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Physio corner: the price of gold

by David Campbell

Injury is part and parcel of pushing the physiological limits. Nowhere is this more evident than in the gritty documentary ‘Price of Gold’, and if you haven’t watched it, I urge you to take an hour away from the escapism of Greys Anatomy or Game of Thrones to delve into the minds of a number of Swedish athletes chasing their dream of Olympic Gold, all the while straddling the imaginary line that separates them between greatness and being the invisible also-ran.

Maybe this documentary resonates more strongly with me because I was one of those ghosts of the sport, or the also-ran. I travelled the world as an elite athlete, living the proverbial dream between 2005 and 2010. I ate, slept and lived running and became a respectable international athlete, winning numerous national titles, a European Cup, regularly making podiums on the circuit, and at my peak I was ranked top-30 in the world and top-6 in Europe over 800 metres.

I would like to say I competed at the European Championships, World Championships and Golden Leagues, however in reality I played a supporting role; I lined up with them but never won anything major. From the hurler-on-the-ditch’s perspective it wasn’t a remarkable career; there were no major medals to show off, but I’m proud of how I went about my business, grateful for the many lessons I picked up along the way and the friendships I’ve formed.

There are a few regrets but I’m yet to meet or work with any athlete, no matter how many Olympic Medals or World Records they hold, that doesn’t have at least a few; there’s always one that got away. That’s the nature of the beast; to be an athlete you need to be greedy, as contentedness will murder you.

The nightmare begins

Similar to the Swedish also-rans in ‘Price of Gold’, my dream became a nightmare on my 28th birthday on the 28th of January 2010 when I lost power in my left leg. It was not a matter of pushing through the pain barrier; the power had gone due to a combination of a bulging disc, hip impingement and a labral tear.

During my career I regularly trained and raced with niggles and with pain. That was the norm for me. I was doing a lot of things right; my diet was pristine, I slept 10 hours a night and two during the day, I never missed a run come wind, hail or rain, and I trained with the best athletes in the world under one of the most respected coaches in the business, Nic Bideau (husband of Sonia O’Sullivan).

On the flip side of the coin I had abused my body, not with diet or drink, but by disrespecting its limits. I was constantly testing the parameters of my neuromusculoskeletal system in pursuit of achieving my full potential, running the guts of 80-100 miles per week for five years, with the only rest days I logged in my diary enforced by hospitalisation. That approach got me to 1:45.59 over 800 metres and 3:58 for the mile, but such an intensive approach resulted in finding out exactly where that imaginary line lies. Once you’ve crossed it I can assure you it is very real and ultimately it resulted in the end of my international athletics career.


A new calling

Fast forward five years and I’m based in Limerick. I can now run as much as I wish having fully rehabilitated myself, although my focus is well and truly on keeping others on track or putting them back on track.

I have long since crossed the divide and exchanged the back-to-front peaked cap of an athlete for the worker’s hat of a holistic sports injury therapist. My experience has shaped me; my core philosophies revolve around what I could have done better as an athlete, and what I have learned from working with the best athletes in the world. My goal as a therapist is to impart these lessons and knowledge upon the athletes and patients I work with to facilitate them to achieve their full potential.

The service I offer is not the traditional model of physiotherapy; it has evolved from a combination of my personal experience as a patient and athlete, through my studies as a physical therapist, physiotherapist, other holistic therapies such as homeopathy and pranic healing, and been inspired by therapists from all around the world that I have met or been treated by, including world-renowned physical therapist Gerard Hartmann, who I work with in Limerick.

JumpingTheGun’s founder Feidhlim Kelly has broached me on a number of occasions about the possibility of writing a blog to divulge secrets on all things physio, athletics, health, wellbeing and performance for his website. He convinced me after four strong Americanos in the plush coffee shops of his home town of Malahide, County Dublin, or the Northside as I like to call it. I look forward to taking up his challenge to share with you insights, tid-bits, and opinion.

I hope you enjoy it, and if there’s anything anyone is particularly interested in, please let me know and I’ll do my best to cover it in the coming weeks and months.




David specialises in the education, prevention, hands-on treatment and rehabilitation of injuries to recreational, national, international, world-class and Olympic athletes, encompassing a diverse range of sports including track and field, Gaelic games, rugby, soccer, tennis, triathlon, cycling and canoeing. David has treated Olympians from over 25 countries, including 30 Olympic medal winners. He is resident physiotherapist at Hartmann International Sports Injury Clinic and elite athlete physiotherapist to the Great Run Company.


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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

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