I recently took a trip to Limerick Ireland to see the World Renowned Physical Therapist Gerard Hartman. The main purpose of the trip was to find answers to my injury woes. As many of you might be aware, I’ve been injured since last year, 30th January 2019 to be exact. I have been battling for just over a year now and Ive seen everyone I could see, and had done everything I could do, but just felt like I was going around in circles. So how did I come about the great “Gerard Hartman” ? Well back in the day, my mentor Elana Meyer saw Gerard Hartmann for treatment, Elana told me how she injured her achilles and would travel halfway across the world to have Gerard fix her up. He had built up quite a reputation for himself and is sought after by many of the worlds best athletes who queue up to see him. He has treated over 61 Olympic medallists, 47 World Champions. Included in the treatment list are the likes of Kelly Holmes before she won double Gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004, Paula Radcliff prior to her World Marathon record (2:15.25) in 2003, Sonia O’sullivan, Usian Bolt, Trinedesh Dibaba, Carl lewis, Liz McColgan, Cathy Freeman , the list goes on.
Change your mind- change your life
This experience far exceeded my expectations. I expected him to treat my body, instead I had a holistic experience- mind, body and spirit. He believes that when an athlete suffers from an injury, it is always more than the injured part of the body that is hurting; the person inside is also in pain. I learnt life lessons every single day of my 4- days stay. Each day he would pick me up at my hotel at 9:00/9:30 and we would chat in the car on our way to his home (where he would treat me). Listening to Gerard speak was fascinating and I hung on to every word, eager to soak up as much info as I could (like a sponge). Gerard had been working from his clinic at the university of Limerick for years and more recently moved to practice from his home as he wanted his clients to have a more personal experience. You can’t help but feel the positive energy when you enter his treatment room, to him it’s all about creating a positive environment for the athlete. Gerard has a charismatic and humorous character with a unique perspective on life. He is a man with extraordinary vibrancy and knowledge and I was so grateful to be in his presence. In Ireland they refer to Gerard as the “Cyborg” – a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.
When I first stepped into his treatment room, my eyes was wide with wonder, fascinated by all the memorabilia pinned up the walls. There was memorabilia of famous athletes from all over the world, Ethiopia , Britain, USA , Kenya, even the photo from mentor Elana Meyer after she won her silver medal at Olympic Games in 1992. I noticed that many of them had written personal notes to Gerard , thanking him for his contribution to their success. He did not need to say anything, I could see he was excellent at his job.
In the treatment room, there was a picture of Gerard on his bike , in his peak at the Ironman event in Hawaii. I had read his book “ how sport shaped my life” prior to my visit so that I could learn more about him. In his book he reflects on the freak accident that abruptly ended his career , triathlon was a huge part of his life , like running is of my life. He fractured is hip in the incident and was airlifted to hospital. Gerard decided to put all his energy and focus into his career as a physical therapist and he soon accompanied Great Britain and Ireland teams to the Olympic Games.
The best views come after the hardest climb
After my first treatment, we had planned to take a walk around the lake, but then decided we’d go out and find some snow. I had seen snow before, back in 2010 when I was competing at the World Cross Country Championships in Poland , however I was not fond of it. I did not like the cold and the pain of freezing toes and fingers, my body just was not adapted to those conditions. So my eyes went wide when Gerard told me we would walk up the mountain to find snow. Not only was I not used to snow, I had also not climbed out a mountain this high (532m of elevation -1,745ft). It was both exhilarating and scary at the same time.
Fearful of the freezing conditions, fear of the unknown- what to expect out there , what would it be like, will it be painful? My mind was racing and I had imposed limits on myself even before I started the climb. As we walked up the mountain we came across many challenges, where I was doubtful – we had approached a big hill tricky to climb, then had a section where the snow was 4ft deep. We made our way up a flight of stairs where the snow had turned to ice and had become slippery. As we got close to the top there was a snow storm where the snow hit my face so hard it hurt. Yes on a few occasions I was thinking “perhaps we have to turn back”, Gerard would occasionally cheer me on and say “ Keep going girl”. At times he would guide me on the right path where I would avoid deep snow or slippery ice “ be careful he would say” but I told myself I want to see the view from the top so I will keep on going. When I got to the top I realised this was exactly like life! Tons of difficulties beneath, unknown roads to discover , new heights to scale , serene nature to appreciate and beauty to experience. Through the experience, I also came to appreciate the people that are closest to me that have held my hand and guided me on the correct path, like Gerard did . You need to trust them to do just that, Let go of fear, insecurities and independence and let the people closest to you lead you on the right path. Had I not trusted Gerard, I would have not reached the top and experienced the beautiful view. Sometimes we need the right people at the right time, to see pathways in life!
