In this guest blog post, Australia-based MySwimPro Ambassador Andrew Wilkinson (@wilkofit) shares his journey of overcoming mental and physical hurdles to recognize his full potential.
Hello, my name is Andrew Wilkinson and I am from Glenfield, Australia. I am 41 years old and have been swimming since I was a young child. When I was 17, I became very interested in triathlon and have concentrated on that ever since. I am currently part of Team Australia and training for my second Invictus Games in May 2020. I am also preparing for Nationals in June as a Para-athlete.
I am the head coach at the Wenden Swimming club, and I compete for the Liverpool Masters Swim Club and the Invictus Games Swim Squad. I am also a Junior Triathlon coach at the Hills Tri Club and have sponsorship from Atmosphere Fitness Club.
I have been training with the MySwimPro app on my Garmin for years, and I have over 600+ workouts logged. The app and the community has made it very simple to track my progress, and connect with like-minded athletes around the world. To become an Ambassador is an honor.
I am very passionate about connecting with people to help them recognize their potential as an athlete, and to encourage them to use swimming as a way of treating mental health issues. I use swimming as a way to keep my core strong, which in turn helps with my lower back problems. I thought I would share my story, as it might inspire you to recognize new potential in yourself.
My Swimming Journey:
I have always been involved in sport from a very young age. I started swimming when I was five, then began cycling and triathlon when I was 12. I have represented my state and country as a junior and adult for all three sports.
During my service in the Royal Australian Navy, I was able to foster my love of sport by representing the Navy and ADF in the following sports – Water Polo, Cycling, Mountain Biking, Surfing, Triathlon and Running. Some of my results included ADF National Triathlon Champion 2009/10/11 in Sprint, Standard and Half Ironman distances. I competed at the ARAFURA Games four times and in 2011 I placed third overall. These results gave me a base line in which I was able to grow my portfolio and in turn allowed me to gain my Professional Triathlon License in 2011. Not less than six months after receiving my Pro License (something I had dreamed of getting right from my first race when I was 12) everything went pear shaped and my life changed.
During a race on 6 November 2011, in my home town of Karratha W.A, something didn’t feel right, I had excruciating pain in my lower back and down my leg. I went on to win the race but the pain continued. I flew back to Sydney the next day and saw my Base doctor. He informed me I had ruptured my L4/L5 and L5/S1 lumbar discs, and that they were squashing the sciatic nerve. This would require immediate surgery to fix the problem.
I have had two rounds of surgery on the lower spine since my original diagnosis. I have scar tissue squashing my sciatic nerve, which has caused muscle atrophy down my left leg. My L4/L5 and L5/S1 discs have degraded to a point that they are now self fusing. Working on aircraft coupled with a military lifestyle and my love of sport may have caused my injuries but sport and exercise have been my foundation to help me continue with my life.
After my surgeries it was deemed that I was unfit for service and was medically discharged in 2014. This took a massive toll on me both physically and mentally. It took me a long time to cope with this, especially when I have a young family and a wife that still serves in the Army.
I went from having a great job, the prospect of being promoted, a blossoming triathlon career as a professional athlete to losing it all. I lost my job, a job that I had not planned to leave, which in turn placed a massive strain on my family, I lost my professional triathlon career, I even lost a lot of what I thought were friends in the process.
During this whole ordeal I turned to the one stable element I could still hold on to. Training and triathlons became my focus and even I was even able try out to become a Para-triathlete, but found I wasn’t broken enough. On one hand I was told I couldn’t serve anymore because I was “too broken” but on the other hand I was being told I was not broken enough to be a para-athlete. This went on for a few years, not knowing where I fitted in, not knowing where I was going. Going through the motions but having no purpose.
Then the opportunity to be involved in the Invictus Games came along. It has given me drive and purpose with my sport and with my life again. I strive to be fitter and stronger and am able to it all while representing my country.
After all that happened I now find myself in a position where I thought I would never be. I have a real chance of representing Australia again at the Invictus Games to be held in The Hague in May 2020, to be followed with the possibility of qualifying for the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Para- Triathlon, swimming and cycling.
I am so excited for what’s to come in my triathlon career, and I can’t wait to train with MySwimPro to get me there.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Andrew! We are proud to have you on our Ambassador team and cannot wait to see you reach your goals this year!