‘My Body Was Telling Me Something Was Wrong But My Head Was Telling Me It Was Fine’ – Interview with James Clarke

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In light of men’s health month, James Clarke, President of the Badminton Club, sat down with Wessex Scene to discuss his recent injury and the toll his recovery has taken on his physical and mental wellbeing. The injury occurred three weeks after leaving University in his first year. James was training intensely and about to get into county scores when he ripped his ligaments and cartilage in his right leg. Three months later he was informed that he would need surgery and as a result he had to give up his captaincy at the club. 

What was your thought process when you were told three months after your injury that you would need surgery? 

It was all a bit awful. I remember it so well, it was on my birthday. I had just finished paying for my shop at Sainsbury’s and my Mum rang me and said ‘check your messages.‘ I had received a letter basically saying I had destroyed my knee and I needed surgery. It was not a good feeling, but at the same time, I already knew something was wrong. They initially said I would recover after two weeks, and when I was still in pain three months later it was clear that something needed to be done. I felt slightly relieved to have a doctor confirm it wasn’t okay, but overall I think I was just in shock because I had never had anything that bad happen to me before.

What aspects of your life were affected? 

Everything!

After the hospital initially told me two weeks, I tried to get involved in badminton again by coaching, but I knew it wasn’t right. My leg gave way a few times and I collapsed on the floor. Driving was difficult as well because I couldn’t get in and out of the car properly. So basically I couldn’t do sport, which was of course a massive thing for me. I couldn’t work because my job involved running up and down the beach. I couldn’t really go out and see anyone because I couldn’t drive anywhere and where I live back home is desolate. I just couldn’t really do anything if I’m honest.

Okay, so you’ve been recovering for about a year now? 

It is now 11 months and 1 day after surgery, and my leg is finally back to the way it was before the injury which is good. Although, I’ve only really been allowed to play again in the last month, which is mostly because I’ve had to overcome a mental block. Since the injury happened whilst I was playing badminton, I’m always extremely worried that it could happen again. As a result, I struggle a lot with moving on the court, although I’m slowly getting better.

So what brought you back to badminton despite having that fear? 

I love it too much. I didn’t play at all during second year, but I still went to all the training and the matches just to be involved. I actually won super-fan of the year which was really nice and I’m now president even though I didn’t play for a year. Ultimately badminton is a very key part of my life even just socially, my girlfriend plays so I wanted to play alongside her again and just with my friends also.

When did you start playing badminton? 

About 10 years ago. That’s why it was just too big of a thing for me to give up. I’ve met quite a few people who have had to quit sport because of injuries and I really didn’t want to do that.

What was losing your ability to play badminton like? Was there anything you replaced it with? 

It was horrendous. To keep sport in my life I actually got involved with the kayaking club for a month or so, which was good fun. I only did kayaking in the pool though, because I didn’t trust my leg enough if I did need to swim. It kept me going and it kept me doing something which I needed.

You spoke earlier about the mental challenge of overcoming this injury, how did this experience impact your mental health?

It has been tough. It was absolute hell, especially the period when I didn’t know the extent of what had happened. I was told it was fine and I knew it wasn’t. My body was telling me something was wrong, but my head was telling me it was fine. After surgery, my mental health was a bit on and off because of the situation I was in. For example, I did my January exams three weeks after having major surgery.

What did the University do to help you through all of this? 

They were really good, they gave me extra time and they let me redo the exams over summer as well, which made a difference to my grades. My lecturers were great, they understood if I missed any lectures, because it was quite a trek to get to campus sometimes when my leg was feeling knackered.

What has helped you the most to get through these last couple of years?

Keeping involved I would say. Even though I wasn’t playing badminton, staying involved in the club helped massively. I enjoyed driving the team to matches or being down in Portsmouth cheering them on. Keeping in touch with what I was doing before helped so much and I fought to get back into it. I even went back to the club where I got injured, and I am still in touch with the chap who I was playing against at the time. He’s a really great guy, and I’ll definitely still play against him some time in the future.

What is your focus for the future now?

Just getting back to playing where I was at the level before and fully enjoying it. I’m not trying to rush it though, I’ll take my time and see how it goes.

What advice would you give to someone who is going through a similar experience? 

Don’t just shut yourself off. One of the people I spoke to in the club had actually gone through the same thing a few years earlier and she’s now an over 50s world champion. It was inspiring to talk to her and it gave me motivation to get back on track. Talk to people, be open about it and if you need the help, ask for it.

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Former English Student | Travel Editor 2016-17 |Current MSc. International Politics | Editor at Wessex Scene for 2017-18.

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