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Matt Lippard, from Trauma to Triumph!

Read Matt’s amazing story about him overcoming his fears and tackling adversity to take part in the 2018 Blenheim Palace Triathlon.

Introduce yourself (name / age/ experience in tri’s)

Hi, Im Matt Lippard. And Im not a triathlete, but I have signed up to do a triathlon. For the last 15 or so years, Ive been a rugby player. Id like to think I was a flying winger or running full back. Although some might just say I was a lazy winger or fully backing out of the tackles. Im currently celebrating the 5th anniversary of my 30th birthday this year. Which has meant that Im not as much of a flying winger or running full back any more. And rugby really hurts when you are and getting run at by people half your age and twice your weight. So Im just starting on a new journey – its never to old to tri!

What is the challenge you have overcome?

Im a keen cyclist. Triathlon appealed to my penchant for both getting up some speed, whilst also being lazy enough to stop and drink coffee and gluttonous enough to love a piece of cake. I injured my ankle playing rugby and also my knee whilst running. The ligament damage wasn’t great. But it’s not too challenging to overcome injury with a bit of rest and sensible rehab. And of course, more cake.

 

The biggest challenge for me was idea of the open water swimming. I had been on holidays in Egypt, bathed in the warm seas of the Caribbean and learnt to dive in Thailand. But that crystal clear, bath warm, calm salty water spoilt me. I had a buoyancy aid, flippers, a snorkel, a bunch of air and an on hand instructor at all times. Frankly I couldn’t have drowned if they had tied bricks to my feet

So with swimming, I hadn’t swum at all since a child. I managed to leave school having completed my “red” badge – 25 meters – and that was doggy paddle. So its fair to say it scared me. How would I cope?

I taught myself to swim in my local pool. First in the kiddies pool, and felt a little silly with my float in waist high water, teaching myself front crawl literally one arm at a time with the other on the float. Eventually, I managed to make it into the pool. 25 meters at first, in 2m deep water. I did ok. Gradually I improved. 5 lengths, 10 lengths, eventually, by two weeks ago I was regularly swimming 2500m in a 50 meter pool, and was a regular at the Luton morning swim club. When the lakes opened for the summer in April, I thought I was ready. I bought a wetsuit and headed down.

I went out alone. The course was only 400m but it looked huge. I got in and the water was freezing. There was no current, but the lake was deep and murky. What fish are down there? What can’t I see underneath me? What if Im attacked by a swan?! I tried to cool my nerves and I did a little warm up. I then set off on a lap. I had a panic attack. My heart started to pound and I was hyperventilating. I tried to reason with my head but it was too lake – I was in panic mode. I shouted for help and tried to stay afloat. I really felt for the worst.

Then something fantastic happened. The triathletes and helpers on paddleboards swept in in seconds. The crew took me ashore, sat me down and made sure I was ok. I was introduced to a local lady, who it turned out was a local swim teacher who had just arrived for her swim. By this point, Id taken my wetsuit off, and resolved never to put it on again.

She calmed my nerves, made me laugh and after some reluctance, persuaded me not to go home, and just put my suit back on. We went back in. She got me floating on my back, we did some breathing drills and a calmly went into the open water for a short doggy paddle. At no point did she make me feel embarrassed, a burden, or slowing anyone else up.

We did a couple of short swims and I left with handshakes and smiles all around. “We will see you next week, yeah?” shouted one of the ironman triathletes I had been chatting to in the changing rooms before from his car window as we all left.

I was determined not to let it beat me. I had put up an account on social media and the support was awesome. I woke up the next day with the mindset to go again. I went to an open water lido and got the wetsuit back on. Yes, it was clear water, and yes it wasn’t deep. But I put in 2000m and knew this was in my head.

Over the last few weeks, Ive been out with the teacher. We’ve done laps and laps of that lake. Ive tried new venues, and Ive swum alone. Im not on the start line yet. But I feel like I can make it.

 

What sort of training you’re doing?

Like most people I guess, the triathlon magazines and online resources, including the helpful people from Blenheim Triathlon itself. Everything from rugby had to be unlearnt or modified in some way. With that, the importance of carrying weight and explosive short term power meant many hours in the gym and little cardio.

Tri training focused on the three disciplines of course, aiming to do 2 sessions for each per week. Mondays – Thursdays alternating swims and runs, and they take the least time, in the morning before work. In the evenings I might try to squeeze in some yoga or mobility work if possible, and get in a longer bike ride over the weekend.

How are you finding the Tri training?

I have found out the hard way that one size doesn’t fit all! I went at the training initially with a vigour and verve, getting up early in the morning and pushing and pushing, trying to get my times down and beating my last session. Turns out this is a bit of a mistake. It led to a knee tendon injury that took 12 weeks to heal. It was a blessing in disguise though, as it forced me to concentrate on my weakest discipline, my swimming, whilst I wasn’t able to put any load on the knee. No more excuses, or “Ill go for a run or a cycle instead” – it was the only training I could do. And, frankly, it helped.

