Harder, bet­ter, faster, stronger

The Guardian - Weekend - - Weekending | Fashion Beauty | Space Gardens | Fami - By Rosie Mul­len­der

'Af­ter all she's been through. she's bul­let­proof'

For­mer hur­dler Perri Shakes-Dray­ton re­tained as a sprinter for the Com­mon­wealth Games, com­pet­ing again thanks to her sup­port­ive fam­ily and col­leagues, and her own in­cred­i­ble fo­cus since a knee in­jury four years ago.

Perri Shakes-Dray­ton never gives up. Her sin­gle-minded de­ter­mi­na­tion is a sub­ject that comes up again and again when talk­ing to her close and very pas­sion­ate fam­ily and friends about her roller­coaster ca­reer.

Af­ter an in­jury five years ago, Perri had to learn to walk again and switch dis­ci­plines from hur­dles to sprint­ing. And de­spite doc­tors and phys­io­ther­a­pists set­ting her chances of a full re­cov­ery at around zero, she has been com­pet­ing as a mem­ber of Team Eng­land in the 400m and the 4x40om at the Gold Coast 2018 Com­mon­wealth Games in Aus­tralia.

"She wasn't so fo­cused at first," says Chris Zah, her trainer for the past 18 years. "When we started work­ing to­gether, I made her do ev­ery­thing from 6om sprint­ing to cross-coun­try. She hated it and didn't see the point. As a kid from east Lon­don, she re­ally wasn't keen on mud."

Perri's out­look changed in 2007, af­ter com­ing sec­ond in the doom hur­dles at the Euro­pean Ath­let­ics Un­der-20 Cham­pi­onships. "She grabbed me and said: `What are we go­ing to do about this?" Chris says. "From then, we agreed to think out­side the box. I'd watch com­peti­tors and say: 'This girl gets to the first hur­dle in 6.2 sec­onds, so get there in 6.1? She'd re­ply: 'Tell me what to do, and I'll do it?"

This at­ti­tude, along with her nat­u­ral tal­ent, pushed Perri to the world No 2 spot in women's hur­dles. But in 2013, she suf­fered a torn lig­a­ment and car­ti­lage dam­age in her left knee at the fi­nals of the World Cham­pi­onships in Moscow, leav­ing her un­able to walk. "It's when you're at your fastest that your body is most likely to break down, and I'd just won two gold medals;' says Per­rin tried to stay pos­i­tive, but I went to some dark places?'

Her fam­ily, along with Chris, ral­lied round to en­cour­age her not to give up, even on her low­est days. I'd get so ner­vous - like it was me on that start­ing liner says Perri's mum, Norma. "I'd tell her to run like she could see me at the fin­ish line with my arms open. So when she got in­jured, it was a ter­ri­ble time - I can't put it into words. There were a lot of tears. It's amaz­ing to think how far she's come"

Norma is speak­ing from LA, where she's help­ing niece Jodie cel­e­brate her 30th birth­day. The pair's en­thu­si­asm when talk­ing about Perri, "the CEO of the fam­ily", sees them scram­bling to fin­ish each other's sen­tences. "We grew up to­gether, so she's more like my sis­ter than a cousin," Jodie says of Perri.

"When she got in­jured I dragged her to par­ties on her crutches. I told her it could be worse - she'd bounce back. Now, she's bet­ter and stronger than ever." Part of Perri's fierce de­ter­mi­na­tion is a legacy from her fa­ther, Patrick, who for 14 years was one of boxer Len­nox Lewis's fit­ness train­ers. "She's pas­sion­ate and com­pet­i­tive, and so am If says Patrick. "If she's down, I'm a picker-up­per, and I was there for physio and hos­pi­tal ap­point­ments. It's taken de­ter­mi­na­tion and grit to get past her in­jury - but hav­ing good peo­ple around you, that's what gets you through!'

In 2014, dur­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, Perri met her fi­ance, Mike Ed­wards, an en­tre­pre­neur and ath­lete. Wel­comed by the fam­ily with open arms - "I gained a brother and Norma gained a son," says Jodie - he helped Perri con­nect with the world be­yond sport dur­ing her re­cov­ery.

"Perri had a strong de­sire to get back on top, but I wanted to of­fer her pos­i­tive dis­trac­tions and give her a big­ger life be­yond track and field," says Mike. "With my cigar busi­ness, I'd de­vel­oped my­self as a per­son and, in turn, Perri had achieved ath­letic goals I was try­ing to achieve my­self. We re­ally in­spired each other.

"Af­ter all she's been through, she's bul­let­proof. It's great that we've been able to sup­port each other!'

Perri has come a long way - and as al­ways, her fam­ily were right be­hind her in Aus­tralia. "Ev­ery­thing she feels, we feel, so it's like we're all run­ning that race with her;' Jodie says. "We lifted her back up as a fam­ily!'

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