Introduction – Nicole
Hi Guys, I'm Nicole Brennan founder of the IAMPOSSIBLE Foundation.
This is the IAMPOSSIBLE Podcast bringing together experts, scientists, Paralympians, adaptive sports professionals, authors and disability advocates to talk all things Limb difference, disability and inclusion.
Our Guest today is two time Paralympian, World & European Silver Medalist and Adaptive CrossFit athlete Jude Hamer. Jude started playing wheelchair basketball in 2007 and has played 2 Paralympic Games and 9 Championships.
Today we talk about training for the delayed 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, her journey from surgery to Rio 2016 and experiences around mental health.
I want to thank Jude for her open and honest discussion around her mental health and put a trigger warning at the start of the episode for those listening that may be impacted by discussions around depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Now lets get to our chat.
Hey Jude, thank you so much for joining me today.
How's training going and everything?
That's good I'm doing about two weeks up at training and then a week back down at home in Exeter. So little bit all over the place. But yeah, it's good that we're really fortunate that we can still train out of elite sport based. So yeah, in the first lockdown that last summer we got shutdown completely an we've stayed open through the November one and through this one, we've done really well, like to not lose too much time to to lock downs lately. So yeah, it's good with about to start doing. Some 2 V 2 works a little bubbles that we train in and stick in those groups so, so let's get bitten more kind of like game work going which is nice so yeah. Getting better.
How are the restrictions on training how they impacted them?
It's not been too. Yeah, in terms of we were allowed to wear allowed to train, we can. We can go to training that's it's easy as we go.
It was only individual training at the start when we don't do anything and so it's getting better, but you're really sticking our groups. We have to do lateral flow testing an twice a week while were up there and we have to stick within our group. We can't like mix on court with other people, so if there's a group on court then we have to wait till there off before we go on.
we have to wear masks all the time as well. But yeah, yeah it's is restrictive and it's you know it's not like normal. It's not full time normal training but it's way better than it has been and we're getting there. Have been really fortunate. Touchwood that we've not had anybody in the team catch covid, and we've not had anyone have any issues. So yeah, that's the end goal, isn't it? Is to keep everybody well and safe. So yeah, for now it's yeah, it's good.
I saw a video recently actually that your father had created, like a training apparatus for you at home on your wheelchair. That's awesome. How did that come about?
Yeah, I'm still trying to find anything cause I moved back down to Exeter right back down to my parents house in lockdown, the first knock down an I was in by myself in a flat in Sheffield and didn't have any outdoor space report from the car park which people don't take too kindly to you Wheeling around in or out by their cars and so trying to find anything you know I could do it with my family and it's really hard in the basketball chair because they are designed to run on the complete flat. So it's really hard to push around unless you can finally completely flat. Obviously all tracks and everything was shut, so trying to find anything that could mean I could get a little bit of pushing, going. Cuzz are our garden at my parents house is really small as like a little courtyard so couldn't really get any decent kind of momentum up and a lot of the rollers that were on the market where the really expensive or work sold out because everything sold out our summer.
So my dad is an engineer by trade, so he just kind of messed around a little bit with things that he's seen, but for bikes and put that together and then.
Yeah, I work for a bit and it was good to get a little bit of movement going an it's A. It's was a little bit. I really fell for a couple of times and lightweighting is a bit interesting because of my leg but yeah it was pretty cool. It's quite fun thing to get to practise with him and like to just see if we could make something and it worked for a bit and it did the job that I need it to you for awhile. Yeah it's cool.
Yeah, it's also it's cool to see how everyone's got creative at home as well over the last year with working out and everything.
Yeah, yeah, I really enjoyed working out at home. I think Kevin is a really great chance at having played sport for such a long time and everything for the programmed and you know what? That's great that we have access to coaches in programmes and things that was really cool to get to try workouts that I've not had time to do. So I love CrossFit. Anne and I will see my local at Box doing these workouts and I want to give him a go but I can't because I can't fit into my training schedule. So I just loved like just trying to mess around and see what I could do in my garden and try out these things.
Don't really have time studio me cause I can't risk getting injured or over training and normal in normal time, so I really enjoyed like. Yeah that kind of element of like. I wonder what happens if I do this or let's try this or let's see what this workout does and it was really fun.
