Don's diary: diving down from olympian heights

September 10, 2004

Thursday

It's 6am - time for a quick run before work. It's my birthday and I've been living in never-never land for two weeks already, where all food and drink is free, we all wear the same clothes, but the majority of people around me are extremes of height, weight and shape. I've woken in the athletes' village of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

I have to go for a run/shuffle so I don't balloon from eating the typical Olympian portions, and it has to be at 6am so there aren't any real athletes around.

The day ends at about midnight after diving training, with no exceptions for birthdays, other than the obligatory jokes and a very large chocolate cake.

Friday

The city is buzzing - today is the opening ceremony. But teams see very little of the proceedings, spending hours waiting round in buses or halls. Walking round the stadium with the team provokes a whole cocktail of emotions: excitement and pride, tempered with embarrassment that people are cheering me when I'm not an Olympian, just their physiotherapist.

Saturday

A quieter start to the day as most of the athletes I look after are resting from their late night at the opening ceremony or not competing until late tonight.

I try once again to pick up my thesis draft. I've been doing a part-time PhD for four and a half years and the end is in sight - just. The break from burying my head in data means I can look at the text with fresh eyes. The problem is that I wonder what on earth I was trying to say when I wrote it. I manage two short reading sessions between stints in the clinic.

The 10m synchro divers win a silver medal - the first for Team GB in the 2004 Games and our first diving Olympic medal in 40 years. I am there, sitting with them - get to shake their hands and say "well done" and they thank me for helping. Life is good.

Sunday

Even in this surreal world, a routine develops. Early start, some clinic work, followed by a little reading, then covering diving, which is scheduled for ridiculously late hours to fit round the water polo, a much bigger sport in Greece.

Monday

No time for reading today as the two weightlifters I look after are competing morning and afternoon, then it's diving again through to midnight. In a moment of reflection, I realise I'm getting better at summing up my PhD in a couple of sentences, which helps avoid glazed looks from the mildly interested or merely polite inquirers.

Tuesday

From the sublime to the ridiculous as there is no competition so I'm covering clinic all day. This means a chance to read a little and catch up on emails from potential MSc students between treating the athletes.

Princess Anne calls in for a chat while I'm massaging an athlete. Otherwise all's quiet.

Wednesday

A visit from the Blairs today - again in the middle of a massage, so shaking hands was not an option.

The diving competition is soon to restart. Time is flying by and I suspect that I'm now fully institutionalised and will have the usual difficulty getting back into normal life. In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy the moment and store these memories for when life gets tough in the months to come.

Nicola Phillips is senior lecturer in physiotherapy, University of Wales College of Medicine.

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