Today- 27th July, is I would say the most important date to me.
No it's not Christmas or my birthday. On this day I was on top of the world. A day money can't buy & feelings I won't get to feel again.
A decade ago today was my day. I won my gold medal at the European Youth Olympics.
Sophie Ward had taken on Europe. In one of the hardest events and fought so hard to reach that final line in front.
All the tough years of training. 4am wake up calls, gym work, school, homework, aching muscles, being away from home, camps, homework. The extremely tasking life we led. All so we could be the best at our game.
For so many they are unable to reach this goal, and yet here I was! A gold medalist at an Youth Olympic Games.
I play down my swimming successes as I still feel I failed due to the fact I didn't reach my end goal of swimming in the Olympics. But I bloody gave it my all and so nearly got there. Achieving all I did in the process which can never be taken away from me.
In the pool I felt at home, I adored swimming up and down in races and watching people cheer for me. Their support drove me on to find energy I didn't know I had to finish in front. I was nolonger the invisible girl in the water I became me. People saw my talent and hardwork for themselves.
I hate arrogance and have always maybe gone too far the other way in dismissing my hard work and talent.
But they always say the proof is in the pudding.
So it always gave me such a buzz and boost to see people appreciate my hard work and see my passion for the sport when I hit the water.
It killed me the day I decided I could no longer have all my medals and trophies 🏆 staring at me every morning and evening from my bed.
I was proud of them and adored every single one. As they all showed my hard work. Whether they were won at a some county competition or for GB they all meant the world to me.
Though it caused me great upset and agony to see them. So I woke up one day and just began the upsetting task of clearing my cabinet out. Only leaving my Olympic medals out. I cried all the way through the process.
This for me was me trying to tell myself I was beginning a new chapter of my story.
It killed me everyday reminding myself of what could have been. That now I needed to focus on this next chapter of life and make it just as exciting and successful.
Of course I have been troubled by health problems throughout my years after swimming for over a decade.
Life hasn't been playing sailing.
I like to believe that the true hero's face and conquer the toughest battles.
In the end,
My story would be awfully boring if I told you that I simply ordered takeaways, had a 9 to 5 job, no health issues and watching I'm a Celeb every night.
I have always hoped to leave footprints in the sand.
To help and be a person nobody forgets. Not because I did this, that or achieved and failed at such and such. But because I touched them in a way nobody else has.
What brings me so much happiness,
Is helping people.
It gives me a purpose and makes light out of an extremely horrible situation.
My health has been up and down but on reaching 21 my intolerances to food got so much worse, migraines that were crippling and awful weaken and pain throughout my body.
In the two years I have seen too many doctors to count and may as well called the hospital my second residence.
They were unable to bring any health issue to light.Until..
March this year I sent bloods to Germany to be tested for Lyme. A tick born disease that affects all your organs and is extremely hard to treat and detect.
Along with Lyme comes the lovely co-infections to also get a hold of.
At first I had that swimmers mindset - rest for two weeks and I will be back on track.
I was so happy to finally have a diagnoses after so long! And a tick what damage can they really do? It's just a silly bug.
Boy - little did I know!
After researching and being in hospital a few times now to be treated, you find out the true soul destroying reality.
The reality that relapses are extremely common, on going treatment is needed and this is a long term gig.
I know if something worthwhile you have to fight for it but I have fought all my life I need a break.
I always question what have a done to deserve this?
Who have I hurt ?
But I have to turn it around and be positive that life is testing me to help me gain more strength.
Not knowing everyday how you are going to feel.
What did you eat to make you sick?
Why are your ankles aching so badly?
Too weak to walk today?
Who spoke to you last night?
In this game - there is no gold medal.
A gold medal in this game is staying positive, raising awareness, helping people and fighting as hard as you can everyday.
Not letting the Lyme defeat you in anyway - mind or body.
If I manage that then boy, pass me a few of those gold medals.
This date a decade ago will be one of the moments that regularly flashes through my mind.
To remind me of my of my success and also my strength.
Lyme and my health issues may make me feel beyond weak within my body. Not many people have the strength to push, train and succeed in such a competitive sport. So there is proof I have the strength and my inner flame continues to burn with motivation and drive to succeed and win. Plus now I face battling one of the toughest diseases going.
I always take the high road, always the toughest fights in hope to get the best results I can.
Nobody, nor any disease can dull my sparkle or put out my flame. I won't allow it.
Don't judge me by my composure- right now I am poorly.
My eyes my not be as bright but the inner flame is.
You may still expect me to see bounce back, have a good night's sleep and I will be fine tomorrow. The reality is this is not the case.
I have and am still in the process of accepting that I need rest & can't bounce back.
So don't be shocked when I clinge to your arm, have to have help getting up from the floor & am in my wheelchair.
This doesn't mean I am weak or can't handle the pain.
I wish you could all walk in my shoes just for a day so you could understand.
It shows strength that I am accepting it and working on the bigger picture - better health.
Not pushing myself for my pride and to try to be the normal Sophie that many expect of me.
I never thought when I stood on that podium 10 years ago full of life, bubbly and feeling amazing, that a decade on I would be pulling my granny shopping case, struggling to walk, aching all over and just fighting through my day trying not to give in to the pain.
Nobody knows what is round the corner. So cherish every moment!
I hope once well enough I will be able to return to Belgrade and visit the pool once again.
See and feel that pride and joy once again.
Swimming was my drug.
I just need a dose now and then.
Belgrade will forever be tattooed on my heart and a place, a time that helped shape the person I am today, giving me one of my greatest moments.
Enjoy the pictures - the joy on my face says it all.
'Life is like a box of chocolates - we never know what we are going to get.'
The cards we are dealt we must make the best of.
Thank you all for you ongoing support.
I am truly grateful.
Love and peace.