On the physio table I was in excruciating pain, there was no sympathy – that was good because I did not want him to take it easy on me. I wanted to get better and if I had to endure some pain for me to heal then so be it, I was willing. After careful assessment, Gerard discovered that my pelvis was tilted on the left hand side, causing alignment problems on the left side of my body. My sacroiliac joint (joint between the bone at the base of the spine and the paired bone that make up the upper part of the hip bone) was not moving, this was because most of the muscles around my left hip were jammed up. There was so much scar tissue around that area, that it was not receiving any oxygen, the muscles were so tight that it was pulling the bone in the wrong direction. Thus Gerard had to do myofascial treatment which involves applying pressure – either via a therapist’s body part like a thumb or elbow – to tight muscles and fascia in an effort to get them to “release” , alleviate pain and break down the scar tissue.
This dysfunction in my hip caused my knee pain, there was a tug of war taking place from my hip to my knee. Basically it was a structural problem that needed to be corrected once he got rid of the scar tissue. I must say I felt assured because he took his time, there was no rush to try and solve the problem. He knew exactly what he was doing, he was meticulous and confident in his ability. It was easy for me to trust him, despite the fact that he had over 30 years of experience in the field of physiotherapy, I felt more at ease knowing I was in good healing hands. He had my best interest at heart and I could tell that from our very first session.
The exercises were difficult to execute, I felt like a baby learning to take my first steps. How could I possibly be so weak I wondered. The body is just an amazing thing- when it’s working well, it feels so effortless and when it’s not working well, it’s a struggle to get the small movements right. Gerard had a 10 week progression plan, I would do my specific flexibility , stability and balance exercises for 1hour 30 min each day for 6 weeks. Then we would introduce some running. It would be slow but hopefully in 8 weeks time I will be running for 1 hour. Having a diagnosis and a treatment plan to solve the problem is comforting and it certainly motivates me to work hard towards my comeback.
There are many things I liked about Gerard and I could see why so many athletes had so much respect and appreciation for him. From the first day I saw him he had these great analogies- this was so that his clients could understand what he was saying. Many times the terms and medical lingo can be quite overwhelming for athletes, but this way I had a better understanding which made me feel positive. He made sure that I understood what he was doing and why, he talked me through it all. He took the time to get to know me as a person and not just treat me as a patient. He was teaching me ways and giving me the tools to assess and measure my own body. Gerard would say “You have to learn to be in tune with your body, for that you need to be in harmony. Where your body, mind and spirit is one- they all need to work in harmony to create balance. My body cannot heal if my mind is not right. Positivity feeds and accelerates healing. He opened my eyes to the finer things in life, working with paraplegic patients and helping them move around is quite a remarkable thing. I appreciate being healthy and still having a body that is fully functional, and have realised that I need to be kind to my body. Every day we place stressors on our bodies, we push our bodies to it’s limits and if we don’t manage our bodies and treat it with respect , it will break down eventually.
Finding my centre
On my last day, a good friend of Gerard, John O’niel took me on a city tour. John is a sports psychologist and also studying clinical psychology at University of Limerick. It was an enriching experience for me as he took me to the Labyrinth where I found my centre. The labyrinth is not a maze (although it might look like it) it’s a pattern with a purpose . It shows us that no effort or time is ever wasted if we start on the course . I got to find my centre , meaning I was able to see what makes me special and unique in this world with or without running. More so to remember to walk at my own pace and not at the pace others expect me to walk. John was a good listener, a teachable moment- sometimes in life , you just need to listen and immerse yourself in silence. Silence is sometimes healing and can bring you face to face with yourself!
Through this process I was able to I tap into my strengths and face my fears. I became more calm and peaceful, more level-headed and better able to function under all types of pressure. I was able to free myself from so many patterns of being that were keeping me from living a contented and joyful life.
These are the messages I took out of the experience. I was aware of it in my subconscious mind, but sometimes you just need to see it for yourself to believe again, and maybe you might need to also experience it. I was in the dark for quite some time, struggling to find my way to the light- but now I see the light. I now realise the true meaning of life, of being oneself and LIVING!
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. All good things eventually come to an end. My athletics career will come to an end one day, what will I do then? Instead of fearing it, embrace it. Start building something for yourself, develop and grow yourself.
- Follow your dreams and chase your ambition.
- ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
- Be your own person- Be happy in your own skin.
- Do things that make you happy. Let go of guilt and fear. Don’t let expectations of others and their opinions rule your life. You are unique, do you!
- You must be able to adapt to your environment. It all comes down to your attitude , your mental and physical strength .
- Build a resilient mind and body.
- Pay attention to detail. Focus on the quality of your work. Plan in advance , be prepared and limit distractions.
- Nature can have a healing effect. Use your natural environments.
- Take adventures and live in the moment.
- Let your past be your spring to your future. Don’t dwell on the past instead be guided by endless opportunities out there.
May the Irish luck be with me.