An interview with James Stride - Invictus Indoor Rowing Captain 2020
This week (9-16 May) the Invictus Games, like other major sporting events, has been rescheduled to next year. Created by Prince Harry, the fifth Invictus Games due to take place in the Netherlands with wounded and injured servicemen and women competing across nine sports. Elliot Brown Ambassador James Stride, who suffered a spinal injury after serving several tours in the Army, was due to compete across 3 disciplins in 6 events during the Games. We find out how he's been coping in lockdown.
How do you feel about the postponement of the 2020 Games?
“Initially I was gutted as the preparation for the Games had formed a massive part of the previous 12 months of my life, I was focussed and determined and to say I was excited about the Games would be an understatement. This was my first Invictus Games and I was honoured to have been selected as Captain of the indoor rowing team, as well as being the only UK male lightweight power lifter and competing in athletic events including 100m, 200m 400m and long jump.
When I received the inevitable email, my heart sank... but not for long. Thankfully, the Games were postponed and not cancelled. To me this meant that it wasn’t all over, it meant more time to prepare, more time to improve, more time to train alongside my incredible teammates, coaches and staff that are making the Games happen. So instead of letting the announcement get me down, I just had a shift in mindset, the Games will still go ahead, I will still represent my country once again, and most importantly, myself, my team mates and the masses of supporters and staff attending The Invictus Games at The Hague in 2021 will be safe!”
So, in this time how have you been preparing? What has training looked like for you in lockdown?
“My training has actually taken a big shift and not just because of the lockdown, but also because the main event is now over 12 months away - not right around the corner. Prior to the postponement, my training programmes were building me up to be at my absolute peak, the best I could possibly be, in time for the event. Now that has all changed, my training is less focussed on my individual sports and more focussed on building up from a foundation once again.
I am lucky enough to own and run my own gym, Chamber Health and Wellbeing Ltd so lockdown has not caused me any issues when it comes to having space or equipment to train. My training has actually been pretty intense. I have been fitting in a minimum of four programmed conditioning sessions a week and three strength sessions per week. I also do pilates twice a week and I complete a daily mobility and stretching routine. On top of this, I am running daily workouts live online for members of the gym which is an added training session for me as I do the workout with them live. With active recovery walks and ensuring I get plenty of good quality rest, sleep and food in between."
We're exhausted just reading that.
You are clearly a highly motivated person and an advocate of getting out and about for your mental health. How did you cope with the once-a-day-outside exercise rule? Now that this has been lifted and how will unlimited outside exercise change your training regime?
"Getting out and about has always been essential to me. With the once a day outside exercise rule I have found myself using this more for my recovery. I complete my intense, programme focussed training in the gym and then use my one hour of exercise outside to walk and enjoy the fresh air, taking in my local surroundings that often go unnoticed. Unlimited outdoor exercise will change my training routine slightly. It means I can add in some long outdoor runs and more endurance work to my training regime but actually the majority of my training for the Games is focussed on indoor events so I will continue primarily the way I have been doing anyway.”
Do you have any motivational tips for others who were due to compete this year in an event but are no longer able to?
“My first tip would be to think back to what initially motivated you to put yourself forward for that event. Is that motivation still there? Will you be able to use that motivation to put towards a different event or the same event at a later date? At the end of the day this virus may change a lot of things about how the world works, but certain things have just been put on hold, so if you have a goal you want to achieve then it’s time to refocus, plan and find a new path to the end goal.
My other tip would be to do what you need to do to deal with your emotions caused by not being able to compete. Where possible surround yourself with those who love and support you. Alternatively, if you cope better by being on your own, then direct your energy on something positive if you can. If not, don’t beat yourself up; it’s important to feel your emotions and acknowledge them, you don’t have to understand them and you certainly shouldn’t punish yourself if you don’t. Reach out for help if you need it, take your time, be angry, be upset, and then take steps to get back on track!”
So, what brought you to the Invictus Games?
“Last year a friend of mine took part and did really well. I sent him congratulations and he messaged back saying why don’t you get involved! I have an ongoing injury from the Army. The selection process starts with 1,000 applicants who are whittled down to 470 people. They compete at the UK trials and of those 65 were selected to compete for the UK and I am in the team.”
How are you feeling about it – is there a pressure to perform well due to your training background?
“I am nervous, there is a lot of pressure on me. I am competing in quite a few events and for one of those events I am the only person from the UK competing. I am doing power lifting (the only male lightweight power lifter for the UK), indoor rowing and in the athletics I’m doing the 100m, 200m 400m and long jump. I am quite daft! I’m sleeping when I can!”
Will you attempt to compete again?
“You can only ever take part in two games in order to give more people a chance of reaching the team. I have applied to become an Invictus coach or assistant coach because of my coaching background. It's also a privilege for me to be the team captain for rowing.”
Does the Invictus training help you mentally as well as physically?
“I lost a couple of friends in Afghanistan serving out there. I think about them all of the time, especially during Remembrance. I do try to put it to the back of my mind but it’s always so fresh. What’s good with the Invictus Games is that you always have someone you can speak to about it. Being around these people – if you’re feeling low, they understand, they don’t pester you – you just know you can talk to them if you want.”
Can you tell us a little about your injury and how it affects your training?
“My injury is spinal – through the wear and tear of jumping into trenches and off vehicles with weight on my back. I had severe lower back pain for months but it did clear up. I actually left the Army because I had completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I wanted to move on, so I worked for the Prison Service for five years as a physical education officer. I was playing football at work one day and I jumped for a header, landed and one of the discs in my back just exploded. I lost all feeling in my leg and had to be taken to hospital in an ambulance. It affects my right side and my right calf muscle is dead and wasted away. It doesn’t respond and my right hamstring is numb. It’s an unusual sensation. It makes me push myself that bit harder to prove to myself. On a couple of incidences, I have torn my left hamstring because it is compensating for my right hamstring. I like to work hard and push hard. Visibly I just walk a bit funny and I have to point out my calves to people who have never noticed before! They always say wow it doesn’t stop you; you still train like a nutter you lunatic!”
Tell us more about how you have had to adapt your business in lockdown with your online sessions? Are we talking the next Joe Wicks here?
“The way we run our business has changed a huge amount in recent weeks. We have shifted our entire group exercise class timetable online via Zoom, so we now offer two bodyweight training classes per day online, we also offer pilates via Zoom twice a week and I provide a live ‘workout of the day’ via Facebook Live to our members-only group on a daily basis, these focus on all elements of fitness including learning new skills, recovery, mobility and so on.
We also continue to run 1-2-1 personal training sessions to our clients via Zoom. We have loaned out some of our equipment to our members to help with PT programming and add value to their training.
At the moment our clients are really enjoying the training. For some it is more challenging than others due to a lack of space or a struggle to find the motivation. We offer support to these guys in weekly short phone calls for a catch up if they want them to talk through ways to refocus and prioritise and hopefully help them to cope with their own situation. Our business is not just about physical fitness but about supporting people with their mental wellbeing also.
I’m a massive fan of what Joe Wicks has done. I applaud and respect him for it. Using his established status and fame he was in a fantastic position to be able to provide a solution to so many parents to help get their kids to be active during the lockdown. Encouraging children to take part in exercise and to involve their parents is a wonderful thing.”
Invictus UK is delivered by a partnership between Help for Heroes, The Royal British Legion and Ministry of Defence.