Losing my chance to compete in the Tokyo Olympics taught me valuable lessons about mental resilience

·3 min read
Team GB’s karate athlete Jordan Thomas trains outside his apartment in Manchester (REUTERS)
Team GB’s karate athlete Jordan Thomas trains outside his apartment in Manchester (REUTERS)

From the age of four, I had one goal. I wanted to be the best in the world at karate. In October 2016, I made that dream a reality when I became England’s World Karate Federation (WKF) world karate champion at the age of 24 – the first person to take the title for England in 12 years.

But in that same year, a new dream was born. Karate was announced as one of the new events for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. From that moment on, I knew everything I had worked for was for this – something which until now had always been unattainable in karate. Olympic gold had become a possibility.

In 2017, I became a fully-funded athlete for Team Great Britain and moved from Bedfordshire to Manchester to train full time. I ate, drank, slept and dreamed of karate. My partner moved to Manchester and everything we did was to ensure I was fit and ready for the Olympics. I missed countless weddings, birthdays and parties and made sacrifices I cannot even begin to describe.

Fast forward to now and here I am, trying to explain how much I wanted this, so you can understand how crushing it was when I didn’t get it. When I took a kick to the head, two seconds before the end of a match at the Olympic qualifying competition, I lost the most important fight of my life. Devastated doesn’t even cut it.

I was a totally broken man with what felt like no purpose. How do you come back from that? How do you wake up every morning and motivate yourself to get out of bed and take on the day when your dreams have been snatched away from you?

Well, you don’t for a little while. You grieve for what you lost and what could have been. You acknowledge that a part of you will always hurt a little and may never be the same again. But then you pick yourself back up.

You owe it to all the friends and loved ones who came to competitions across the world to cheer you on; you owe it to your supporters who have shouted your name whilst you fought and waited in queues to have a photo with you; you owe it to the youngsters following in your footsteps, wanting to be the next Jordan Thomas; and most importantly, you owe it to yourself.

A few months later and after a lot of reflection, I am ready to give back to the sport which gave me so much. I am launching the Jordan Thomas Karate Academy to bring martial arts into schools and communities. With the lessons I learned from my losses and the skills I gained in my grief, I will combine teaching the discipline of karate and self-defence with the practice of mindfulness, and helping people to build resilience.

I pledge to equip young people with positive coping strategies that they can take with them and use throughout their adult lives. In the UK, one in four people experience a mental health issue every year, and suicide is still the biggest killer of men under 50.

If I can help just one person cope with the inevitable difficulties life throws at us, I will have achieved more than I would’ve done by winning any number of gold medals.

Jordan Thomas is a British karateka and became a fully-funded athlete for Team GB in 2017

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