I’d always heard of people having regrets at not doing what they wanted to do, and felt sorry for them.
I couldn’t imagine how awful it would be to feel like that… Until it happened to me.
Perhaps if I’d set myself on another path, things would be very different. That being said, some positives have to come from everything. Everything has an opposite.
Maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s just poor life decisions on my part…
When I was about 8 years old, I visited Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. We did the usual tour of HMS Victory and I came away with this sudden interest in Nelson. I remember vividly reading the guide book, and the book about his life in the car on the way home and from then on, that was that. Little miss navy geek was on her way. Little did I know, 14 years later I’d be sat opposite John Humphrys in a Mastermind quarter final, answering questions on his life and career.When I started secondary school, I didn’t know what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up‘. Being Nelson was off the cards… not a real job apparently (who knew?!) and it wasn’t until I joined the Sea Cadets at 14 that the Royal Navy became an option.
I remember clear as day the first night I went to cadets, throwing a teenage tantrum in the car and refusing to get on the bus. At the end of my first parade night, I was hooked. I attended every Tuesday and Friday night, all my school holidays and weekends were spent on courses, learning to march, to tie knots, to read a chart, to sail… to run up and down the steps to Sand Quay in Dartmouth for fun on a summer camp! It was my entire life, I got so much out of it that I’ve now gone back as staff.
Everything I did from the age of 14 to 18 was to prep me for the career I wanted in the navy as a Warfare Officer. At 18 I went on my Admiralty Interview Board, to be selected for training. I failed, with them citing a lack of life experience as the main reason. I cried the entire train journey home, not knowing what I would do with my life. I became staff at my cadet unit and worked for a year, before deciding to go to university.
What better place to get life experience?!
The navy even influenced university. I chose Plymouth because of its naval ties, because there was an International Relations module in Contemporary Maritime Power, run by some of the lecturers from Britannia Royal Naval College and because, I wish I was making this up, there was a Frigate on the course brochure.
I tailored every single essay to the navy, where possible. Even my dissertation was maritime security based, entitled ‘The Implementation of Counter-Piracy Policies in the Gulf of Aden’. I interviewed naval officers, ambassadors, even William Hague got himself referenced in there (thank you to the FCO).
Everything was to get me to my Admiralty Interview Board again.
I started my application again, then I got in to a relationship, felt bad for thinking of running away to sea, was offered a job in maritime security (perfect based on my dissertation and a job I adore to this day) and there I have remained. The relationship has gone, the job continues, but I had a niggling feeling, every day.
Should I join? Did I still have time? I didn’t think my bosses would be shocked or unsupportive as they’re all ex forces.
I spoke to my local armed forces careers office about joining the navy as a Logistics Officer. By this point I was 26 and over the age threshold (#GrabAGranny) for Warfare. Logistics is essentially my day job, and so I thought Logistics Officer would be perfect. They told me that you can take the AIB 3 times, but only apply twice, but seemed confident that they could waive it as they liked my experience and me as a candidate. SO I set about writing my plea letter. My careers officer loved it, and said that I should fill in the paperwork when I got back from Kilimanjaro… I even took one of HMS Victory’s white ensigns to the summit with me for Portsmouth Dockyard.
As we all now know, whilst climbing Kilimanjaro I ‘twisted my knee funny’.I didn’t twist my knee at all, my joint hyper-extended, pushed the kneecap in to the bone and roughened all my cartilage, meaning I had to use crutches for about 8 weeks. It took three consultants saying the same thing, before a 2 month wait to get an MRI scan, another month for the consultant to give me the results, and another month before I started physio.
I made the point of cycling every day, which I’ve continued to do, and walked as much as I could, purposefully going cold turkey on the crutches and pushing through the pain, with the navy still as an end goal.
And then I started physio… My NHS physio was useless. The NHS is a wonderful institution, but the physiotherapists are not geared up for the many injuries you can get. They had me doing the same exercises as the 80 year old who had just had a knee replacement. My range of movement was much more than his, the exercises were generic, and they did nothing to help.
That same night I booked in for private physio, which I’m now paying for. In comparison, the NHS Physio said any hopes of climbing a mountain were out for at least a year or two. My private physio ran a few tests and checked my mobility and pain levels, assessed me and said by September or October I should be right as rain.
Great, I thought. Then I realised… My knee may well be ok for hiking up mountains, it may well be up to trekking across Dartmoor, but by the time it reaches the point where I’ll be able to run again, I’d have 2 months to get my mile and a half time down, and apply for the navy before being too old to join. My fitness levels have dropped a lot since October through not being able to do much other than cycling, and whilst I’m happy to pay for physio, I don’t think I can afford enough to get me to that point, that quickly.Either that, or I push through any pain, do what I can and risk making my knee worse. It certainly wouldn’t be up to standard for PTI beastings on cardiac hill with bergen in tow.
The thought that the navy wouldn’t be an option had never crossed my mind until yesterday.The girl with 3 bookshelves of naval history books, hundreds of pictures of ships (I’m not even kidding) and an entire folder of AIB prep, all page marked and colour coded, may just have to work in an office.
Perhaps it’s for the best, Kilimanjaro set me on a path full of motivation and dreams of peaks higher than I could ever imagine. I’d not have my blog, and I’d not have met some of the wonderful people I have, or have been given the opportunity to inspire people to Get Outside. I can work, save money and head off on adventures in my free time.
Despite all of those positives, having all that motivation to get out there, all the while being stuck on crutches, seeing your fitness levels deteriorate and your dream move away from you, is miserable. Realising the dream you had for 13 years will probably not materialise is miserable. Realising you can’t even do a single leg dip without pain when you used to deadlift 110kg / squat 95kg is miserable.
I’m not one for letting things get to me, but every now and then, like most people, I get a little fed up. It’s been one of those weeks where a lot has happened, I’ve had to think about where I want to be in life, and realised that actually, through my own decisions (good or bad) I’m not going to be there.
Maybe through some miracle my knee will be happy, I can apply and run away to sea after all. Maybe I won’t get there. Maybe that’s a good thing, I have friends complaining and wanting to leave the forces daily.
I’m ever the optimist and don’t doubt that whatever I decide to do I will put my all in to, I always do, but it’s hard to see a dream you’ve had since childhood be ripped out from under your feet… or knee.
If this was a boring read, so be it, but I feel a little happier for having written it anyway 🙂