Elliot Giles: From Hospital bed, to the Olympic games

This is an extract from our full feature interview with Elliot Giles (read here). We thought this inspirational story deserved It’s own post, so enjoy reading.

I couldn’t speak to Elliot without touching on the serious motorbike accident he had in 2014. Never mind running at an elite level, there is little doubt that Elliot is lucky to be alive. With his younger brother on the motorbike too, a car just a little bit ahead of him, in the outside of a three-lane carriageway, and in an apparent effort to take a sharp left-hand turn, cut across 2 lanes at speed, without seeing Elliot’s motorbike, and crashed right into him. His memory of the accident is virtually non-existent and his recollection is based almost entirely on the CCTV footage that he watched subsequently. His brother was thrown from the bike and, miraculously, escaped with minor cuts and bruises. Elliot was a little less lucky, his knee was crushed between the bike and the car and when he was eventually thrown from the bike, he hit his back on the kerb and his head on a bollard, knocking him unconscious.

His next memory is waking up in hospital in terrifying agony. In graphic detail, he explains what it was like, “it felt like my leg was falling off even though I was lying down and not moving. I just can’t describe the pain; unless you’ve experienced it, you wouldn’t understand. Although, I was discharged the following day, I was totally bed bound for 3 weeks. It was just really tough, I wasn’t able to do anything and previously I had like 3 jobs going, I was going to college and in-between all of this I was trying to run. Now, all of a sudden, I couldn’t even get up to go the toilet, I was weeing in a milk bottle and, it sounds grim but, I couldn’t shit for 3 weeks so I had the worst constipation and stomach cramps.”

The journey that Elliot went through, from lying immobile in bed to competing at the Olympic Games only 18 months later, is one that is probably worthy of a documentary all of its own. It’s an inspiring story. “I teamed up with James Brewer and I was so lucky, for him I was almost like his experiment. When I first got off crutches, every third step my knee would just collapse because of the damage I had done to my PCL [posterior cruciate ligament] and so I would just fall over. Bearing in mind my PB at this stage was 1:53, I don’t know if James believed in me or just wanted to give me a chance but he gave me a break. We would go to the gym every single day, first we needed to be able to walk, then jog, then run and then sessions.”

Naturally, his progression was blighted by setbacks and following the crash in August and still only being able to jog in January of the following year, inexplicably, he qualified for the British 800m Championships in 2015. His subsequent achievements he credits, in huge part, to the work James Brewer did for him. “Without James, I wouldn’t be where I am now. He literally rebuilt me from the ground up, made me an athlete and gave me a chance when nobody else would.”

The following year, now in March 2016, Elliot would switch coaches and within 4 months he won British Championships, earned bronze at Europeans and represented Great Britain at the Rio Olympics. A phenomenal turn-around. Looking back, he cites those 3 weeks, lying in bed as the lowest of his life, “I think I did suffer from some sort of depression. I got to such a low, I remember lying in the bed and saying to myself, I’m just going to do as many things as I can that scare me. It was a real moment in my life. I remember thinking if I can get through this, I can get through anything.”

In awe of this mental fortitude, I just sat back and enjoyed him telling me some of the stories and situations he used to get through that tough period in his life, the most wonderful of which was him, utterly randomly and despite being completely sober, deciding to join in a student union karaoke night.

“I was always petrified of public speaking and because I had suffered brain damage in the motorbike crash, I was struggling to read and write, it would often come out as gibberish. I remember being in the library one day and struggling to string together a sentence. When I left, I had my laptop and books in my hand and I was walking past the student union and it was booming with a karaoke night, drunk students everywhere and I’m literally having a Jekyll and Hyde moment where part of me is saying do it and the other part is saying not to. I’m sober by the way. I don’t know why, I walked inside and I knew that I was going to do it. I felt like I couldn’t go back to that dark place and at this point I was still having nightmares about the car hitting me whilst I was on the bike, they were so frequent and I was so fed up with being scared and waking up in a hot sweat, that I walked to the guy who chaired the karaoke and said, can I have a go.

I was such an idiot, I chose a song with like a 40 second intro and honestly, I was shitting myself. I knew I couldn’t sing so I chose ‘Colt 45’ by Afroman. It is the rudest song ever made, it’s derogatory and it’s not on and I shouldn’t admit to singing it really, but I just knew the lyrics because we used to sing it to my mum just to annoy her. Anyway, I’m rapping along to it and my heart was beating out of its chest and you know I got through the whole song. I remember I went home and had the most blissful sleep because I thought if I can do that, I can get over this crash.”

It would be a week or two after facing his demons on that stage that he managed to get back on the motorbike. From this dark place, Elliot has managed to discover the brightest light, the fire that burnt in himself. “I sort of came up with a phrase that I like to tell myself and which comes from this time in my life, ‘emotion is your imagination running wild’. I’ve realised that if you allow your emotion to take over you, to put it bluntly, you’re fucked.”

Without any prompt from me, he explains how this translates directly to running a race, “it’s no different if you’re in the Olympic final. The only thing is your imagination. If you can control it and can understand that there is no reason to be nervous or anxious you can go out there and have some fun. I used to be so anxious and nervous about everything, now I just think to myself, this is what I love to do, I’m fortunate to be able to do it so I just try to savour the moment…if there is one thing that the bike crash has taught me, it’s just to chill out.”

Listening to Elliot talk about this incredibly difficult time in his life, it’s very obvious that this has almost been the making of him. An eyewitness to a truth that has held throughout the generations; we find out how truly strong we are when faced with the most significant adversity. Not only has this resulted in him becoming a world-class athlete but an entrepreneur too. He now owns a company which converts ordinary bicycles into electrically powered ones at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new electric bike, you can check it out at www.vandervolt.co.uk.

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