CONVERSATION IN ISOLATION

David Smith MBE - British Adaptive Rower and Gold Paralympic Medallist.


Q: How are you, family and friends? In light of these difficult times, I am super grateful that myself and my family are healthy physically. I must admit that the mental aspect is challenging us in different ways. My parents who are members of the “vulnerable” group are struggling with the constant isolation. As my parents are separated, each one lives alone. This solitude is at times testing but the positive outcome are the 3 hour + phone calls we now have. While apart, the isolation is bringing us closer together (I’m waiting for them to move back in together after 20 years apart!).

Q: How is isolation going? I have found a strange familiarity in it. Isolation for me is reminiscent to my waking up paralysed in hospital. An old frenemy in a way... 

Q: Have you got yourself into a daily routine? I have drawn upon my hospital experience to shape how I structure my days through this lockdown. I wake up to sunrise (no alarm), mindfulness, eat, exercise, study, sleep, repeat.

Q: Are you missing life as it was or enjoying the time out? For me, there is not that much change. In a way, what many others are experiencing now is what I experience every day living with my paralysis. I miss my life before paralysis and so I fully understand why this abrupt uncontrolled change may be impacting others greatly. 

Q: What are the positives out of this unique experience? With any trauma there is a chance for post traumatic growth, I feel this is a time where we can reflect and do the inner work on the person we want to be on the other side. 

Q: What have you managed to achieve during this period? Watched any box sets? Got the fence painted at last? Found a new hobby?  For me I have used this time to read a lot of the Classics, I have enjoyed learning more around the great philosophers and how modern psychology has been influenced by people who were alive over 2000 years ago. 

Q: How has your personal sport been affected? The obvious impact is the postponement of the Games, but also the cancellation of all races. I am cycling indoors on the turbo with tens of thousands of other people around the world who have also been affected. Never would I have imagined that we would all be training and racing via virtual platforms in my lifetime.

Q: What lessons have you learned from all this, both personal and professional? Personally, I have learned how important the “why” is in one’s philosophy of life. The philosopher Nietzsche had said that knowing your “why” allows you to withstand any “how”. I think these times exemplify this. Professionally, I have learnt the important role sport plays in keeping people connected. 

Q: Do you expect your life to change as a result of this, both in sport and in pleasure? The economic contraction could result in reduced resources for sport both from industry sponsorship and spectator spend. From a personal point of view, this is very much what it’s like to wake up paralysed. My life changed massively after that, so once we are through this my life won’t actually change too much. I might be slightly more fearful around people coughing.

Q: What is the first, second and third thing you will do when life returns to normal? 1. Say how grateful I am to be alive 2. Reflect on those less fortunate than myself and 3. Go ride my bike in the Alps. 

Q: What lessons do you think Sport can or will learn from the consequences of this pandemic? How to adapt as we have witnessed with the virtual sports races and platforms. I rode one night on Zwift with around 30000 other people which was an incredible feeling. So I think Sport will learn how to leverage the virtual world and how may it enhance the athlete and spectator experience when we get through this.