England rugby legend Austin Healey loves running, swimming and cycling, but as recently as last year he’s had days when simply walking was a struggle. He spoke to Will Renwick about the health problems he’s had to overcome
I’ve just got back from the Dallagalio Cycle Slam taking on mountains in the Pyrenees. It took us three weeks but felt like three years. It was tough: 2,000 km covered and 36,000 vertical metres of climbing so we basically cycled into space. On top of this the temperature varied from -1 to 38°C. It always takes me a couple of days to recover from these kinds of things, I get to about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and my bed is calling me! Hopefully that’ll die down soon though.
We’ve been told you have an ambition to take part in an Ironman?
It’s a bit of a dream really. I can do the bike and the swim tomorrow but the run is just a bit too risky. I’ve got arthritis in my knee and I’ve had it for a while now but have only managed to get it under control in the last 12 months. I don’t want to go back to the pain I had before, and running a marathon would certainly bring it back. I love running and I’d love to go out running every day, I just can’t take that risk of aggravating the arthritis.
My knee problems came from a big tackle – one I’d basically carry on feeling for the rest of my career. My shoulder was the same. The problems with my back are from a collection of big hits. So they’re all a by-product of running around chasing an egg.
Has it been easy to stay motivated to keep fit after retirement from rugby?
The motivation side isn’t the difficult bit, you’ve always got motivation. You may have six months off after you retire, you may have a year, but it doesn’t mean you instantly lose the drive. And for me my motivation switched to wanting to try some triathlon. With that the problem was that my knee started to get progressively worse, so the motivation then became to try some cycling challenges. Eventually, the arthritis brought me to the point that I couldn’t walk to the gym or lift my hands above my head so I couldn’t even swim. I had to find a way of bringing my body back into balance. I’m very lucky I haven’t got it now, my knee and my shoulder are the best that they’ve been for a long time and I want that to remain.
So what has helped to lessen the pain?
Up until twelve months ago I’d been taking Glucosamine and Chondroitin and a load of different painkillers to ease it and also to try to get rid of it. Then I tried GOPO capsules after a friend recommended them and they made a big difference. I was able to start training without pain a bit more, after that I was able to start pushing myself harder and eventually this meant I was able to lose a bit of weight through it all as well. My joints felt free and much looser and I was able to get on with things; with swimming, biking and a variety of other cross training.
If you felt your body was capable and you were able to reach your ambition to take part in an Ironman, which one would you sign up for?
It would have to be Hawaii wouldn’t it? Or maybe Lanzarote. If someone could just give me a guarantee that my knee wouldn’t go back to how it was prior to me taking GOPO then I’d do it. Until that medical advancement or when I get a new leg, unfortunately the Ironman will have to wait even though it will remain a bit of an ambition of mine.
Have you got much planned for the rest of the summer then?
I’m taking part in a few more bike challenges – a couple more sportives. I reckon by the end of summer I will have done about 7000 miles since the start of the year so I might just have to go and introduce myself to my wife and kids!
GOPO® is an active compound derived from rosehips with natural anti inflammatory properties. GOPO® is found only in GOPO® Joint Health capsules, £18.49 for 120 capsules from supermarkets and pharmacies nationwide, www.gopo.co.uk.
For more information on osteoarthritis please visit www.patient.info/jointpainhub