Perri Shakes-Dray­ton talks about her re­turn to win­ning ways af­ter in­jury


Athletics Weekly - - Contents -

WHEN Perri Shakes-Dray­ton ran the third leg in the 4x400m heats at Lon­don 2017, it was three days short of four years since her last cham­pi­onship run, the fi­nal of the 400m hur­dles at the IAAF World Cham­pi­onships in Moscow. To see her back on the track

– a re­ward for her per­se­ver­ance and never-say-die at­ti­tude – pleased a lot of Bri­tish ath­let­ics fans.

At the time of the in­jury, ShakesDrayton was in the form of her life. She had won bronze in the 2011 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships. At the 2012 World In­door Cham­pi­onships she had an­chored GB 4x400m team to a rare gold and vic­tory over USA, hold­ing off Sanya Richards-Ross on that fi­nal leg in Is­tan­bul.

In 2013 she showed great speed on the flat as she won the Euro­pean in­door 400m ti­tle and the 400m in the Euro­pean Team Cham­pi­onships in 50.50 the same year.

She also set a PB of 53.67 at the 2013 An­niver­sary Games so that only Sally Gun­nell, among Bri­tish women, had a faster 400m hur­dles time.

In Moscow she was a real medal prospect as she qual­i­fied fastest in the heats and sec­ond fastest in the semi-fi­nals. In fact her semi-fi­nal time of 53.92 would have taken sil­ver in the fi­nal, but she in­jured her knee dur­ing the race and faded to sev­enth.

As well as deal­ing with the in­jury, there were some up­set­ting press re­ports. The Daily

Mail re­port on the 2013


Cham­pi­onship fi­nal started: “It is deeply un­com­fort­able to see such a tal­ented ath­lete im­plode quite so spec­tac­u­larly as Perri Shakes-Dray­ton did in the World Cham­pi­onship 400m hur­dles fi­nal. A medal was hers for the tak­ing and ex­pec­ta­tion was high, but the Bri­ton trailed home in sev­enth place, some three-and-a-half sec­onds be­hind the win­ner, Zuzana He­jnova”.

The re­port con­tin­ued: “She stum­bled over the line in 56.25, be­wil­dered and blam­ing a left knee prob­lem sus­tained af­ter she clipped the first hur­dle.”

Talk about mis­read­ing the sit­u­a­tion!

The re­al­ity was that by the time peo­ple in Bri­tain were read­ing those words over their corn­flakes, Shakes-Dray­ton was al­ready on her way back to Lon­don to see a spe­cial­ist and about to hear the shat­ter­ing words that her knee was so badly dam­aged that she would never hur­dle again. I had won­dered at what point in her rehab the de­ci­sion that she had to give up hur­dling was taken and was shocked by the an­swer.

“The day it hap­pened,” she replied.

“I flew home from Moscow and saw the sur­geon and the UKA doc­tor who was look­ing af­ter me, Dr Rob Chakravarty, said: ‘no more hur­dles’. I was up­set but I said ‘okay I’ll put that be­hind me’.”

The di­ag­no­sis was dam­aged car­ti­lage in the knee and a torn pos­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment.

The next few months were quite trau­matic. “To start with I had to be non­weight bear­ing for three months and at times I was in a wheel­chair to make life eas­ier be­cause be­ing on crutches was quite tir­ing af­ter a while - even though it im­proved my up­per body strength. I had to re-ar­range my house and live down­stairs be­cause I couldn’t go up the stairs.”

For the next few months she did do pool ses­sions – aqua-jog­ging with a float. There was a lot of swelling in the knee and she just had to be pa­tient wait­ing for the swelling to go down.

As far as rehab went, it was about try­ing to get move­ment, ex­ten­sion and flex in the knee. Af­ter about six months, she was able to put weight on the knee, as she re­mem­bers: “I did a lot of gym ses­sions, work­ing on my other leg too so that it stayed strong while want­ing the left leg to catch up with the right.”

At the 2010 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in Barcelona, she had won in­di­vid­ual and re­lay medals. Four years on, it was a dif­fer­ent story. “While the 2014 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship was hap­pen­ing, I went over to the States to work with a physio,” she says. “I made great progress, it was all about bal­ance and trust­ing the knee, try­ing to chal­lenge the knee in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions when it came to bal­anc­ing. I had to learn to walk again, like a child.”

She con­tin­ued to make progress. “I re­mem­ber the day that I was able to cy­cle, when I knew that I was get­ting full mo­tion in the knee,” she ex­plains. “It was Jan­uary 2015 be­fore I started to run for the first time. It wasn’t smooth but it was a build­ing block.”

She con­tin­ues: “But as I was mak­ing

progress some­thing else went wrong with my knee and I had to go back for surgery. I had a plica mem­brane re­moved and got a screw in my knee. That set me back a bit.”

