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UK Athletics

The E-Inspire Athlete Blog - Harry Aikines Aryeetey

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Harry Aikines Aryeetey
Diving for the line and my World Junior title - I did it! But 2006 feels like a long time ago now.
On Sunday 11 May, Harry Aikines Aryeetey raced his first 100m since September 2006, setting a PB of 10.18. The World Junior 100m champion missed the entire 2007 outdoor season with a stress fracture in his back.
In this edition of E-Inspire Harry speaks exclusively about a rollercoaster two years and his journey back to fitness.


2006 seems like a long time ago now! It’s true that you look back on these events and whilst you know you’ve achieved something, when you’re out of action it also brings home how much you’ve still got to do.


That summer was crazy there were highs and lows I could not begin to describe. Being part of the world record race at the British Grand Prix in June with Asafa Powell was fantastic. Running in that sort of company was a real high- but it also marked the start of a challenging year. It was there that I suffered my first back problems, which were eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in early 2007.


All summer I was struggling for fitness, my start, which wasn’t always strong, was even slower and I was relying on my pick up to get through the trials for the World Junior championships.


Luckily once in Beijing I was surrounded by a team of people who were positive and did more for my mental health that week then they will ever realise. My coach Matt Favier, the physio Alan Henderson – all the team support staff probably knew I needed a boost.


When I won the semi final emphatically I went a little bit mad – like I was on a massive high. I didn’t realise with all my injury worries that I had been so stressed – I almost skipped back to the warm up track. For me the semi had been a final and the staff had to calm me down as I still had a race left and could win it – it was then that I realised I had been under a lot of pressure – most of it my own making and had been wound up with wanting to make everyone proud…. to prove the World Youth title I won in 2005 hadn’t been a fluke.


Other people's opinions


In winning I realised I could run at that level and cope with the pressure, but I also found that I was still sensitive to other people’s opinions of me. Stupidly I saw an online message board where people wrote that I may be WJ champion but that I wouldn’t amount to anything as my times were rubbish – constantly in the 10.3 /10.4 range. One of the nicer ones said, “I don’t think the guy will amount to anything but congratulations for this title” – gee thanks!


Needless to say I don’t look at them anymore – I wish it didn’t happen – but we do tend to knock people down sometimes. And as an athlete there are enough hurdles to cope with without inviting people to put them in front of you. I was comfortable that fast times would come and that I hadn’t had the luck of great race conditions yet.


Winter 2006-07 wasn’t great – my indoors wasn’t going that well – I wasn’t sure things were working at St Mary’s and despite great back up and the warm weather training opportunities, I had to fly home from one camp and get scans done – my back just wasn’t letting me perform – you know there is something wrong when it takes you 18 seconds to run 150m and you’re working flat out!


Some scans finally revealed the truth – that I was trying to run through a stress fracture, and 2007 was going to be a write off. No European Junior title attempt, no chance of relay squad for Osaka. Nothing. I did what any self-respecting young male sprinter would do – I rang my mum and cried down the phone!



Injury - a blessing?


In some ways the injury was a blessing. It’s a good job I’m religious – I believe God has a plan for everyone. One moment I was on top, next I was staring at an athletics abyss. But the blessing was in how my family pulled together and we became even closer.


It was a challenging summer as I rehabbed at Brunel commuting from my home in Surrey – not ideal as I wasn’t allowing the good work to take hold by travelling an hour each way – but admittedly my head wasn’t all there in the early stages of my treatment. During May and June I was still in mourning for my season and as a result I wasn’t doing the work. I was just going the motions and wasn’t wearing my back brace like I should have.


Around the same time Matt Favier (who I like to refer to as my Australian dad) sat down with me and we knew that it was likely that he would need to move away from coaching to become the HiPAC director and that I would need a new sprints coach soon.


It was agreed that I would move up to Loughborough in September to study there and be coached by Michael Khmel – the UKA 4x100m relay coach.


Barney AA
Man's best friend - Barney Aikines Aryeetey, my Loughborough housemate
My darkest moment


Faced with a move to the Midlands and having a mountain of rehab to climb I reached my darkest moment one weekend last June.


It was the weekend of the European Junior and U23 trials and also the European Cup. Within a few hours I watched as Craig Pickering won the 100m for Great Britain whizzing past my screen in 10.15, then I got texts from Matt who was in Bedford telling me Asha (Phillip) had run 11.37, Simeon (Williamson) 10.22 and that Leevan (Yearwood) won the U20 100m in 10.30.


Well that’s just great – I thought – not only do I have to get back to what I could do – I have to take another huge chunk off just to be on an even keel with these guys.


But it was almost as though someone had switched something in my head. I remembered that my very first coach Leslie Alder who died early in my career did everything for his athletes. He turned up on birthdays, anniversaries – you name it he spent his life looking out for us.


I’ve noticed some athletes drop out because of injuries. Leslie died enjoying helping us in athletics – as a result I would never give up with an injury – I wanted to be sure that I gave it everything I could.


Negative into a positive


Matt also built up my hopes and turned the rehab into a positive thing. He showed me all the areas of technical work I could get done during rehab which during “normal training” you can’t always fit in. He also showed me the areas I could improve on so when I was fit again I would actually be a better athlete as I had used the time wisely.


With this in mind I threw myself properly into rehab. My physios at Brunel – Matt Lancaster and James Moore were brilliant and I obeyed every part of the regime – from the session where I lay obediently with 52 needles stuck in me, to ensuring I did my walking drills (yes they are as they sound – drills done whilst walking).


By the end of August I was running again. I turned my mind to Loughborough and making sure I was ready for that. My mum told me to be sensible with my money and so I bought a small house – a mile from campus. I’m lucky to have a decent income from my lottery support and from kit deals and agreements my agents have set up, but at the same time I know I have to be wise with it.


My new coach!


My coach Michael Khmel is my third coach and like the previous two I have a unique relationship with him. With Leslie I had a grandfather figure- Matt was my cool Australian dad, and Michael – well he’s so professional. Keeps me really grounded. I’ll come away from a bad session and he points out the positives – if I come away too happy with my session then he reminds me that Simeon, Craig and Leevan probably did the same thing that morning and might have done it better. I once got a handshake off him – praise indeed!


His technical work is excellent and although I thought I was in good shape – nothing prepared me for opening my season with 10.18. My training partners James Dasaolu and Leon Baptiste are the ideal training group. James is a fantastic starter and Leon is so strong over 200m we all have differing strengths and weaknesses which means we all benefit from the group dynamic. Loughborough itself is a great facility – very tight – you can train and have physios watching your progress just two metres away – it’s brilliant.


But while I’m thrilled with my run in Pavia – I also know it’s just one event – and there is a long season ahead. The Olympics is of course every athlete’s dream – and if I can be there in any capacity – regardless of how well I am running in August a little part of me will still be sat on the sofa last June watch the European Cup and receiving those text messages. Because I truly believe that memory will make me a stronger competitor in the years to come.