Dan Morris: Start of inglorious career in athletics
Sport and I haven’t always been easy bedfellows. I enjoy being an active chap these days, and exercise regularly. But it’s fair to say that me and organised athletics haven’t always got on.
It started when I was 13. I was always a quick runner when I was a kid, something that was noticed by my PE teachers when I made the move up to high school.
After a good fluke victory in my Year 7 sports day flat race, the following year I was entered in the hurdles.
I was excited. It was running, basically, with a few jumps in the way. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
I even did a bit of practice before the day itself and was feeling confident when I finally took my place at the starting block. ‘Year 8 hurdles champ’ – I could see the banners waving, and I’d even planned a cheeky chest slide on the centre turf. Not so.
The pistol went and I was off. Hurdle one was cleared – no problem. Hurdle two? Pfft… Might as well not have been there. Hurdle three – you’re having a laugh. Hurdle four – can’t see you from up here mate! Hurdle five and six – pretty sure I flew over both in one leap. Hurdle seven… Bang. Clipped it, decked it, face-planted the floor. The dream was over… But not, unfortunately, the story.
I kept my eyes closed out of embarrassment. The whole school was watching – there was nowhere to hide except behind my own eyelids.
I was in a daze – gutted with myself – and feeling quite lucid, until the time came to finally open my eyes and lift myself off the track, shrug off the shame, and live to fight, run and jump another day.
Even now, I wish I’d kept them closed a little longer...
I opened my eyes not to the sound of laughter, but screams of horrific realisation. An odd reaction I thought, but not by the time my vision had processed the sight in front of me.
My trusty left arm – ever ready to play its part in hoisting me up a tree, wall or fence, and generally into trouble – was broken clean in two.
And this wasn’t the kind of break that needed a learned physician to diagnose or an x-ray machine to confirm.
This was a cartoon-esque Jerry-whacks-Tom-with-a-2x4-and-ends-up-with-a-perfect-plank-shaped-square-dent-in-his-arm kind of break.
Both bones in my forearm – the ulna and the radius – were broken all the way through, with the jagged result being that I looked like I had developed a second elbow halfway up my forearm. My skin wasn’t broken, but the visual effect was still pretty grim, and once my eyes processed the sight in front of me, it hurt. It really bloody hurt.
My history teacher – an absolutely wonderful man – ran over to help me. Upon gazing on my disfigured limb, his exclamation of “Oh Jesus Christ” was not exactly encouraging, but – fair play – it was warranted.
In a delirious but wonderful moment of realisation that I had the perfect opportunity to shout whatever I wanted in front of all of my teachers and get away with it, I followed him with an exclamation of my own.
Let’s just say my one-syllable, four-letter effort was less than poetic, but my feelings in a particular moment have never been more perfectly expressed.
A few more teachers rushed over, including the deputy head – a man of science who wanted to capture the result of my athletic malfunction on camera.
There was also a lovely French teacher – a mother hen to us all – whose voice was a tonic far surpassing the gas and air I would soon be administered for the first time.
The buzzing and speculative crowd of teenage students grew quieter as the ambulance approached me from the finish line I had been so close to reaching.
The paramedics – both wonderfully attentive and morbidly impressed – loaded me in to their chariot. And to the cheer of the gathered crowd, I crossed the finish line in rock star style, earning a modest but hard-earned point for my form group.
It’s true what they say – some teachers, you never do forget. The historian came with me to hospital, and didn’t leave my side until my mother arrived. He was one of those who brought out my love for my favourite subject, and the second teacher who steered me towards my life in newspapers.
The French teacher was one of the first to greet me when I came back to school a week later. She pulled me into a hug, found me a chocolate bar, and told me to take my time. Sometimes, that’s all you need to hear.
Sadly, she died before I had finished my GCSEs. I remembered to thank her for that day. I hope she knew how grateful I was for all those in-between.
As for my athletic career... Well, that wasn’t quite the end. There were certain episodes in the years to come involving diving boards and javelins... But I can’t give you all the gold at once, can I?
As for my injury, my arm – while still a little curved even now – healed quickly. It was my ego that took a little longer.
I hadn’t realised that the screams of horror I heard while facedown on the track were more in response to a fashion disaster that would haunt me for aeons to come. I’d chosen bright neon-orange boxers that day, and my fall had left them on display in front of every teenage girl in the school.
Suffice to say, it was a long few years...