That's awesome and as I said in my introduction, you started training in wheelchair basketball in your teens. How did that come about?
So I went to a sports specialist high school so the site support specialist and I had my leg operated when I was 15. And before that point, I hadn't played any sport really. My leg is quite fragile. I broke it quite a few times. I had a lot of surgery and just wasn't. You couldn't really do sport in its kind of traditional sense. I guess everybody's wasn't ever really accessible tea because I can't run an, so I just never really like new IT was out there for me.
I guess what severity I kind of felt like I could say yes to more things and I could try more things because I didn't really know anybody like me before as an amputee. And there's a girl at my school who played little basketball for a local club and she was talking about it and I wanted to give it a go and my PE teacher just took me along one day and I loved it and it was. Yeah, that kind of element of freedom that I've not had from pit, bike PE and stuff at school. And Ann.
Yeah, it's just being. It was being in my chair and it was going as fast as I could and it nobody cared about my leg or if I was going to hurt myself or any of those things and it was just being a kitten. Just like being quick and hitting other chairs. And if you fallout it's OK and no one really cares and it's just yeah all those kind of elements of like sport that kids.
Like like to do that we get out of doing sport when you're a child of that kind of like yeah, you being with people who are like you. People who are competitive who just kind of messing around and see what they can do with their bodies an and nobody really cares like what you're doing is you're just messing around. He just being kids and I loved it from then. A couple years, maybe, 18 months later I went along to a an junior championships. We have a national junior championships. It's like done by region and I went along and paid for a region just watch place in basket. I've never played a game so I went along and the GB coaches there and one of the players was there and she asked me to play for her women's League team.
As I started travelling up from Exeter up to go and play with them up in Aylesbury an one weekend, I used to get the train up. There was only 16. When I get the train up and she picked me up and I stay at hers and then she put it back on train again and one weekend there. We had games on Saturday but they had camped on the Sunday and this is like 2008 and she couldn't take me back to the train station until after camp had finished play.
So she said to the GB coach, I'll can I can do. Just watch what we're doing this and then I'll take it back afterwards and he said all she couldn't. She can join in if she likes. So I played. I had no idea I was doing. People were just telling me things all day and I had no idea what they were saying and they were just saying words and I was like no idea what's going on under the coach I Rang. You said like I'm not.
In a long list you for the Beijing Paralympics. And as I okay, well, I don't know. I didn't really know what the problem is were I didn't even bother GT with that point. Like I went to, this camp was first ever heard her being a GB team Anne? And then you know, I watched the girls play at Beijing on the red button a little bit. You could on BBC. So I saw these girls I've been playing with on TV and I like that I really want to do that. And yet, in the next six months, seven months I was selected for the team for the first time. Yeah, I've played every major tournament since so.
And what's been the biggest challenge so far in your career since she went professional?
I'd say this is a pretty big challenge for for us as a squad. This is maybe one of the hardest challenges we've been through, just in terms that you know, is he sport. You do everything together and we can't. We can't train together so that's you know it's quite nerve wracking going into.
A tournament like the Paralympics and having not trained together for a year now, you know you were planning on that. Changing in the next couple of months and all being well. Touchwood again, like will will be able to start training together again in the not too distant future, but you know we haven't played a game against anybody since last February, so it's a little bit nerve racking like kind of is quite unknown, and where you can't really ever like guarantee anything in basketball because it's. A lot of it in sport is who performs best on the day, but we have no idea what anyone else is doing because nobody is playing basketball and they might be playing like within their local at leagues. But there are more international games happening so we have no idea what anyone is doing, which in a way is a good day is a positive, yet we don't know what we're doing either. So we can. Kind of, you know, work on ourselves and go into it. You know, being focused on what we do.
I think I'd say that like personally for me the hardest thing that I've already gone through in terms of sport has been my struggles with mental health. I had a really big depressive episode in 2016. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2015.
A lot of things happened to me in very quick succession. I for quite a while had not really had slipped my leg. I hadn't really had to consider my disability or anything and I was living in in Alabama playing basketball at there was on a scholarship at College in at the end of 2014. Anne and I came home for Christmas and I started having like shooting pains up my legs and I didn't know what was going on. And by Christmas the pain was so bad that I couldn't breathe like I was. So it was agony like I thought I'd broken my leg. I don't know how I would have managed to break my leg because I can't do it. I can't. I don't do anything to write well later I can't run, so how would I fall over?
