It's been 1242 Days and counting since I last played the game I have loved. My name is Luke Wheeler and this my unconventional journey to running.
It was September 2014 and another season of footy had wrapped up. I had been playing with a shoulder injury for a few weeks prior to the season ending. After the season had finished my physio recommended that I get a scan on my shoulder as she knew there was something not right with it. Little did I know that it was going to require three shoulder operations within the next two years.
It turns out a ligament had fully torn off the humerous bone and needed reattaching. First shoulder reconstruction seemed to go to plan six months into rehab and I still hadn’t picked up a weight, things started to go pear shape and went back to the surgeon. Surgery no 2 was required as it had partially torn again tearing out two of the three anchors reattaching it. Another six months down the track and it wasn’t feeling right which meant another visit to the surgeon. You guessed it shoulder operation no 3 was ordered. This one was the big one, saws, drills, bone grafts and all!
It was January 2017, I was 2 months post 3rd surgery and sitting on the couch pondering my next move. In a touch over two years I had 3 surgeries, spent over $13,000 on medical bills, 19 weeks with my right arm in a sling (I’m right handed too!), numerous amounts of pain relief and over 9 months not being able to exercise due to recovery post shoulder operations and the most painful of all missing out on playing in a premiership side with all of my mates in 2017!
I didn’t totally miss out as I was the team runner for the year to help me stay involved! If it wasn’t for me doing the running each week I probably would never of showed up at footy each week. There were constant mornings where I would wake up and ask Jen (my lovely wife) do I have to go to football this week? The mental hurt of watching everyone else play the sport you love (and the chance that the shoulder injury could write an early retirement) mixed in with financial costs and work stresses, it was just easier if I didn’t go and have to watch footy and stay at home!
It was at this moment on the couch when it all started to click, I had never been the fittest since going to Uni in 2009 and had recently noticed I had got way out of shape. What was I going to do? I needed a new sport away from football but that I can’t hurt my shoulder again? Do you realise that in just about every sport you need a good shoulder?
After numerous google searches, running was the only option left. I thought 'sure, why not? let’s give this a crack'. This all seemed like a good plan at the time! Once I was finally allowed to run again (had to wait at least 3 months post-surgery before running), I lacked motivation to do it myself! More google searches required for a run club.
When I first go to things or join new groups etc. I am generally quite shy and reserved so I knew I had to find a small group of non-elite runners. Then I stumbled upon Louelle and Evolution Runners! After a few emails back and forth, Lou had me signed up for RUNFIT! It was just the extra source of motivation I needed!
It was mid Feb 2017 and I had just started RUNFIT & I had also entered into the Red Bull Wings for Life World Run in May. Running had got the competitive juices flowing and the fire burning in my belly again.
I slowly built up some running fitness back and everything had started to progress! I was starting to feel I had gone from very unfit to just unfit so I knew I was improving. I had started to get to know the other Evolution Runners crew and I had started to come out of my shell and I couldn’t stop talking about the Red Bull Wings for Life World Run event! So much so that others decided to come run in it to raise funds for spinal cord research! This run was so unique that everyone around the world started the exact same time. You would then run as far as you could before a catcher car caught you!
Race day came and my aim was to run 10km before the catcher car caught me, but due to sitting around in the cold, not eating anything since lunch and never running further then 6km before I told myself I would be happy with 8km.
9.00pm rolled around and it was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had! To run over the start line and see a young boy get out of his wheelchair and walk the first ten steps with crutches just made being there worth it. Now it was head down and get to that 8km! Running along the Monash freeway with cars tooting at you and a sea of fluoro green and headlamps ahead of you, the competitive juices kicked in. Pick someone ahead of me and catch them, pick someone knew and repeat the process! Before I knew it I was at the 10km mark, I gave a double fisted air pump and looked at my Garmin! I could make 15km, I’ve just got to up the pace a bit. I knew the catcher car would get to 15km at 1hr 30mins. I officially got 15.29kms and was absolutely wrapped!
Not even one whole week later I had a spontaneous decision to run the Ballarat Mother’s Day Classic 12km (otherwise known as two laps of the lake). One of my best mates decided to run it with me too. 1hr and 2 minutes later I had finished and run a quicker pace than I had ever ran a single lap of the lake previously!
I had well and truly caught the running bug! After some discussion with Louelle, I had this crazy idea that I should aim for a half marathon! Lou was so supportive and started mentoring me to help me acheive this goal. Over the next few months, I could see my fitness improving, times dropping and I had found something that had got me going again! I achieved multiple pbs; like completing 12km in under 1 hour, knocking 13mins off the time it took me to run 15km at Red Bull Wings for Life World Run and completing my longest run ever (18km)! I pushed myself harder than before!
Just when I thought everything was going right, I put my back out 5 weeks from the half marathon date! I had crushed any chance of being able to run my first half marathon in the goal that I had set for myself. After 2 weeks of sitting on the couch I decided that I was going to run it no matter what but a bad reaction to medication I was given to reduce the inflamation in my back made this impossible. I felt deflated and wondered when I would be able to run again.
During this time the support of Lou was amazing! We not only talked about the physical impact that all this was having on my running but also the mental impact it was having and Lou was always there to listen, empathise and offer support.
I am now back in training and eyeing a potential return to football in April 2018. Lou is so flexible to keep adjusting training plans and supporting me to strive for what I want to achieve. I look forward to what 2018 holds for me and Evolution Runners.
Running has not only changed me physically but also mentally all for the better! Everyone is fighting their silent battles but for that one lap of the lake, one hill sprint up Dana street hill, or that one long run, nothing else matters! #biggerandbetterthingstocome