Having given your all playing rugby at the highest level and then to find you are at a point where injuries are hampering you and affecting your love for the sport what do you do? Retire gracefully or take up a dangerous new sport and aim to be an Olympian? If you are former England 7s, Exeter Chiefs, and Bedford Blues rugby star Sam Blanchet of course you choose the latter option.
When too many injuries, including repeated concussions, saw Sam side-lined one time too often, he lost heart and decided what he needed was an exciting new sporting challenge. After getting in touch with the English Institute of Sport he attended a trials day where he excelled in one sport in particular – bobsleigh.
So, what exactly does it feel like to hurtle down an ice track in a bobsleigh at up to 150mph? Few of us know, or even want to know, but we can all guess that it is not for the faint-hearted. During the switchover of sports the challenges were immense and Sam confesses that even he found it terrifying in the beginning.
Anyone who knows him though will know that as an elite athlete he has that drive, dedication and cool head required for such top-level sport. It comes as no surprise to hear how he rose to the challenge - taking to the rigorous training schedule and relishing the adventure in the company of his new team-mates.
His rugby background meant he was fast and strong and with nerves of steel he trained hard and became what is known as a brakeman. The brakeman either pushes from the back and puts the brakes on if competing in a two-man sled or pushes from the side handle in a four-man sled. It requires hours of lifting and running training to be at the top level so not surprisingly many bobsleigh team members are former sprinters.
Sam went on to compete in World Championships, was a reserve athlete at the 2018 Winter Olympics and was on track in 2020/21 for the Beijing Games in Feb 22 when disaster struck. He ruptured his Achilles tendon while competing in St Moritz in Jan 2021. This is a serious injury and Sam knew it was going to leave him struggling to recover in time to make the Games.
On the advice from former Team GB bobsleigh medal winner, John Jackson, who had suffered the same injury, he called Professor Mackay and decided to have the same surgery. When John had his InternalBrace surgery the technique was fairly new but it had offered a unique accelerated recovery rate which saw him rehabbed and competing in the Sochi Olympics in less than 8 months.
Like the absolute professional he is Sam spent all of 2021 rehabbing and pushing his training to the limit to make the team selections for Beijing. In this episode of Surgical Goals he tells Jennifer and Professor Mackay about his journey so far and his hopes for the future.