Eventually, they kind of realised after scans and various tests and things that I actually had a massive bone infection.
Which had been there probably about 10 years since I had a last benefaction. Um, it's just one of those things from having as much surgery as I have had over my childhood. I just contracted a bone infection and it just lay dormant until it had the right time, which meant that I had to come home because it was pre existing so I couldn't be insured to stay at Alabama. And for me it was the first time in a long time my disability had really like had any control over my life.
So it was quite traumatic for me, meant they had to move home as have a lot of surgery. Wasn't expecting to have, which brought up a lot of kind of like old feelings around having surgery and not having any control over that.
And yeah, I went back to went back to University, moved to Worcester to play basketball. I went back to University and college. Just got on with everything. Anything of it. But as the year went on like just kind of started getting more and more overwhelmed by all of us. So the end of the year I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
I decided I was going to kind of push through trying to get my degree. At this point it was taking me five years to get my undergrad and I really wanted to just get it done, but it meant that I was trying to balance full time training like 2530 hours of training a week with 2530 hours of Union Week and then all of the you know, coursework. On top of that an it was just. It was a lot like I really struggled in 2016.
By the time we got to Rio I would have rather been anywhere else in the world at the Paralympic Games, which I just hate when I look back on it just makes me really sad that that's kind of how I felt about the Paralympics. It should be like the pinnacle of your career. It should be the highlight of your of your cycle and I didn't want to be there. I hated it.
I think that's really the hardest thing I've been through intelligent sport and it's something I really wish that I didn't have in my career. I look back on video and I don't remember big parts of it because I was so depressed. But I also have this massive like sadness over the fact that this event should have been amazing and it it was.
Wow, sounds like a really hard journey. How did you kind of pull yourself back out from that?
Take me long time, I was really low for a long time I'm not shy about talking about it like before Rio I was, you know, deep down I was suicidal or didn't want to do any of it anymore. Doesn't mean you know I was planning anything necessarily, but I just didn't want to be around anymore than I was just tired of being busy all the time and just couldn't cope with the amount of pressure that is on me from everywhere.
And I think the thing that kind of saved me and helped me get out of that was to move away. I moved to Italy and played basketball out there for a year and I think getting away in resetting not everyone has that luxury, but having the opportunity to go and play abroad and to play with a different group of people and to.
Just fall back in love with playing basketball and not have to worry about anything else, all I had to worry about was basketball. I didn't have to think about Uni or any of those things as well cause I finally finished my degree. I could just play basketball and I think that really helped me. Just kind of revaluate and get myself back on track and remember what was really important to me and what really makes me happy. I think a big thing as well as.
Accepting that depression is in one of those things that you just have, like an episode of depression and it's done. I think it'll take a long time to accept that having depression, having anxiety, having issues with mental health doesn’t just go away overnight and that it so it's not a failure to have ups and downs in that.
I think that was a big part of me accepting it and recovering was being okay with it and not seeing it as a failure. I guess to not always be coping and not always be doing the best that I can just because it looks outwardly that I should be doing okay.
Yeah, definitely. I think with mental health its the invisible disability and on the surface everyone appears to be functioning and succeeding but underneath that you dont know what's going on in someone's life. So as you mentioned there, that disability or your disability was the root cause of that episode of depression. Do you think that growing up with a disability does kind of have an impact on mental health?
I think now when I look back on it, I think it definitely did impact mental health. I think when I talk about it now. I talk about the amount of you surgery went through and things like that when I was a kid and people really surprised I had from the age of 3 to 15 I had about 2025 operations an I probably have upwards of 30 now and I don't remember how many because we just lost count after about 25 as it was just getting silly an I think that kind of.
Having a lot of it cause a lot of the work planned. I think you know there was always this plan. Was that my disability would be managed or you know I have two legs the same length. By the time I was 16 that was always kind of what I was told by doctors. You know, in hindsight, they probably couldn't have known that because my disability is quite rare and I think they didn't necessarily.
