Ian Rose thought his days as an international judo champion were over. After years of training, which had brought him to the brink of success in the Paralympics, Rose had settled down to a steady job.
As a new-business rep for Edify, a company that specialises in developing software for call centres, his job was to find new customers to buy the technology.
Then the phone rang. Rose listened as his coach told him he had a place in the 2004 Paralympics. "I am going to Athens!" he shouted across the office. There was only catch: Rose would have to put on more than 18kg in eight months to become part of the team.
As a paralympic athlete, Rose was used to the disciplined regime of early mornings in the gym, training after work and taking part in competitions at weekends. But combining training for international competition with a full time job in IT would be no easy task. The backing he received from his employer and colleagues was vital, he said.
"The company got behind me. The support of my colleagues was tremendous. They would ask: 'How did training go? Rubbish? Well get out there and do some more." They helped me psychologically. I found if I had a good day at work I did better at my training in the evening."
Rose's interest in judo began at primary school. Aged six, he was diagnosed with eye cancer. He lost one eye and the treatment left him with very little sight in the other. He was forced to wear thick glasses, and soon found himself the butt of jokes at school. Things began to change when he enrolled in a judo class. It was a contact sport, and Rose found he could compete with sighted people on equal terms.
"Three or four months later, the teasing stopped. It was not because I was throwing the bullies around. It was because I had the confidence to speak my mind and to stand up to people properly. From that day, judo has been a central part of my life."
Rose was grateful for the support of his work colleagues as he trained for Athens. He teamed up with two colleagues, visiting the gym every morning before work. "They supported me by being at the gym to push me. They basically gave me another reason to get up early in the morning."
After work there was more training and judo practice, and competitions at the weekend. But putting on the extra weight was tough. Rose was eating four meals a day of pasta, steaks, chicken, and vegetables. "There is a big difference between putting on 2kg of fat every month and putting on 2kg of muscle," he said.
The training took its toll. After three months, Rose realised he could not stick to such a demanding schedule and continue to perform well at work. "At this point I was completely shattered. I could not do my work. I had to go into an office and sleep at lunchtime. I was going up to Manchester every weekend to train with the team. There was no rest. I had no time for my family. Something had to change."
Edify's managers were happy to let Rose take a part-time role, working two and a half days a week, while he completed his Olympic training. "This was a huge weight off my mind. The emotional support I needed came through my work colleagues and my family. They allowed me to see my family a lot more."
By the time the Olympics came in 2004, Rose felt more prepared than he had ever been. His weight-gaining diet had paid off, and he weighed in at 102kg, just 2kg over the weight he needed to compete.
"In the first fight, I fought a Malaysian. The guy was 120kg. But the preparation I did meant that I was able to pick this guy up and throw him. At that point, I was rolling."
By the time the final came, Rose had to concentrate to keep his nerves in check. No one could have done more preparation, he told himself. "This is what you have been training for," he thought. "This is your chance."
Rose stood on the mat, unable to see his opponent. "All of a sudden there was a big shadow in front of my eyes. This guy was 120kg, but there was not an ounce of fat on him. He was like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a judo suit.
"We started fighting and suddenly I hit a brick wall. I spent three minutes trying to stand on my feet. He was turning me round and around like a rag doll. I had made myself one chance to beat the guy. I was close to becoming the Paralympic champion, but he threw me flat on my back at 3 minutes 30. He was just too big and too strong."
Back in the UK, buoyed by his silver medal and a grant from the English Institute of Sport, and with Edify's blessing, Rose decided to train full-time. He has taken up motivational speaking to supplement his grant.
"I go into companies and I talk at board meetings and sales meetings, with a view to improving the organisation. The message is to set achievable goals, long-term and short-term, that will help keep your staff motivated.
"You have got to enjoy what you are doing," he tells people. "Virtually everybody has something that makes them get up in the morning. You have to find out what that something is. I was lucky, I found my passion early."
Rose acknowledges that is if was not for the support of his current and past employers, his journey to the Olympics would have been much tougher. But he made sure he gave his them as much as they gave him.
"You get nothing for nothing. IT is a competitive industry. You have to be seen to be giving 100%. If you are giving 100%, and they can see that you are doing your best, employers will help you out. It is when you start slacking that there is a problem."
The pay-off of an athlete on the payroll
Tips for employers
- This is a golden opportunity for positive publicity for the company. The marketing department should work with athletes to maximise it
- A happy worker is a good worker. Recognise that everyone has activities outside work that are important to them
- Be flexible. If you have agreed to support their goals, you will have to let staff leave early when they need to go to competitions. Consider flexible or part-time working
- An athlete who wants to do well in their sport will have the same positive attitude to work. This is likely to rub off on other staff and improve morale.
Tips for employees
- You get nothing for nothing - give your employer 100% if you want their backing
- International competition teaches skills that can be transferred to work, such as how to set achievable goals, the importance of preparation and how to control your nerves
- Make sure your career dreams are achievable. If you set a goal that is unrealistic, you will never fulfill it
- Always be completely open and honest with your employer. Nine times out of 10 they will be flexible if you are giving them 100% l Most employers will help rather than hinder you in your activities.
Source: Ian Rose