Katrina Webb taking Gold in Athens

What can I say, I have a very good employer who does take excellent care of its staff, and runs various development programs for us. This morning’s session was part of our Team Leader Development program, where we occasionally have guest speakers in, or other times will run workshops/training sessions with a facilitator.

This morning’s session would have to be easily the best one we have had yet, and not just because Katrina Webb is an outstandingly attractive woman, but more so because she has taken what for many could be seen as a setback or a disadvantage, and turned it in to a positive for her life. For those who may be unaware, Katrina was a netballer, and had been accepted into the AIS on their netball program, and it was here where she was diagnosed with minor cerebral palsy.

Katrina herself admits that to look at her, you would not know that there was anything wrong with her, perhaps when you watched her walk, you would notice a limp, but you would not associate it immediately with any disability. I have met cancer survivors who have expressed similar things to me, one in particular recently who has a very rare form of cancer, and was extremely ill with it, but because he was not showing any real signs of being unwell externally, he actually internalised all of what he was feeling, and did not let any of his contacts know just exactly how sick he was.

Katrina accepted her condition, and was recruited from the AIS Netball Squad to the Paralympics Athletics program, and within 12 months of this, was actually representing Australia in athletics in Atlanta, where she came home with a brace of medals. It’s an interesting story, so google it for more to learn of her sporting successes, for I am not writing this blog for her sporting achievements, but for areas in her life where I see similarities to my own.

After her second paralympics where she was not as successful as she had wanted, she knew that things had to change, to guarantee any success on the track. So she sought mentors and coaches to assist her. One of these was Malcolm Blight, becuase she wanted to find out from him what was required to get back to back premierships, to be the best in your field for two successive seasons. Part of what he told her, is so similar to what I have said to many regarding cycling. He asked her why she ran, did she enjoy it? That’s part of the story, if you enjoy it, you will do it so much better. You must always look for the enjoyment in the things you are doing, many would have heard me say the day I stop enjoying cycling, is the day I stop cycling.

She asked what else it took. Malcolm told her that he told the players not to look at the scoreboard, but to follow the processes. Everyone in the team had their parts to play, number of possessions, number of tackles, all that footy stuff, but they were to follow the processes, and not look at the scoreboard. He told Katrina to do the same thing. Run, don’t look at the clock, just run. Concentrate on the processes, get the processes right, and everything will fall into place. Again, so similar to what I have said to many when riding, don’t look at your computer, don’t look at your heart rate, ride. Turn those “distractions” off, and concentrate on the ride.

Katrina followed her processes, and in her next Paralympics, actually brought home Gold. Now I’m not saying you will be a gold medal cyclist by doing the same thing, but I will say find the enjoyment in your cycling, leave your bike computer at home or off, don’t hook up your heart rate monitor, just get on your bike, and ride it like you stole it.

The other thing I could see similarities with, is she is using her life experiences, to help others, and to encourage others to open up about their life experiences. When she talks about CP, she allows others to share their CP stories with her, and they can open up to her, as they have found that person who will talk openly, and will understand exactly what they are either going through, or have experienced in their journeys.

I will often speak to various people about mental health, especially depression and suicide, and it is amazing how many people will actually open up to me, and feel empowered to share their own stories and life experiences, as I have opened the way for them by sharing mine. I should also say, that the word “speak” is very broad, as some of it may more so relate to “online conversations” with people who have read something I have posted on these issues.

What saddens me somewhat though is that either before or after these sessions, I often hear pretty much the same thing, “no-one else knows about this”, or “I’m only telling you this”. It saddens me because they have felt that connection, and been able to open up to me, but then shut themselves and their feelings off again afterwards. If I could keep them speaking about what they have experienced too, we could really move such a long way forward to maybe one day even removing that stigma associated with mental health issues, and even more so with suicide.

It wasn’t all that long ago that people would whisper the word cancer, as if to say it out loud, increased your risk of catching it. Suicide is still a subject that’s not quite taboo, but is still almost spoken about in hushed terms, maybe because for some they still find it such an uncomfortable subject.

If you want to raise my blood pressure a bit, use the term “commit suicide”. Mum was not a criminal, nor was her Mother, they suicided, they did not commit a crime of any kind. Many years ago in the dim dark ages, it was made a crime, as they believed that people were suiciding to get out of paying their taxes? Go figure. That has of course long long since changed.

So these were some of the main messages that I picked up from Katrina’s presentation, but it all helped re-energise me, and my commitment to the various activities I am involved in, and I may even find the time to actually book myself in for some mentoring sessions with Katrina in the near future.

Keep the rubber side down,