Lisa Dobriskey was watching X Factor the other night. In particular, she was watching the fate of a contender who kept coming back, time after time, only to face ultimate rejection.
“That’s me, Ricky!” she exclaimed to her coach/husband, sharing the same sofa (although not the same passion for the show).
“No, it’s not,” he reassured her, bearing in mind that his wife is a two-time Olympic finalist, Commonwealth Games champion, World silver medallist and Britain’s second fastest women’s 1500m runner of all time after Kelly Holmes.
But Dobriskey wasn’t so sure. A brutal combination of illness, injury and drug cheats has disrupted her success in the last couple of years and the latest blow was the recent phone call to inform her that she has been stripped of funding by UK Athletics. There is doubt, apparently, about her potential to win medals. Sport’s equivalent of a “No!” from X Factor judge Gary Barlow.
I know it’s wrong to blow my own trumpet but I believe Rio is a realistic target for me."
Dobriskey disagrees. “How can they say I don’t have the potential to win medals when I made the Olympic final last year and I’d only started running in May due to my injury? I know it’s wrong to blow my own trumpet but I believe Rio is a realistic target for me. I’ll be 32 by then and Kelly Holmes was 34 when she won her two Olympic golds in Athens.”
Dobriskey will not be appealing against the funding cut but she won’t be going quietly either. She plans a self-funded fightback to fitness and contention but first she has to recover from a foot injury that has plagued her since the spring and was exacerbated, she believes, by an injection administered by a UKA doctor at the trials for the World Championships in July.
The injury was diagnosed as plantar fasciitis and, following a scan by UKA medical staff, she was advised to keep running through the pain. “My foot was landing really flat and heavily and at the Diamond League meeting in Birmingham it was awful. A disaster. We tried a track session the next day but Ricky stopped me because I was limping so badly and the pain was so bad.”
Her ability to liaise with the top management at UKA was hampered by the coming and going of senior staff including head coach, Peter Eriksson, after only eight months in the job. “We tried to sit down with Peter at warm weather training in South Africa three times but he didn’t really know who I was, what I’d done, what my times were or anything.”
By the World Championship trials, Neil Black was in temporary charge and Dobriskey was trying to put her injury problems behind her. “I led my heat but I struggled massively. There was no response from the foot. Nothing. Steve Cram said to me afterwards: ‘You looked awful.’
“That evening I got really upset. I told Ricky: ‘I don’t want to go back to a situation where I know I can’t perform. It’s not that I’m running away. I just think it will be soul-destroying. I don’t think my foot will cope.’
“I told the doctor the next day: ‘I don’t want to run the trials and I don’t want to be considered for selection’. But the doctor said he could think of a few things he could try to make it better. It seemed like a lifeline and I began to change my mind. Then word came back from Neil, who told the doctor, who told Ricky, who told me: ‘You are at serious risk of not being selected if you don’t run today.’
“We got to the stadium and I just felt this pressure. The physio and the doctor were treating me and trying so hard. I was offered an injection to kill the pain. Ricky asked: ‘What’s the worst that can happen with this injection’ and we were told: ‘It can tear the plantar fasciitis. I remember my words: ‘I think it’s already torn so it won’t make a difference.’
Dobriskey won silver in the 1500m at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin
“I had the injection. It felt really strange. Numb. I couldn’t feel any pain but I couldn’t feel my foot either. In the race, I ran about 600m and then I felt this “pop” that seemed to go all the way up my body. I just stopped and stepped off the track.
“I found out the day afterwards I’d suffered a complete rupture. I was inconsolable. My season was over. No World Championships. No Fifth Avenue mile either. There had been no mention of a rupture at all. We weren’t told the real risks. If someone had told me that I’d be on crutches for two weeks, that it would take 4-6 months to heal...well, it could have ruined my career really.
"We followed the rehab programme set up for me but when I tried to run again the foot was exactly the same. No better. In the end we paid ourselves to visit a very well-respected physiotherapist in Northampton who has worked with the Royal Ballet and Freddie Flintoff among others. He said a block of 4-6 week strength work had been missed out of my recovery plan.
“My argument is they put you on a world class plan but it’s not a world class support system. It’s been a mess. A complete mess.
“But now I feel I’ve come through the drama. I’m not giving up. I pay for my own massage and strength & conditioning work anyway, now we’ll use our savings to provide the rest. In some ways it’s liberating. Money’s never been a motivation. I never wanted to be rich. It’s just about the fact that I love competing and training and running. Even if we have to live on cornflakes for a while.
“I just want an Olympic medal. That’s all I want. To have come so close in 2008 when I finished 4th. I imagined 2012 was going to be fine and for it all to go so horribly wrong - surgery in September 2011, stress fracture in February 2012 and pulmonary embolism later on - it leaves me with unfinished business.
“Even if I don’t medal, I just want a year when I know I couldn’t have done any more, a year when there’s no excuse. No blocks of non-training, no races against the clock to get fit, no racing on limited training. I’d like a season when I think: ‘This is it. Me at my best’.
“That’s what’s keeping me going and I don’t feel I’ve got there yet. I can’t rest until I try.”
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