Athlete Stories: Callum Hawkins

While sport brings us all plenty of #HIGH5moments, we know that the journey to get there can be challenging, but that’s what makes it great, right?!

In the last few weeks we’ve been showcasing real people’s stories behind their #HIGH5moment – the highs, the lows, the little things that make that HIGH5 worth it. Everyone finds committing to a challenge tough at times, even professional athletes! So this time we’ve been chatting to our HIGH5 athletes to find out what it is they find tough about training and preparing for big events.

Here Callum Hawkins talks about dealing with injury and how opportunities present themselves at the darkest of times…

Callum Hawkins

My HIGH5 Moment:

The 18 month period from March 2012 looking towards Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games was my major #HIGH5Moment of my early career.  

The story behind my HIGH5 moment:

I’ve been running since the age of 11 and was very successful from the age of 15 – 18.  I was making my way through the ranks, gaining international selections and managed to secure my first International win at the 2010 European Youth Olympics.  Everything I took part in seemed to have a successful outcome.  

In 2010 I was recruited by Butler University in the US as part of their athletics programme and while the first year there didn’t quite go to plan as I struggled to settle into college life in a new country, the following year was a different story.  I headed back after the summer break in really good shape and straight into the NCAA Cross Country season. I managed to win my College’s Regional Championships and had a really strong showing for a 19 year old at the National Champs.  

Everything was pointing towards a big breakthrough on the track but just as track season was starting I noticed that my left knee had become very swollen and it was painful to walk, never mind run. My knee had been a bit achy on and off over the previous six months but it hadn’t that impaired me running or walking before. Now, it was completely different.

I was sent for an MRI scan which showed that I had torn my lateral left meniscus in my knee.  To this day I don’t know how I managed to do it but I did it none the less.  Within a week I was having surgery and looking like I would be back running again in about 3 months.  What actually happened was a bit different.

“Normally I’m very good at rationalising things. Injuries are an occupational hazard… but, for the first time I started to entertain thoughts that I might not be the same athlete again.”

While I was recuperating and rehabbing the injury I made the decision to leave college and return home.  Athletics-wise everything had been great; but not so much on the academic side. So, in June 2012 I headed back to Scotland and continued my rehab with Linda Hardy one of the physio’s at the Scottish Institute of Sport. My whole circumstance had changed; I had to get used to staying with my parents again and they had to get used to me emptying their fridge again.

Although I started running again, my knee didn’t really settle and was still slightly swollen.  It wasn’t causing any pain when running and I was just glad to be running again and happy to get on with it, but Linda wasn’t happy with it and arranged for another MRI scan just to be sure.  Turns out she was right.  The scan showed that the US surgery hadn’t been as successful as we thought and I would need another operation. 

Two weeks before Christmas 2012 I was back in surgery having one third of my left lateral meniscus removed and although the Doc said surgery went well and I’d be back running again in no time, it was at this point that doubts started to creep in.

Callum running Normally I’m very good at rationalising things. I just keep reminding myself that none of what happened was under my control at any time.  Injuries are an occupational hazard for an athlete and when you push your body hard sometimes things give way.

All I could do was focus on what I could do to get me back running.  This was a new experience for me.  I knew that it would take several months for me to get my running legs back and by that time we would be nearing the end of the track season some 18 months after my first surgery… and all that before I had even thought about having just lost one third of the shock absorber in my left knee.  For the first time I started to entertain thoughts that I might not be the same athlete again. 

Thankfully the surgery went well, and we got cracking with the rehab and the negative thoughts soon disappeared.  Without Linda, I probably wouldn’t have got to this point.

Returning to racing that summer brought new challenges and even more frustration.  The fitness was returning but the performances weren’t.  I was in better shape than my times were suggesting.  What I had to focus on was the fact that training was going well, I hadn’t forgotten how to race… I was doing all the right things tactically… and that eventually it would snap back into place.

I operate best when there is a major target to aim for and we had one of the biggest and best targets for any Scottish athlete the following year.  Glasgow were hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games.  We agreed that the 10,000m was best for me as during the 18 months of injury I had lost a bit of what was required for the 5000m even though that distance was my favourite. We drew up a plan to get in the best possible shape to go for the qualifying standard in the 10,000m at a race in the US the following April.  It was very ambitious as I had never raced a 10000m on the track before, my road equivalent was nowhere near the standard and I wasn’t completely ready to give up the 5000m.

“Things can and do go wrong, but it’s how you deal with them and move on that’s important – that’s what gives you the ultimate HIGH5 moments.”

I kicked off the winter by going to Font Romeu for some altitude training for 3 weeks and by the time I was back it was obvious that my old form had returned.  Over the winter I picked up another GB International vest at the European Cross Country Championships in Serbia finishing 7th in the U/23 race.  Come April time I knew I was ready.  

At the famous Stanford invitational in California I ran 28.49.57 and secured the qualifying time on my debut 10,000m track race and ultimately a place on Team Scotland for a home games literally on my doorstep.  Race night in Hampden Stadium is a night I’ll never forget.  While I was a little off performance wise all my friends and family were there and the noise and support from the crowd was incredible.  25 laps with everyone cheering you on every step of the way is something you don’t forget. Those 18 months of injury just made that night all the better and was the major HIGH5 moment of my early career.

Fast forward to the present and I’ve moved to the Marathon.  I was 4th in the World Championships marathon in London in 2017 and 9th in the Olympic Marathon in Rio in 2016.  I’m the Scottish record holder in the Half Marathon and 2nd on the GB all-time list, I achieved a Bronze medal at the European Cross Country Championships with notable performances in New York half marathon (2nd, 60.08) and Marugame half marathon in Japan (1st, 60.00).  

If I hadn’t got injured I wouldn’t have made the decision to focus on the longer distances and ultimately the marathon when I did.  I don’t know what the outcome would have been, but I do know that I wouldn’t have achieved any of what I have done up to now. I’m still only 26, which is young for a marathoner. Opportunities present themselves when you least expect it and sometimes in the darkest of times. Things can and do go wrong, but it’s how you deal with them and move on that’s important – that’s what gives you the ultimate HIGH5 moments. 

Thanks for reading.

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