Only a Game - Cracknell is an Olympic inspiration

James Cracknell.
James Cracknell.

When I saw James Cracknell on BBC1 the other night, I admit, I though he’d had one beer too many before going on live television to talk about the day’s action at London 2012. I couldn’t have been any more wrong!

Cracknell, 40, appeared on the ‘At The Olympics’ highlights show along with former rower Matthew Pinsent, former heptahlete Denise Lewis and TV presenter Gabby Logan.

Cracknell, a two time Olympic gold medallist, appeared to slur his words and predictably I put two and two together and came up with five.

I took to Twitter to see if anyone else had noticed Cracknell’s slurred speech. Almost immediately a few people replied to tell me that I’d got it all wrong that the explanation for Cracknell’s laboured speech was that he’d sustained a very serious brain injury.

One helpful sports fan even went to the trouble of messaging me a link to story that Cracknell had written for the ‘Daily Mirror’ newspaper last month.

The story, titled ‘I am not the person my wife married’, recounted how Cracknell almost died when he was hit by a petrol tanker whilst cycling across America.

Cracknell was taking part in a 16 day challenge to cycle, run, swim and row his way between Los Angeles and New York. The accident happened on July 20, 2010 when he was cycling along a quiet road outside Winslow, Arizona when a petrol tanker, travelling at 65mph crashed into Cracknell. The truck’s wing mirror smashed into the back Cracknell’s head, it split his helmet in two and his wife and two children were told by doctors that they had 48 hours to say goodbye.

Cracknell had to have 25 staples to secure both parts of his skull together. As a result of the horrific accident he spent three months in a neuro-trauma unit where he had to relearn basic cognitive skills.

Cracknell is back at home with his wife Beverley and their three children but he still lives with the impact of the accident every single day of his life.

The impact of the truck’s wing mirror on his head affected the part of his brain used for memory, facial recognition and personality development.

Often people who sustain such brain injuries become completely different people and it’s because of this that marriages and relationships often break down. Cracknell’s no different.

In the Mirror’s story he said that often thinks himself as a completely different person to the man his wife married. He often gets frustrated and angry and this, as you would expect, has a detrimental effect on life at home.

Perhaps one of the most agonising parts of Cracknell’s story is that before the accident he was entertaining the idea of competing at the London 2012 Olympic Games but that dream was snatched away from him on a quiet country road in Arizona.

The Olympics never fails to deliver inspirational stories.

This week alone we saw Michael Phelps became the world’s greatest ever Olympian when he took his 20th Olympic medal in the swimming pool and then who could forget the exploits of Coleraine rowers Alan Campbell and Chambers brothers Peter and Richard?

There can be no doubting the significance and importance of some of the medals and triumphs that we have experienced at this year’s Olympics but when you consider what Cracknell’s been through the colours gold, silver and bronze pale into insignificance.

Cracknell has been through so much and I would hazard a guess that the last two years of his life have been 1,000 times more difficult than any rowing event he has ever trained for or taken part in.

Cracknell admits that he feels regret and anger over what happened. Not because of what it’s done to him but what it’s done to his wife and three children.

He’s reporting on the rowing for BBC Radio 5 Live and despite the fact that he’ll lament not being out on the water himself, he’ll know that not only is he lucky to have such a supporting and loving family but he’s lucky to be alive.