Stuart Hayes has had his fair share of ups and down during his career. The 2012 London Olympian made headlines for the wrong reasons as he suffered a broken pelvis following a collision with a deer while out on his bike in Richmond Park in 2019.

Stu has kindly written a blog on the challenges athletes face when recovering from injury...

How to deal with injuries

Life as a professional athlete isn't always as glamorous as it seems, especially as a triathlete. When you watch races on TV and see an outstanding performance, it's usually the end result of a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and hard work.

Like many sports, triathlon comes with its fair share of highs and lows - there are many struggles and it’s a life which doesn't suit everyone. 

Injuries play a huge part in the struggles that athletes face. In fact, I would say injuries are probably the most common setback we all endure from time-to-time.

Most of us seek out a coach to help nail down a quality training program that incorporates some form of strength and conditioning work. We also get regular massages, but we can still be unlucky and pick up some kind of injury, or simply suffer an accident through no fault of our own which puts us out of action completely - I can sympathise with the latter off the back of what happened to me.

So, how do we deal with injuries in a positive and constructive way to ensure we don't 'overthink' things or allow our struggles to effect our own mental wellbeing?

Try new things during recovery

I have learnt a lot about myself since suffering this accident. Going from being able to swim, bike and run, and do the normal day-to-day things involved in everyday life, to then not being able to walk and losing some of my independence, has really opened up my eyes and challenged me.

I have been as positive as I possibly could, but every now and then you have a dark moment when you feel a bit useless, which can lead to feelings of frustration and anger.

I have put a lot of energy into doing things I wouldn't have normally done, like writing this blog, but it has also enabled me to put more time into coaching my Team Dillon athletes, which I really enjoy. I have become more of a hotline for my athletes - call me anytime! 🤙 

When dealing with any injuries, you're usually given a timescale as to when you're likely to be healed. This can be a frustrating time, so you have to learn to be patient, you have to accept 'it is what it is', and not focus on the what you can't do but try to focus on what you can do.

Focus on the positives

These are skills which my wife, Michelle, has taught me. Try to stay as positive as you can, spend time with friends and keep yourself occupied so you're not dwelling on your injury.

Most importantly, do the things that will help you progress quickly and you'll see light at the end of the tunnel.

I was almost pretty much retired before this latest accident happened, but this has pretty much made the decision for me that I won't be racing as a professional again anytime soon.

Retirement as a professional athlete is inevitable and it's a massive change in lifestyle which can take time to adjust to. Leaving the sport can prove to be very difficult for some people.

I imagine it would be the same feeling as a solider leaving the army, something which has been part of their identity and lives for 25 years or more, and now it's no longer what they do. This is when you need to reinvent yourself by becoming a coach or working in the sport which has been such a big part of your life for some time.

Set goals

I've seen athletes completely walk away from the sport and you never see them again. These are usually the ones that endured struggles with injury or sickness and want to get as far as way as possible. When you think about a professional athlete's day it consists of eat, train, sleep, repeat.

So when an athlete retires they no longer have these activities filling their day and they need to find something else to focus on.

From my own experience it's best to have a goal to work towards, not necessarily a sporting goal, although it's good to keep fit and healthy. Rather, it should be a goal that gives you a sense of personal achievement and self-worth. 

Michelle, my wife, created Team Dillon coaching 12 years ago which helped her make the transition from professional athlete to a full-time coach.

Michelle was winning races in the final year of her career but was suddenly forced to stop after undergoing major surgery on a long-standing back injury. 

Image Credit: Stu Hayes via Twitter (©)

At the time I was still racing at the highest level so she could focus all of her energy on her new business and coaching me. 

Ten years on and Michelle has come back to the sport to race as an age-grouper because she wanted to give herself a personal goal, which I hope to be able to do myself in the future.

I'm really enjoying being a Team Dillon coach. What I enjoy the most is being able to pass on my knowledge and experience from all the things I've learnt during my career, right through from my time as a beginner to a world-class athlete.

I wish I had someone with the same experience giving me that kind of advice when I first started out in the sport as things might have been a lot easier. 

The best advice I can give is that if you have an injury - stay positive and seek good advice.

Best of luck to everyone for the rest of the season!

Further reading