Aside from that, I found peace in training that I had never found before. It really calmed my mind. In an age of modern technology making you constantly connected, to detach, feel my body rhythm and focus on nothing but that moment gave me a real sense of mindspace. It might sound new age and a little cringeworthy, but I now go back to training just for this feeling. Balancing my job as a lawyer, bouncing between Court and Police stations all day in stressful situations, working late, with a home life as well can be tough. But this time is my own. And I so grateful for it.

Whats your aim from the Tri’s? (time/speed etc)

I read somewhere a good time for a sprint triathlon was about 90 minutes. I was aiming for around that. However, since becoming interested in cycling, Ive quickly realised a “good” time, is totally dependent on the conditions. 20k up a 10% incline in a headwind isn’t going to get you around as quickly as a flat road on new tarmac. So for me, Im realistic in my expectations. Get around, set a time, enjoy it. Im hooked now, so this wont be my triathlon time, this will be my time to beat next year.

What part of the Tri are you most nervous about and why?

Of course, the swim still causes me some nerves. Its not like you can just get off and walk! But its actually now a part Im looking forward to the most. That wetsuit is super warm and its nice that its first! Actually, it’s the run. Having put effort, time, and love into the sport, Id like to think I can keep going until the end. But whilst the components can be practiced and trained for in advance, putting them all together in training is pretty difficult. Ill be hugely disappointed if I cant keep running all the way around.

Who do you look at online to find you inspiration?

Seeing the Triathlon kick off the commonwealth games, and the coverage its received online and on TV has really exploded in recent years. In the build up to the event, facebook platforms and Instagram hashtags really start to build momentum. When you are in the sport it can feel like youre alone at times. The buzz that the online community begins to bring in as the weeks draw closer is nice to feel a party to. Watching the insta-stories of the brownlees, and the interviews with Jess Learmonth come to mind, but just knowing you are in the same start location at Blenheim as pro athletes and real celebrities is inspiring in itself.

 

What would you say to someone thinking about taking part in the tri?

Triathlon is a solo sport. But that doesn’t mean you are on your own. Talk to people, join a club, listen to advice. You are never a burden and often a help to others. Wherever you start from, there is always someone who has started further back. The beauty of the sport is in its diversity. You might be nervous about the swim, someone else might worry that they cant run very far. Help each other, we are all one community. Though when race day comes, you are allowed to want to take that ticker tape before them!

Who are you raising money for and why?

I lost my father when I was 21 years old in a car accident. It was tough to deal with for our family, but we all got our lives together. I particularly felt for my mum, who had been happily married to the man for 25 years. When he met Pete, she found some happiness. After only a few years together, he developed cancer.

I set up a fundraising page Pete could take strength from seeing the donations from others whilst fighting against a cancerous tumor he was diagnosed with mid 2017. Pete Turnbull was my mums other half. He was a decent man that taught me so much, and offered my dear mother a great companion after my dad had passed away. Numerous times he spoke to me about this cause, and how touched he was.

On the 17th December, at peace, Pete lost his battle with cancer. 

He had deteriorated quickly. An old rugby player and a retired plumber, he was no wallflower. Cancer won. We watched over months as the cheekbones appeared on a man unable to sustain an appetite, and during conversations his eyes would roll back due to a cocktail of painkillers as a tennis ball sized tumor pressed onto his spinal nerve. Watching him try to smile and chat through the pain was heart-breaking. If it’s upsetting to read, it should be. Anyone who has seen someone go through cancer treatment will recognise it. 

I’ve always dealt with death by trying to throw my energy into something that pushes me. It’s selfish, however it’s my coping mechanism. The people at Isabel Hospice, and hospices around the country don’t do this. They commit time and effort and empathy to those they barely know, helping them smile, helping them laugh, helping them live to the end of their days with a feeling of dignity. I hope I can help Isabel Hospice to do what I can’t . I hope I can push myself to train and try to achieve something for him. I hope I can raise funds and awareness so that others can receive the same support.

I signed up for the Blenheim Triathlon. I decided to do so as it was the first one that came to mind as a local and huge spectacle of an event.

This journey was about so much more than a triathlon. It’s a call to arms. It was to provide a platform for those that wish to, to donate in memory of Pete, or someone they knew who suffered from cancer, or just for those that live in the Hertfordshire area who want Isabel Hospice to continue to provide care for those who fall foul of this terrible illness. You never know when you might need them.

Isabel Hospice provides palliative support to the 270,000 people who live in eastern Hertfordshire Hospice care is about helping people to live well for as long as possible and have a good death in the place of their choice when the time comes

To see more of Matt or to take part yourself, click on the link below to sign up for this years Bloodwise Blenheim Palace Triathlon.