I have been so fortunate to meet some of the most incredible female athletes over the last five years with the magazine. I have sailed with double Olympic Gold medalists, watched multiple Gold Paralympians train, spent time behind the scenes with teams, chatted with world record holders, met so many legends in sport and so much more. The one thing all of these athletes have in common is that the time spent with them is fleeting - some, I get to see more often but it's still just moments. There is one exception to this and that is double Paralympic medalist, Lucy Shuker.
I first met Lucy for an interview and photoshoot for the magazine and she has become a very dear friend to me. Given that she lives close by has helped cement the friendship as well as give a unique view of what athletes around the world have to contest with each and every day. In the three years that I have known Lucy I have seen the hard work, emotion, dedication and price she has paid to become a medal winner.
So what have I seen that is different to spending a training session with an athlete or doing an extended interview? I have seen the humanity of Lucy, the person behind the success and the challenges that we all face in life, being dealt with by a friend who is an athlete. It's the humanity. Lucy, like athletes all over the world commit to their sport completely not just by training and playing but in having to find ways to maintain friendships, relationships and social lives despite hardly being around or in the country - and it's the grace with which Lucy does it that I admire. Never have I heard her complain or say that she is sacrificing things, but equally she has surrounded herself with people who understand and don't apply pressure to her, but who go with her flow and support her and enjoy being with her when she is around.
Food is a perfect example as it has an ability to polarise people as well as athletes and I have seen some bizarre things when it comes to athlete's food regimes and the things they do and don't do. Lucy's outlook is very much one that everything in moderation is fine. She appreciates good food and we have shared many good meals. These times are precious because they are few, not by choice but because of her schedule.
Lucy and I will WhatsApp each other all over the world at whatever time zone we are in to catch up, chat and send amusing photos of things we have seen because when she is back in the country she has a training schedule to keep. The training schedule means that she is actually very rarely at her house but away training at specific venues. This means that her time available before she flies off to another tournament is often only a day or two. In this time, she has to do all the things we do, as well as see family and friends. There will be stretches of time where Lucy has flown in, dropped her bags, trained and flown out without a hello because the turn-arounds are so tight. It's tough to see her having to manage so many aspects and 'have a life' as a person and an athlete - but she does it with grace and humility.
One of my best examples is of Lucy's desire to see her friends while she is back, even though the time is short - and so often she will send a message saying that everyone is invited to the usual restaurant on a certain day to eat and catch up. Lucy may have been in the country for a day and be flying out the next but in that moment she is just Lucy, joking and chatting with everyone and you wouldn't know any different. The thing that stands out for me though is that each person at that table (8ish) is made to feel special and that they have spent time with her. Lucy has an ability to make it seem like you are the only person in that moment, she isn't distracted by what's going on or other conversations - and that is a gift.
I am sure I have heard Lucy complain but I can't remember any instance - she just gets on with it. If I was her I would complain a lot each day and yet she is always looking for solutions and pushing to be better rather than focusing on the negative.
I have watched over the last few years an athlete who may be disabled but trains more and harder than a lot of able-bodied athletes I know. Her work-rate and ethic is amazing. She is always pushing to be better, looking for those 1%'s. Her grace when dealing with everyone from the receptionist to the guy she has asked to string her racket, is a credit to her. She is so down to earth, you wouldn't know who she was or how successful she was if you didn't know her. Sometimes she calls on the way to or from training, as I am sure she does with her other friends, but it's how she maintains her relationships and you come away from each call with a smile on your face.
Seeing how she tweaked her style and training in the lead up-to Rio was an insight I have never had before. To see how she built towards it was incredible, a focus on representing your country, winning a medal and all the planning that entailed. For some this meant that everything else falls by the wayside, but Lucy kept everything in balance knowing what and who got her to where she was.
I was so so pleased for her and so proud of her because I have seen her work so hard, I've have listened to the challenges she faces and know the price she's paid to get there - and win bronze in Rio, this makes it all worthwhile.
I feel blessed to have Lucy in my life, she is a microclimate of her own and I love her dearly. She just happens to be a double Paralympic medalist as well, and I am privileged to have witnessed all I have these last three years. What a journey.