I know enough about treatment options to be able to say that, but that's what they thought at the time and I think, yeah, I think a lot of my struggles coming from just yet. But the amount of unknown that happened in my childhood? Yeah, I'd say there may be. Less than half of the surgeries I have had in my life.
What plant a lot of the motor kind of going do with things that have happened along the way because of issues with. My legs very very sore so I had a lot of leg lengthening surgery. A lot of my surgeries around, like the frame going wrong or my my bone breaking or my hip dislocated or infections and let's just constant like always just things going on all time and I think looking back on it now that I think that did Payet play a big part in my.
Mental health issues now. I think there's just a lot of that. I think maybe you know at the time it was. It was the 90s. Eventually since we talked about quite as openly, and I think when you're a kid, you just want to get on with it and don't talk about it anymore, I think.
I think yeah, yeah, I think it's kind of like you don't really have time to sit there and think about those things. And I think that lack of sitting there and processing it and really dealing with it. You know as best we did our best as a family to sit there and kind of protest it. But there was always like there was always something else happening. There was never really enough time to sit there and really like figure out what happened because there was always another operation to prepare for something else that was going on. And I think that a lot having so much fun processed.
Yeah, surgery and whatever was happening definitely played a part in the things I struggle with. Now I think it just kind of like it just gets triggered by random things that you just went really expect it, and then you just. Yeah, I think it's. I think it's when I feel a little bit out of control then then I'll be triggered by. My disability or whatever else, yeah.
Yeah, and in you work with steps as well, do you kind of support other individuals that are going through the same journey as you with the mental health side?
Yeah, so steps were a charity that my parents used when I was a kid to help them kind of find equipment to help them look after me after surgery and they are really great for that for them. But when I was growing up there was never really an I really wanted there to be somebody that I could talk to who was older. He would been through.
Do what I'd been through or similar, so I kind of like see what it was like to go through this and to come out the other side. And there wasn't that. It was a lot of people who my age, which is fine like it supportive, but it wasn't. You know, I I need to know that it was going to be okay and. So people here in the same. Age younger didn't really do that. But yeah, I'm really fortunate through basketball that we do a lot. We try to do a lot to work with charities and work with organisations.
A Costa to us as people try to work with like charges with their disabilities or things like that. And I really wanted to steps because I knew they done so much in the past. My parents, Anne and they were really keen to work with me and then yeah, I think it's just really cool now, like we've done a few bits like if you Q and A's and stuff and like spoken to a few younger people.
And I think it's just really cool to have these conversations, and, you know, we can talk about things that happened to me in there. But yeah, that's happened to me too, and we can talk about it to be a kid at school disability. And we can talk about what it's like to be in the hospital. They struggle like the struggles that are of like, you know, just wicked and just getting on with your life.
I just love like talking to the younger people enlightened and seeing that click for them, but it is okay and that people do understand what they're going through and that. Yeah, but there are people who have been through the same things as they were similar things who get it and they're not alone and and it does get better like it. It's not like the end of the world that you have. This ability will have a disability or a limb. Difference those things. Aren't you going to limit you in and I've done all these things and it's been fine. Like you know I have had my struggles, but it's been fine. And it's just really great just to see that like to see that kind of interaction. And it's quite rewarding to to know that your Storey is helping other people.
Yeah, definitely. I think I'm so grateful to you and all of the ambassadors like especially you for coming on today to show people that obviously like the journey might be hard, but like everything is okay and all limb differences wherever they are, they are part of us, but ultimately they don't have control our lives and there they just kind of a factor of it. So I'm super grateful that you're on talking today about especially mental health and just for context of anyone listening right now. Obviously anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts are in the media a lot right now with everything going on with Meghan Markle and her interview with Oprah, so it's very relevant right now. What's your thoughts on this?
yeah, I was quite. I've got upset like its upsetting to hear talk about that and I was really sad that she she felt like that and I think it's really great that they that she's broke so openly about it and that they were so you know that the show portrayed it so honestly and they didn't try and like sugarcoat how she was feeling and a lot of the things you were saying, like how you know how I and I'm sure the people who felt in the past and I think it's really important to talk about it. I think it's been really sad to like to see people talk about it in the media. And, you know, on social media about how they don't don't believe her. Which I just think is just the worst thing you could say to somebody.
