Steph Clutterbuck: Leaving my life behind
Steph Clutterbuck, 24, started rowing in her first year at the University of York before moving to Bath to undertake an MSc in Management and train with Dan Harris.
Okay, the title might be a bit dramatic, but right now it does feel like what has happened.
Last week I had a big decision to make. I have been dealing with a back injury for the last 4 years, patching myself up every time it flared up, but unfortunately, my ability to pick myself back up again has gone.
I must make the right decision for my mental well-being and for my body.
So, I’ve stepped away from rowing.
What an awful word.
Steph Clutterbuck of Bath University at GB final trials in Caversham in April 2018
I would never describe myself as a “quitter”, and if I had it my way it is not something I would have done even now. But, with surgery becoming an increasing possibility, I knew it was time.
I never thought my season would end through injury, and I certainly never imagined it would be the reason for my time as a rower to come to a close. Despite the numerous setbacks and flare-ups and physio treatments, I always believed I would be able to make the decision to stop when I was ready. When I was confident I had done everything I possibly could to reach my goals; at least that way, there would be no unanswered questions.
But now, there seems to be nothing but “what ifs” flying through my mind.
It is slightly ironic that the season that I truly started to believe in myself and what I could achieve is the season that my rowing career has been taken away.
It’s been exhausting. I don’t think I’ve slept so much on consecutive nights as I have done for the last week, and I’ve spent most of the days feeling like an emotionally drained zombie. I’d take winter training over this any day.
I am by no means suggesting that I am experiencing things that no one else has. Athletic careers ending happen on a frequent basis, and while careers ending through injury are slightly rarer, they are still relatively commonplace.
And yet, I have heard nothing about this.
Steph Clutterbuck at Henley Qualifiers 2017
No conversation about what comes next, beyond trying to find and job and settle into the “normal world”. For the last 13 years of my life, I have been anything but normal. I was a swimmer before rowing, training twice a day all through school and summer holidays and Christmas. Well over half my life has been defined by the sport I have been participating in. I have never had the freedom to “do what I want”. I don’t know what normal is. I can’t work in an office. I need fresh air and exercise and space to move.
I have been thrown into a situation that I am totally unprepared for.
And yes, it’s making me anxious.
I’m worried about what I’m going to do next.
I’m nervous that I won’t find a career that I can settle into.
I am terrified about losing the body that I have spent years honing and developing into something I can be proud of.
My body has always been a tool. I’ve fuelled it and mobilised it and reinforced it with training so that it can help me achieve things beyond my expectation. And now, there is no sport to develop it for. I’m no longer asking it to achieve feats of “greatness”. Right now, I just want it to heal so that I can live my life. And that’s okay, quite frankly it needs a rest.
But, that has done nothing to quell my fear.
Steph Clutterbuck and long-term sculling partner, Laura Macro at Henley Qualifiers 2017
Since taking up rowing, I’ve never really worried about how I look. I know I like my body far more now than I have done before. Over the last few days, and it tends to be when I’m driving, I have been overcome with anxiety about what’s going to happen to it over the next couple of months. What if I get fat? What if I get weak? What if I don’t look athletic anymore? The possibility of it changing is terrifying me.
And it’s going to change. Of course it is. I’m not doing 24 hours of training a week anymore. I won’t be rowing. I’m in injury rehab so strength-based training is limited.
Perhaps if I had made the decision when I was ready, I’d feel differently. But right now, I feel as though I have a complete lack of control over everything; including how my body reacts to a change in lifestyle.
Rationalizing everything, I know I can keep exercising and reducing portion sizes and put everything into practice about nutrition and training that I have learned over the last 13 years.
But regardless, I’m still having to come to terms with the fact I need to learn to like my body, as it is and as it changes, not as a tool for sport.
In 2017 Clutterbuck won the Senior Double sculls at Henley Women’s Regatta together with Laura Macro. She won a silver medal at BUCS in the Women’s Champ 1x, and won the W1x at HIR for Wales. The 2018 season had seen her place 7th place at November trials before injury led her to withdraw from final trials following a 4th place finish in the time trial.