Having had a few days to settle in to life at sea, I have finally had time to take stock of the crazy couple of months that preceded my Clipper Race adventure and why I am actually doing this!
The loss of my Grandmother in January of this year really did hit me quite hard. That coupled with the reality that my playing career as a rugby player appeared to be slipping away from me, resulted in me feeling quite lost and frustrated.
Life for me is about moving forward, always striving for progress and never settling for anything other than a positive outcome. Unfortunately, life wasn't playing ball with my well laid out plans and for the first time in my life I felt frustrated and alone. I needed a challenge. Something that would test me mentally, physically and emotionally and have me feeling that hunger and drive for success once again.
Initially that came in a 245 mile bike ride from London to Brussels, in memory of my grandma and an attempt to raise awareness and funds for the Alzheimer's Society. However, when the opportunity came along for me to sail around the world, the challenge was too great for me to refuse.
Having now completed the bike ride only 4 days ago, I can safely say that it is one of the proudest things I have done to date. The sense of achievement is enormous and the fact that you get to share that achievement with 85 others, is an incredibly emotive experience.
The ride made me feel alive again. We did something that most people wouldn't dream of doing and we did it together. Brilliant.
The Clipper Race in terms of a challenge is like the bike ride, on steroids, multiplied by a thousand. It is a challenge that not only me, but millions of others would never contemplate participating in. The bike ride tests you for sure, both mentally and physically, but finishing it is relatively straightforward. It takes three days of bloody hard work and then you are there. You also get to enjoy some very nice places along the way and you get a rest at the end of each day. The Clipper Race is a totally different story.
We have been at sea for four days already and the only thing we have seen in those days are a few dolphins and miles and miles of ocean. It is an incredibly lonely and isolated place and at times you feel like you are sailing without any real direction or target as you never seem to arrive anywhere. Imagine waking up three times a day and seeing the same landscape over and over again.
Mentally it is draining and only the toughest of competitors will survive this.
I want to be one of those survivors. Having worked in professional sport for over twelve years, I consider myself to be a relatively tough individual, particularly mentally. I have overcome hard times in my sport, whether that be through injury, missing out on selection or match losses, but nothing I have ever done comes close to topping the present battle that I am up against.
This is a challenge that endures eleven months, rather than 80 minutes on a rugby field or three days on a bike. There is no half-time and no home to run back to at the end of the game. You have to be mentally switched on the entire time and constantly thinking about why you're doing what you're doing. Stay switched on and focused and you've got a chance of surviving. Switch off for a split second and this ocean will eat you alive!
I am not trying to dramatise the situation, but it really is that demanding. In the space of 24 hours, we have managed to go from cruising along in first place with 20 miles to spare from the chasing pack, with the whole boat working properly, to lying in fourth, with two halyards torn (long ropes to hoist sails with). In short, we have been battered and we are only four days in to the race. While we lie bruised and sore from a day’s exploits, the ocean is just the same and what's even more alarming is that there is worse to come! Now if that isn't a challenge that is worth overcoming then I don't know what is.
In order to win this battle you have to look Mother Nature in the eyes, accept everything she has got to throw at you and come out the end, still hungry and asking for more. That is what makes me tick and why I am here today, doing this challenge. Do I like sailing? Not really! Do I like having no privacy or no sleep, 24 hours a day? Certainly not. What I do love is seeing how mentally tough I can be and the lengths to which I can push my body and still come out the end of it fighting.
The Clipper Race, in my opinion, is one of life's toughest challenges. Overcome it and there is nothing that you can't do in life. I intend on being one of those people. I want to achieve in life and I feel that if I complete this race, then anything is possible after that.
Here's to Mother Nature and the box of magic tricks she's got up her sleeve for me and the rest of my crew mates!