Having been suicidal, having lost a friend that way like it's, you know it's not a joke. It's not something to take lightly. It doesn't matter if you don't believe them, or if you don't fit, they should feel like that, like I've had people in the past tell me that they don't. They don't get why I'm so depressed because look at everything I have going for me like. Well, that's not the point. Is it like it's not about what you have going for you necessarily like you can have the world, but that doesn't know. It doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have mental health issues. It's not. It's all relative, isn't it? It's not about.
So I think it's really great that it's like you know that she spoke, but I think it's really great day. It started conversations. It's saddening that there's some of those conversations aren't as positive as they should be. I hope that it makes some changes and I hope that people maybe start thinking about what they say online. I think it's you just don't know who's he doesn't know who's listening an you know if you sit there and say that you don't believe this person but you don't know them in your in your everyday life so their detached from your life so it doesn't matter. But somebody sees that who is in your life and then it makes something. Oh well known is going to leave me if I tell.
Then yeah, I think that's for me. That's a really big thing, like I never want people to feel like. They can't tell me things will be all they can't come to me if they, if they needed someone to speak to because they would think that I wouldn't listen, I wouldn't care and I and I I just hope that people start to click with that and. Start feeling the same way about it because It doesn't matter, but you know what your perspective is on it or what you. How do you feel about mental health or any of those things? It's about what that person is going through and supporting them and.
I just think that we all have a part to play, especially at the moment with how how hard things are at the moment, how hard they have been in this past year. We've all got a part to play to look after each other and to support each other through this. And if you you know saying that you don't let you hear somebody stops them, you know, make something twice and make some feel like somebody cares and somebody is hearing them and it stops them from doing something that they can't take back then. That's what I really want is just to know that somebody feels like they have a safe space.
Yeah, definitely an like you said earlier. Like with depression, it's it's something that comes in goes and it can be over kind of the smallest thing that triggers it, in my experience as well, I second what you said and when you feel that kind of coming back up again, what strategies do you use to kind of look after yourself and your mental house?
Taking me a long time to figure out where I what I need to do to kind of stay in a good place I like to spend time with myself when I'm struggling like this, not in a negative way. It is not in like staying in bed all day in and ignoring the worlds away. It's like if I'm having a down day and I or you know if I can feel myself getting to that place. I like to have a Cup of tea. Play everyday again like Buddha book. Just like just I get a lot of energy from being by myself. I like spending time with people you know. I enjoy Peoples Company but I recharge from spending time on my own.
I think that's hard to do sometimes in a team environment, so I'm not great at which I mean when I'm like it's taking a while to figure out because I'm not great at doing it, cause of the team environment thing in the field. Barbara, not spending time with your team an I feel bad not spend time with my team and.
Yeah, it's almost like you know things that everyone says. I have a bath. Read a book like It's It's Funny with things like make you feel happy like I have films that I know if I have time. I if I watched one of those are harder still better like put Harry Potter or something just in cosy like couple of candles and just give yourself a couple of hours just to chill out in. Just shut off from the world and do something you really enjoy.
It doesn't have to be this massive like I think for a long time. I think I felt like I had to like do a big grand thing was I feel better, but actually just like. Having a bit of cake and a Cup of tea and watching something nice on TV for a little bit, just enough just to kind of reset. Meet with me. Feel better again.
I think it's really important to have people that you can speak to you. You don't necessarily have to tell them how you're feeling. If that's not, if you don't feel like you can do that like it was a really hard thing to do, sometimes an. But just know that you have people that you can just talk to.
You know, I'm just there for you and that you have people like. It's not always that easy, I know. But like if you just have a person that you know that you could just say hey, how are you and they would you know they've reached back out to you just knowing somebody's there. I think sometimes it goes a long way. Yeah, it doesn't have to be about what you like, what you're going through. If you don't feel.
Okay, were speaking about those things, but just having some sort of support network I think makes a big difference. I think that it is really hard when you're. Struggling my eyes shut people out when I'm struggling, but I think that's the biggest thing I think is to try and hold on to some other relationship. If you can't hold on to all of them just trying to hold onto our relationship so you have somebody that you can reach out to makes a big difference I think.
