In her second article for The Mixed Zone chronicling her tortuous and painful qualifying campaign, European diving champion Sarah Barrow is at last able to celebrate the news that she is indeed going to her third Olympic Games
They say the ‘Road To Rio’ can be rocky. Boulder-strewn in my case.
They go back two years, my problems. A pain in both my shins was worrying me. An inconvenient lump then appeared which turned out to be a non-cancerous tumour. I went through two operations to burn it away. Two, because the first didn’t work. It provoked a year of stop-start training, interrupted by recovery, rehab and constant pain. It was so stressful and mentally draining my coach didn’t want to send me to the last competition of the 2014 season, the European Championships.
I had to go. My parents had bought tickets and were flying to Berlin. I became European 10-metre champion out of sheer genuine self-belief and it remains one of my most cherished moments.
During the 2015 season I suffered badly. In the end I had scans which revealed I had shin stress fractures in both legs. No wonder they hurt for so long.
The World Championships and first Olympic qualifying event was coming up and when I was told about the injury, my only worry was that I would let my synchro partner Tonia Couch down. I chose to compete, admittedly with limited training. I tried my absolute hardest, but with cracked shinbones I could only manage so much and we placed sixth.
Months of rest, recovery and rehab passed. Still keen to train, I made sure I completed everything set by the physios. By December I was not where I wanted to be and a decision was made that I was taken out of the synchro team with Tonia. I was devastated and emotions were high. I picked myself up and worked even harder to earn my place back by proving at the National Cup in January that I can compete under pressure.
The last Olympic qualifier was in February at the World Cup and I was delighted to be placed back in the synchro team once more. Unfortunately, still with shin pain and much to my regret now, I trained at just enough to get by.
In the prelim we finished a pretty shaky and very nerve-racking seventh. Tonia and I had to qualify for the Olympic Games, but what better-experienced pair to do so under such pressure. We put our heads together and pulled it all out, qualifying a spot for Great Britain at the Olympic Games. We also gained a bronze medal.
We were so happy. Both our parents were celebrating back home together. Yet a couple days later it was decided I would no longer be competing in the synchro event. Mentally, those setbacks were tough to handle. Devastated once more, it felt like a constant battle.The road was getting bumpier and the hills were getting steeper. I was still searching for that nice sunny, straight road that would lead me to Rio de Janeiro.
After the World Cup, I felt given up on. Abandoned. There was nothing left in my engine. I wanted to quit the sport.
But with the help of British Diving I started another block of recovery. I started enjoying pain-free diving and my road started to become clearer. I went to Puerto Rico to compete. That came far too early into my rehab and my journey was clouded by disappointment and upset. The road needed another diversion.
After not being selected for the European Championships earlier this year, a six-week plan was set out in front of me. Physically, it wasn’t so hard to complete pool and strength training programmes. I enjoyed being pain-free. But mentally, after all the setbacks, I had to be the strongest I could be.
Every morning, day and night I would think of the Olympic Trials – my last chance to qualify for Rio. I had to get both prelim and final qualifying points and win, a massive psychological challenge after the last two years.
In those six weeks, I didn’t always think I could achieve the challenge. My confidence had been damaged and knocked possibly a little too much. But when it came down to it, experience and confidence were in my favour.
I won the British Championships in Sheffield by quite a margin, showing the selectors I deserved to be on that Rio team. Self-belief, grit and determination is what got me to the top of that podium, through inner strength and the energy to prove people wrong.
Under 40 days to go and I am still on the Road to Rio.
In my first column for the Mixed Zone I said this: “So, if you see me on that diving board in Rio this summer, you’ll know that it hasn’t been an easy journey. I would have had to fight and scrap for my place, and I would have given it my all to be up there looking down at the Olympic pool.” So it proved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article was written by Sarah Barrow. Sarah’s latest articles.