“Congratulations – you are an Olympic torchbearer”As I scanned my inbox on Saturday 16th March 2012 one email stood out above all the rest. Shaking with anticipation I ‘double-clicked’ to read the message:
We are delighted today to confirm your place on the Olympic Torch Relay. You have made it through the selection process, you have passed background and security checks, and you will have your moment to shine as a Torchbearer carrying the Olympic Flame!
OK, I’ll admit it – when I called my folks to tell them I struggled hopelessly to choke back the tears. “Pull yourself together man” I told myself. Problem was, I could hear Mum weeping on the other end of the phone! That really didn’t help.
Why does this this mean so much to me? Well, I guess it’s the realisation of dream, a dream that I thought would only ever be just that. Towards the middle of 2011 when the nomination process opened for torchbearers I was contacted by several different people to ask ifI was comfortable with them nominating me. ‘Me?’ ‘Wow – how humbling is that?
Briefly, for anyone who doesn’t know me, I suffered from anorexia for almost 25 years. The funny thing is, I was never actually sat down and diagnosed with anorexia. Back in the 1980’s, when I was 15 years old boys or men didn’t get eating disorders – did they? By the time I was in my late thirties I guess it was just accepted by the doctors that I had anorexia and so it really wasn’t discussed. As far as the general public was concerned the general consensus was that I either had cancer or Aids. After all, any man who has an eating disorder is gay – aren’t they?
Fortunately for me something remarkable happened in January 2008. I caught a chest infection which subsequently caused such concern that I was admitted to hospital, where I found out that I had pneumonia and a collapsed right lung. An outbreak of the Norovirus meant that I found myself in isolation. As I was hooked up for a blood transfusion I suddenly understood how alone and scared I felt. I really I might never get the chance to tell my little niece and nephew and most especially my parents just how much I really loved them. Call it a light-bulb moment, call it a minor miracle, call it what you will, but in a very short space of time I had convinced myself that I was going to beat my illness. The same bloody-mindedness and determination that had stopped me eating properly for so long, even when I was hurting with hunger, was going to be my salvation.A promising athlete at school I had once won the Midlands 400metres.As a youngster I had harboured a dream to run the London marathon.Despite the intervening years the flame of ambition had never quite been extinguished and now, suddenly it was burning brighter than ever. Something bigger than anorexia was finally dominating my thoughts.So that’s where my life changed. After emerging from hospital very weak and with the lung capacity of a knackered dragon-fly I started following my dream. I signed up to run for Macmillan Cancer Support which was another massive step forward in the right direction. Not only did I have an ambition but now I also had a commitment. I just couldn’t and wouldn’t let these people down.
I actually missed the deadline for entry in to the 2009 London Marathon so my first 26.2 miler was actually in Paris. My first London Marathon followed in 2010 and then again in 2011. Each time my time improved (4hours 4minutes became 3hours 35minutes became 3hours13minutes). With each race I
experienced feelings that I hadn’t done for decades. But somehow they were even sweeter now, even more exhilarating, even more exciting. What I had done….me……had made a difference to the lives of others. The £10,000+ that I had raised for Macmillan would help someone, somewhere.
Since 2008 my life has taken on new meaning. I have experienced incredible pride. I have reclaimed my self-esteem. I have earned the respect of others. I have enjoyed life.
But I’m still Ian Sockett. I’m still me. I didn’t undergo a head transplant. But I did recover. And for anyone reading this, whether you are currently suffering yourself or whether you are the friend,parent, carer or relative of a sufferer, you must understand that recovery – full recovery – is a reality. I’m living proof. I’m not saying that recovery is easy. Of course it’s not. You don’t change a25 year habit overnight. At times the journey feels impossible. I would like it to climbing the highest mountain in driving snow, with the summit almost invisible. But…………when you get to the top, well…….the view is just stunning.
On May 24th I will carry the Olympic torch through Hartpury, Gloucestershire. I will be running for everyone that has experienced an eating disorder, I will be running for my family and I will also be running for myself because running gave me back so much more than simply my fitness. It gave me back my life. I feel immensely privileged to be where I am now and I owe it to others to try an offer that inspiration which might just make a difference. More about the Olympics themselves next time….