Niall Stillwell

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been involved in sports. Athletics on Mondays, swimming with my mum on Fridays, family bike rides on Sundays and of course playing football at every opportunity I had.

As most young boys do, I harboured ambitions of becoming an elite sportsman. A footballer or sprinter, I wasn’t really fussed. I was fortunate to make great memories in both, captaining my club and my school team to various trophies and running for my district team (not as the sprinter I once thought I could be but as an 800m runner). I will always have fond memories of these experiences with the teachers, coaches, teammates and successes making it what it was. Despite trialling with a few teams and representing my County team, things soon ground to a halt. After playing for my college first team and on the cusp of rejoining the County team, I suffered back to back broken ankles, first during pre season and the second when coming back too soon from the first. This proved to be the first time in my life that I lost my love of exercise. Though I loved the sport I played, breaking your ankle twice in a row and spending 5 or so months of the year on crutches coupled with the thrill of turning 18, girls, alcohol etc etc lead me to taking a 3ish so year break from sport. No football, no running, no gym, no anything.

These 3 years marked some of my first at uni, I continued to eat badly, continued partying and continued overlooking sport despite studying on a sports degree.. go figure. One day though, my friend asked if I wanted to come for a kick about and reluctantly I agreed. Overweight, out of breath and with a touch worse than Guendouzi, I finally realised what I had done to myself. I’d gone from being a confident, ultra fit, county level footballer to a mess and it was time to make a change.

There were a few things that motivated this change, the realisation of how big/unfit I’d gotten, the fact I was going on a holiday with a girl I crushed on (god forbid her see me topless) and the longing I had to get back into competitive sport. I decided that I was going to run the marathon, get into the gym full time and most importantly get back to playing football whilst also disengaging in some of the negative lifestyle choices that had made me this way in the first place. The beginning was tough but it made the results all the more worthwhile. At first, I couldn’t run down the road without stopping, I couldn’t do a single pull up, I couldn’t reach my toes and I certainly couldn’t take my clothes off and feel comfortable. But every week I started seeing progress, running faster and farther, lifting heavier and longer in the gym, weight falling off me and most importantly my footballing ability starting to come back. I hadn’t fully realised what I missed until I was back in it and I can’t help but regret my actions for those few years as I consider it a period where I really did lose myself for a while. Nevertheless, it was a learning curve and I remember finishing my first marathon and crying at the finish line as it marked a significant change in my life and one that I’ve adhered to ever since.

Since that first marathon, I’ve gone on to do another 2, I’ve ran a whole host of half’s, I play semi professional football, I became a PE teacher, I have qualifications in personal training and sports therapy whilst engaging in and promoting sport and physical activity at every opportunity. Where I’d grown stagnant and unmotivated in life getting back into sport helped put everything back into perspective for me. All of a sudden I started achieving things again and having that need to achieve helped motivate me both in my physical and career based pursuits. My outgoing, resilient and confident personality came back to me and despite a number of setbacks both in work (not getting certain jobs) and in sport (breaking my ankle again and my shoulder) I used this heightened hardened mindset to bounce back bigger and better than before.

I think the main thing I’ve tried to explain here is that when I was at my lowest in life, physically and mentally in poor health, sport and physical activity were non existent for me. Since they’ve been back I am happier, healthier and enjoying life way more than a few drinks, a night out and a kebab could ever possibly provide me.

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