Shelley Rudman has encouraged talented young athletes to take a steady and sensible approach when returning to training as Britain gradually exits lockdown. The former skeleton star shot to fame at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, where she claimed a silver medal for Team GB after beating Canada’s Mellisa Hollingsworth-Richards by 0.35s on the Italian ice.
Shelley, 39, then went on to enjoy considerable World Cup success as she won overall silvers in the 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, before going one better to finally scoop gold after topping the standings following the 2011-12 campaign’s conclusion in Calgary. And after capping off skeleton nirvana with a 2013 World Championship triumph in St. Moritz, Shelley is now urging those athletes seeking to follow in her footsteps to take things slowly as the lockdown is eased.
“I wouldn’t go flat out at the moment with the restrictions being eased, and I’d be really, really smart in this period,” she said. “I wouldn’t be rushing out to see all my friends as we still don’t know who has the virus, and if you contracted it, that would put you back even more. If I could, I’d go for a physio screen to see where I’m at with my movements, get a massage, then start some activation work before progressing slowly into my training programme again.
“Striking that balance depends on how well they’ve been able to train during this period - if you live close to an athletics track and have a home gym, you may have been able to maintain a decent degree of training. But lots of people will be in a flat and have to perform all of their activities indoors with limited outdoor time. It’s just a case of taking things nice and steady and not rushing into it, because then there would be a heightened risk of injury which would put you back even further.”
Shelley was a recipient of support from the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS), managed and overseen by SportsAid, as she was making her way in the sport, embarking on an unorthodox route to stardom that didn't see her take to the ice until she was 21. She made up for lost time with alacrity, however, and hit the heights in Turin under four years later with a thrilling performance that sent all those watching in her local village of Pewsey, Wiltshire, into raptures.
And as other talented young athletes now plot to emulate her journey to the skeleton summit, Shelley says the current lockdown situation may have been a blessing in disguise for many aspiring stars. “You need to try and look at things in an optimistic manner in lockdown,” she added. “It’s really tricky that these young athletes don’t have a definitive date to aim for in terms of coming back, but at the same time, I think you’ve got to anticipate roughly when they may be happening.
“You may have been in the prime of your life and think you may never get back to that shape again, however it’s a really good, mentally challenging thing to go through. If you get through this, you’ve got all that experience - you’ve got to look at things pragmatically, and this is a huge learning curve as to how to react and how to do things and overcome them. It’s an opportunity to put a strategy in place for next time too, as you just don’t know what’s around the corner.”
With the global sporting calendar remaining uncertain, many SportsAid-supported athletes are in limbo as they prepare for the return of competition. And while Shelley never experienced a crisis similar to the COVID-19 pandemic during her career, she believes setting ‘mini-goals’ can help as action begins to resume. “There is still this big unknown as a lot of dates of major events still haven’t been set, but most people know roughly that in three or four months things may start again,” she said.
“So you can have a little bit of a target, and although that target does need to be able to move, you should set mini-goals for yourself. Next year is going to be about realisation, so it’s about getting in touch with your coaches to find a strategy of how you can keep ticking over and how you can start the phasing to peak with your macro-cycles and micro-cycles. You just need to keep things ticking over and stick to a certain structure, whether that be going out for a run or doing some activation work, or setting yourself different challenges every day.”
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