She was un­able to com­pete at all in

2015 so set her sights on Rio 2016. She ran for the first time in June 2016 – a to­tal of two years and nine months af­ter the in­jury – in a low-key race in Ger­many.

She ran four races, all in 52 sec­onds and bits – two sec­onds slower than in 2013 but that, she feels, was okay. “I knew it was a process, be­cause when you open up the sea­son – even when you are not in­jured – you tend to im­prove, the more races they have,” she ex­plains. “You im­prove the more you do. So I thought: ‘this is okay, it’s the start. I can build from it’.”

She ran in the Olympic Tri­als for Rio and made the fi­nal but did not fin­ish the race. She re­calls: “I tried to make the 2016 Olympics but I picked up an­other in­jury, in my hip, and had to have surgery again. So I missed out on go­ing to the Olympics. That was dev­as­tat­ing.”

Then her amaz­ing pos­i­tiv­ity took over again. “I said to my­self this in­jury [hip] is nowhere near as bad as my knee so I can over­come it. I am go­ing to keep go­ing.

Un­til my legs fall off and I am not phys­i­cally ca­pa­ble of mov­ing or run­ning so I just can’t do it – then I’ll stop.”

She ex­plains how the process worked in her mind: “If some­one had told me it would take four years to get back to where I needed to be, it prob­a­bly would have been a dif­fer­ent story. I would prob­a­bly have thought, ‘for­get that’ but be­ing the per­son I am (I was de­ter­mined) and also all the time I was mak­ing progress and I was think­ing I’m closer, I’m closer, even though I didn’t feel like my­self.

“I was telling my­self ‘this is how I am go­ing to feel for the rest of my life’. My knee is never go­ing to feel the same and I ac­cepted that. So when I was able to run, I was man­ag­ing my knee.

“I thought ‘okay, I can man­age it’ and I told my­self ‘for the rest of my life I’m go­ing to have to man­age it’. As time went on I was feel­ing bet­ter and bet­ter. My body was get­ting bet­ter and stronger. At ev­ery stage I kept feel­ing bet­ter.”

By the time of the 2017 Bri­tish Cham­pi­onships in early July, she had only run twice and this year proved to be a bat­tle. “I started my sea­son very late and even lead­ing up to the tri­als, I was hav­ing is­sues and won­der­ing if I could make the



tri­als. I even feared ‘you know what, you are done with ath­let­ics’. Some­times when I was train­ing I was won­der­ing if I would be able to run.

“The fact that it has turned out like this is amaz­ing. I was over the moon to be se­lected for Lon­don 2017 be­cause I didn’t think it would ever hap­pen again. I knew I wasn’t where I had been. I was happy to take the spot for the re­lay – be­cause I had been doubt­ing whether I would even make tri­als.”

In Lon­don 2017, she ran the heat of the re­lay where Bri­tain fin­ished sec­ond to the United States – as they did in the fi­nal when, iron­i­cally, with­out Shakes-Dray­ton in the team, the time was slower.

The 28-year-old says of her Lon­don 2017 ex­pe­ri­ence: “I loved it, I en­joyed ev­ery minute of it, even though it went re­ally fast. I’ve missed be­ing on a world-class stage and it felt re­ally good.”

Hav­ing come through that test she is op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture. “I’m look­ing for­ward to the win­ter. For the first time for four years I’m go­ing into win­ter with­out hav­ing to do rehab or pre­hab and I can get straight into it - do­ing the hard graft in the cold in Mile End. But I am happy that I am.”

She has hopes for 2018 now that she has proved that she is back. “What I would hope for is to make teams, to com­fort­ably make teams. Any­thing else would be a bonus. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to run in­doors again but I feel con­fi­dent in my­self that I can.

“It would be nice to be se­lected for the Com­mon­wealth Games on the Gold Coast. I have not been to that part of the world”.

With an at­ti­tude like hers, noth­ing seems im­pos­si­ble.


Perri ShakesDrayton: in­jury in 2013 led to her aban­don­ing

the hur­dles

2011 World

Champs 4x400m re­lay bronze medal win­ners (l to r): Lee McCon­nell,

Chris­tine Ohu­ruogu, Ni­cola San­ders and Perri ShakesDrayton

Perri ShakesDrayton: back rac­ing for Bri­tain in the 4x400m at Lon­don 2017

Ci­tyGames suc­cess: Perri Shakes-Dray­ton wins the 500m against Lisanne de Witte, Anyika On­uora, Lynsey Sharp and oth­ers on Ty­ne­side last month

Flat 400m am­bi­tions: Shakes-Dray­ton is fo­cus­ing on one lap mi­nus hur­dles

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