonderful clan to walk the planet. But most importantly my amazing Mum and Dad. Thank you for bringing me up the way you have, and giving me all the opportunity in the world to pursue what I want to pursue. Thank you for the early morning lifts to swimming, the countless trips down the M4 to races, the number of times you’ve wiped away my tears, the never-ending pile of washing and ironing and the extortionate food bills. You are the butter to my bread, the biscuit to my brew and the peanut butter to my jam. Without you, I would be half the person I am today and I have appreciated every single thing you have done for me.
Thank you triathlon, for making me who I am and for showing me that life is really awesome.
I am Eli Thorogood. I am fierce and I am fabulous.
It’s not goodbye. It’s just see you later 🙂