Yeah, I think for me as well as changing the environment like you said earlier with moving countries will see it's hard right now with Covid, but a change of environment can be like hugely beneficial. I used to struggle with panic attacks and then I moved homes only 20 minutes away and it shortcut my mind to have stopping it from kicking into a panic attack. And yeah I couldn't really put it into words but the environment. I definitely think made a difference or going for a walk. Get out in the air is so important when we're in lockdown. We are close to being able to mix with people outside which is exciting.
Yet it is far, is it? But then also for me, the thought of being back out with people again is quite tricky for my anxiety like stay quite safe because I I've kept myself within people that I know and I trust like basketball. My girlfriend, my family like I'm so lucky, I can see my family because we look we help look after my sister. So we canal still kind of see each other and spend time together.
But I know I trust all of these people to be doing the right things, but if you go out there into the big wide world is everybody like for me, that's like quite triggering an I think again, like that's okay that's triggering for you to like if if this last year has made you realise you know a few things about yourself and like you don't.
But you don't want to go back to the way things were before then. That's OK too, just because other people are going. I'm talking about June 21st. Can't wait to go out that you don't have to do those things if they don't make you. If they don't make you feel happy like you know if if you've actually you know found somethings in this last year that bring you bring you Joy Spark drivers. That very condo says like do those things like enjoy and you don't have to just because everyone's doing it doesn't mean you have to do it.
Yeah, June 21st, I think that's the one day I'll be staying inside. To be honest. The other people are going to be like rushing out the door.
I've even said what in a present like looking forward to being able to go for a coffee. Just going like not have to sit outside everywhere. Like if you can just go and go to a cafe, grab a coffee, sit with a friend for a little bit. Now have to go for a walk like if you can just go and sit on a bench. Someone open at all since breaking the rules.
Yeah, yeah definitely. So thank you so much for being so open about everything today. It's been such a great chat. What would you want our listeners to take away from today?
I think the big thing yeah, like for me is yeah about talking. It's not necessarily about talking about if you. If you are having trouble with mental health. Whatever they are there valid. We don't have to have,Of these, and to pinpoint on it, for it to be valid, you can just be not okay, and I don't feel like that it's okay not to be okay thing, but you can just not be doing alright at the moment, and that's that's alright, and it doesn't have to be a reason you don't have to be able to explain it to people you don't have to be able to tell everybody about it either.
But just accepting that I'm not fighting against it for yourself, I feel like that's a really big thing to just like to be able to process it into and to be okay with it and not fight against your mental health, I think that really helps. And that's really important. People like that was a big turning point for me and I think if you are, if you are struggling like just trying to not ban against it all the time and to let yourself just not be 100% all the time. Sometimes it's sometimes getting up out of bed that day and getting dressed as the best you can do, and that's fine.
Especially at the moment, you know we're all going through lockdown, and if if you woke up that day and you got out of bed and breakfast, then well done like that's you know you don't have to reinvent the wheel everyday to have had a good day.
Definitely yeah. Thank you so much. So one more question for you is the question that we're asking throughout all our podcasts. So if you could use one word to finish a sentence, what would it be and why? So I am…. and how would you describe yourself?
I love that and why would you use that word?
I think it kind of it describes a multitude of things. I think like physically, a thing that I take a lot of pride in is that I am strong. Like the parts of training like weight lifting. I love. I love to lift. I love being in the gym. If I'm ever near, struggling at training like the one thing I know I can go and do is to go and lift. An I can feel awful about myself and I find my motivation again just from being in the gym.
I think you know, mentally, I think I'm pretty strong. I've had to have been over the years, have got through everything I did as a child. Have got through the mental health struggles I've had.
Yeah, I think it just encompasses many things. I don't think it is. I think people think of stronger that physically, but I think strong can be. Mentally, physically, emotionally, however, you you know, I think it gives me a lot of like what word is it gives me a lot of kind of motivation and positivity, like when I talk about myself as being strong. It makes me feel empowered.
Okay, well thank you so much and good luck with your training. I hope it continues to progress so that you can play with your teams and everything. And if we don't speak to again until after then, good luck at the Paralympics will be watching!
Thank you for listening to the iampossible podcast. I want to thank Jude again for having such an open and honest conversation around her experience with mental health and her limb difference journey.
The IAP Team are wishing you and team GB all the best in Tokyo later this year and we cant wait to tune in!
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