An Olympian effort: Chris’ fast-track to recovery

Chris’ steely determination to constantly exceed people’s expectations has worked for him so far. It brought him to the Olympics even after he was told by teachers that sport ‘wasn’t his area’ and he ‘wouldn’t amount to much’. So, when he was told the surgery he needed on his shoulder would likely make him unable to compete professionally in 2023, Chris dug deep into those reserves and hoped he could excel once more.

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It all started with a seemingly inconsequential fall. Chris had represented Scotland in several national and international hammer throwing competitions, including the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. He was hoping to qualify for the 2021 Olympics, but several months before the qualifiers he slipped and jarred his shoulder. 

It didn’t hurt too much at first. The pain was more of a twinge, but Chris continued performing as a hammer thrower, further aggravating the injury to his shoulder. “The pain gradually became unmanageable,” he remembers. “I would wake up in the night if I lay on it for too long and I noticed that I started anticipating pain when I threw the hammer, so my form and technique wasn’t as it should be.”

Eventually, the pain got so bad he was only able to compete with regular injections for pain relief and he could only sleep with painkillers. He started speaking to experts who could treat him. “Everyone was talking about getting me back to a pain-free, regular life, but that isn’t what I wanted. They just didn’t seem to get it. I still had things to do, I still wanted to compete.”

After speaking to javelin and shotput throwers who had suffered similar complaints, Chris heard of Professor Len Funk“It’s crazy I hadn’t heard his name already. Elite athletes from all over the country would travel to see the Prof,” Chris says, bemused, “and when I called him, I expected to have to wait months. But he invited me back down the next day. It was the quickest I’d ever seen a consultant.” Professor Funk is a shoulder surgeon at The Arm Clinic. The clinic is at The Wilmslow Hospital part of HCA UK, in Cheshire. 

Chris recalls their first meeting fondly. “He couldn’t read the scans I brought with me, and he asked if I had fit properly inside the MRI machine. I’m just a big guy – I’ve played rugby, I throw that hammer – and I hadn’t even known that how I squeezed into the machine would distort the images that were taken.” 

Professor Funk told Chris he’d need new images. Luckily, as someone used to treating elite sports stars. The MRI machine used by Professor Funk at The Wilmslow Hospital was bigger than the average. The new images were taken immediately and revealed that Chris had instability of a small joint in his shoulder that was causing him pain. Professor Funk took the time to talk Chris through his three options for treatment, with Chris opting to delay his treatment until the qualifiers for the Olympics had taken place.  

“If I had the surgery immediately, there was no chance of an Olympics place. I was looking at between seven and nine months of recovery time for the operation I needed.” Unfortunately, Chris ultimately missed out on qualifying for the 2021 Olympics by one place. “It was definitely because of the pain in my shoulder,” he says, “I wasn’t performing at the level I was used to. I probably should’ve had the surgery earlier, but I was determined to at least try.”

He had the surgery in September 2021, and he threw his steely resolve into his treatment protocol. “I was determined to be the best physio patient they’d ever had,” he laughs, “because I hate people telling me I can’t do something. So, them telling me I would take seven to nine months to recover made me determined to recover in less. It’s just the way I am.”

He wore a sling for the first six weeks, taking it off only to do his physio-approved exercises. He spoke to a nutritionist and started taking supplements that promoted healing even before the surgery was scheduled, and he adapted his diet. 

Chris’ determination began to pay off again. He started hitting rehabilitation markers ahead of schedule, and that’s when Professor Funk really impressed him. “He listened to my physio, and he listened to me. When we started telling him we were – safely – ahead of schedule, he started encouraging us to modify the rehab plan. He really listened to us, and he was so impressed with my progress. I could get my arm above my head sooner than he expected, and rehab just went so well.”

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Building strength and getting back to competition level

After his operation in September 2021, Chris was declared fit in December, just three short months later. Now, at the start of 2023, the season doesn’t look out of reach. In fact, Chris is feeling better about his training regime than he has in years. “I was doing stiff-leg deadlifts with 200kg weights by December, and I’m getting stronger and improving my range of motion all the time.” 

Chris’ determination to exceed expectations brought him to the Olympics once before, and he’s determined it will again. Next up though, he’s preparing to represent Scotland in a local competition that acts as a qualifier for the European Winter Throws.

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.