There is something about us humans, and especially those of us who are vets and wish to become vets, that is just that little bit crazy. That little core of determination and refusal to bow to pressure that means we can dig in and see something through to its conclusion even when the odds seem stacked against us and more ‘sane’ members of the species would accept defeat and opt for an easier way. How many of you that are currently contemplating applying to vet school or who are in the process of doing so have had people tell you that its “too hard” or that you should consider “something else” because the likelihood of success seems so remote? I daresay a few of you.
I was reminded of what it was like to have to grit my teeth and really dig in for the long, hard slog the other weekend during the London Triathlon. I have been competing as a triathlete now for about three years, with my first taste of competing at an Olympic distance being last year in Paris, France. This year I was fortunate enough to secure a place in the London event and was very much looking forward to lining up at the start line, in spite of perhaps not being at the pinnacle of my tri-race fitness. The event was amazing: huge in scale and buzzing from the moment the first competitors splashed into the dock on Saturday. I was in the penultimate wave of the entire event, on Sunday afternoon, and looked on with the sense of glum inevitability that comes with watching the British weather do its usual of promising so much and then delivering so much of the wrong thing. By the time we were limbering up and awaiting the start of our wave, the weather had well and truly closed in and a pleasantly warm, bright Autumn day had turned into a bleak Winter’s one. Still, the race must go on!
The first clue to what was in store came when it was announced that our wave’s swim was to be reduced from 1.5km to the sprint distance of 750m, due to the presence of “white horses” on the water. Any initial sense of macho indignation at being “demoted” to a shorter race distance was quickly replaced with a sense of huge gratitude and thoughts of “thank God!” as the waves that had developed in the dock (waves in a sheltered dock in London!!) turned my swim into a simulated drowning exercise. Now, I consider myself to be a relatively strong swimmer but I hated the swim that day as I not only ended up swallowing half of the rather grim looking water in the dock, nearly chucking up on more than one occasion, but resembled more of a doggy-paddling poodle than an athletic merman of a triathlete as I struggled through the water. Not a good look!
Next up was the bike stage: 40km, or two laps, past Canary Wharf and Docklands and into the heart of the City, with a turn at London Bridge. If I were to tell you that the wind was so strong that competitors were literally being blown off their bikes you would think I was joking. Well I am not. I saw several dejected souls pushing bikes back towards the ExCel centre as the rain and wind continued to batter us left, right and centre. By the time I made it towards lap two I had pretty much lost most of the feeling in my hands and was thrilled to be told by one of the stewards that they had heard the bike leg had been reduced to one lap. Alas, any hope of such fortune was short-lived as a second marshal confirmed that I did indeed have another lap to complete, and so back out into the unrelenting elements I headed.
As I powered my bike up the final ramp into the centre, thoughts turned to the fact that there was still the run to complete: 10km of it to be precise. The London Triathlon run comprises four laps of a circuit that takes you out of the Excel centre and down along the dock before looping back. The rain had been so heavy during the day that one section of the otherwise normally dry and level course had been turned into a water feature, more akin to something athletes would face in the steeplechase. By the third or fourth time though it became almost funny, with efforts made to come up with the most novel way of pretending to swim, or canoe over it providing some light relief. It has to be said that in spite of the lousy conditions, the level of support from the mental few supporters who remained outside to shout the competitors on was incredible. I think they may metaphorically have dragged several of the runners up that last hill and into the home stretch, so big up to them. The run is normally my strongest event but my legs felt pretty darn heavy by the third lap. Still, thoughts of the finish spurred me on and the sight of the line was beyond sweet. A monster race completed and a big two finger salute to the elements delivered. Would I do it again? If you asked me at the time I would likely have told you to get lost but as always happens with these things, I would gladly sign up again now.
The lesson that I guess I took away from the day was that in spite of being as prepared as I could be, in terms of having all of my equipment organised and being in the right places at the right times, occasionally circumstances beyond your control pitch up and change things, not always for the better. The choice at such times then is to either throw your hands up and accept defeat or to stick to the plan and just pull a performance out of the bag, relying both on your preparation and that little spark of something that seems to make itself available at such challenging moments. So, if you feel that the path to Vet School is proving impossibly tough in spite of your best efforts, remember to keep your eye on the prize at the end, dig in, grit your teeth and keep giving it all you have. You might still not make it but at least you can hold your head up at the end and say you gave it everything you had in spite of it all.
Good luck with everything.