James Cracknell says after a life-changing brain injury he wants his old personality to return so his wife can say, “You’re back”, in a new ITV documentary.
The double Olympic gold medal-winning rower talks about his career as an oarsman and adventurer in James Cracknell: Sports Life Stories on ITV4 at 10pm tomorrow (Tuesday). After being hit by the wing mirror of a lorry while cycling across America in July 2010, James suffered brain injuries which changed his personality.
Now he suffers suffers from epilepsy and tells the programme he has lost feelings like empathy and motivation. But he says he wants to get his personality back so his TV presenter wife Beverley Turner can confirm that his ‘old self’ has returned:
“Probably to hear Bev say, ‘You’re back’, it would be nice to hear that.”
“After a brain injury you react differently to situations - my kids had one dad for six years and a different one for the last three.”
Beverley says she is trying to stay positive:
“I think the man that I married did disappear, yeah he did. But there are elements that I have grown to admire about who he is now that I probably wouldn’t have done if the accident hadn’t have happened. There was a lot about the old James that I wasn’t very keen on, to be honest.”
James talks candidly about his life now, and is filmed taking part in a duathlon in Holland, where he says: “You hear footballers talking about dressing room banter and yeah I do miss that. But if I’m honest what I really miss is the five minutes before the start when you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
James says that when he wasn’t selected to represent Britain at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona he made up his mind to quit the sport in a fit of pique:
“Selectors sat me down and said, ‘You will never row for Britain again, we are going to take away all your funding.’ I went, ‘Well it’s a boring sport, I don’t want to do it,’ and went away. And that’s when it hit me that I had the talent to do that and I had wasted it.”
After winning the coxless fours in Sydney in 2000, Beverley provides an insight into what happened after James went on to win gold at Athens in 2004:
“There’s a sense with James that all of his achievements haven’t meant as much to him as they might for you or I. So he very quickly moved on. We had dinner when he won his medal and the next day he was thinking about what he was going to do next. He is relentless, and you know he always has been.”
James explains that after retiring, rowing the Atlantic ensured he never wanted to row again. He then took to skiing across Antarctica, and later ran seven marathons in six days. Sir Steve Redgrave says he believes James may have taken on challenges like these because he felt unfulfilled as an athlete:
“Maybe because he stopped slightly earlier than I think he should have done.”
Now James plans to stand as a member of the European Parliament in the next elections in May 2014, and he explains he is determined not to be defined by his Olympics medals. He says:
"There’s no doubt it is a huge gamble because as a sportsman you have a different level of good feeling from people which politicians especially over the last five years haven’t generally had.
"But the one thing I’ve always lived by is that the Olympics were something I did, not who I am. And for me I want to test myself and show that there is more to me than a decent physiology for rowing, that I can be on top of a variety of complex issues, which is what you need to be as a European MP.”