Where to start………….. Sport and exercise has always played a massive part in my life

By Irene Wilson 

From as early as I can remember I was carrying a football around with me or riding my Raleigh chipper pretending to be evil Knievel, playing rounders with the neighbourhood kids or red in the eyes from hours in the local pool.
I would play outside until it got dark and I got called in despite my protests for 5 more minutes. Those early years provided the foundation for a love of exercise and competition as well as the many life lessons that come with that.

During my teenage years running became my go-to if I wanted to blow the cobwebs out, competing at cross country, 800 and 1500 meters alongside karate which brought me discipline.

A move to Cornwall gave me the opportunity to take up gig rowing, a sport which I absolutely love, I played an active role on the gig committee creating the 1st world pilot gig championships. I returned to the mainland 8 years later and made the Olympic rowing development squad, I was now training on the Thames every morning completely self-funded.

The Olympics were a couple of years away and I had also started playing a little local rugby gaining a Scotland selection in my first season and with a rugby world cup around the corner I had to make a choice. I chose rugby and went on to play for 11 years, 7 of which were for Scotland including 2 World Cups.

Competing internationally is a great privilege, rugby is a tough game and injury is common. If you want the best chance of making the team and staying injury-free you have to put the work in to make sure you are as fit as possible before the season and then hope that any injuries are manageable.

When you pick up an injury you need a rehab plan which will no doubt be intense, often daily physio-guided sessions and more serious injuries requiring surgery have an added concern of losing fitness when immobile so you very quickly learn the importance of pre and post-injury rehab protocols. Having the right team around you to get you back on the pitch is critical if you want a long career.

Inevitably injuries and age caught up with me and as I headed into retirement my sporting dial was turned down preferring the low impact of spin, mountain biking, yoga and gentle swims at the health club to keep in shape.

Then on the 18th of August 2022 following a biopsy of a lump in my breast came the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer. I heard the words “I’m sorry we have found something significant, it’s cancer, it’s aggressive, you need immediate surgery” I could see the consultant and cancer nurse watching for my reaction which was “OK what’s the plan” I knew almost nothing about cancer at that stage but I was hard-wired in injury/rehab protocols.

My partner and I drove home from the hospital in stunned silence that Thursday, armed with a huge information pack they provided you with. On the way home I phoned my sister and some friends to let them know the news and when we got home opened a bottle of whisky despite it only being around 4 in the afternoon.

I drank more than I should have that night but remained completely sober, over the next few days I hardly slept and spent hours researching all I could on breast cancer. I woke up on the Sunday exhausted but had decided if I was going to get the best outcome I needed to carve my own path, build my team, form a plan and prepare for surgery just like I had done for many other injuries.

I would need pre and post-surgery rehab exercises and information on the possibilities of safely exercising through chemo and radiation. I started to google cancer exercises, and what came back was pretty basic gentle guidance, no way was that going to do for me!

And then up pops something called Lakes to London with a group called Her Spirit, now this looks more like it, I think I signed up there and then. I put a shout-out to some of my mates who were immediately onboard and so Team Butt Cheeks was born.

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