Ian Saxelby won’t be a household name to many people. But his story is one that many sportsmen and women go through. The unfortunate athlete’s that have to finish their career early due to injury are quickly forgotten. Each sport has superb support system’s in place, in this case it was the Professional Cricketers Association, but it’s scary how quickly an individual’s career can literally end.
Ian played 40 First class cricket matches, 17 One day and 20 t20 matches. His highlight was representing England u19’s and like so many young athletes, had a bright future with goals and dreams which he set out to reach.
I asked him to talk to me about his decision to move from Nottinghamshire, a big club that play at a test ground, to join a smaller club in Gloucestershire?
“At the age of 16 I played both Rugby and Cricket to a very high standard, but I needed to make a decision and Cricket was my love, the one I wanted to go for. I needed a shoulder operation from a rugby injury then, so I had it done and off I went and focused my attention on cricket.
I was part of the Nottinghamshire set up and loved it there, but due to the size of the club I was well down the pecking order, there was at least 6/7 senior bowlers ahead of me. I had just played for England Under 19’s and felt that I needed to go and play 1st class cricket.
To represent England I believed there were steps I needed to take, I had to get in the selectors eye at the age of 20/21- I’m not saying that I expected to play for England at that age but that was the age to get into the system, I wasn’t going to be able to do that at Nottinghamshire. The best way to achieve that was to go to a club where I could get in and perform “
So was that a tough decision to leave ‘home’ then?
“Yeah it was, I was 18 and although i’d been away from my family for periods of times before, I was moving away from the place I knew. I was nervous but I knew I had to do it, I wasn’t going to play any cricket at that bigger county and that’s what I believed I had to do. I don’t regret it at all and i’m proud of the decision I made ”
What stood out to me was Ian’s ability to make tough decisions and set goals. Whether those were right or wrong, he was clear and committed to them.
As already mentioned you had a shoulder operation at 16, was injury something you were wary of, scared of even?
“Injury has always been part of sport when I was younger. That first operation I had was a rotator cuff repair, fairly serious but pretty straightforward. I clearly remember thinking i’ll just bounce back from this no problem. I had 2 really good years after that, I felt fit, strong and had become really confident.
It’s funny that I mentioned steps I wanted to achieve, I had done that by getting on an England performance group. I felt my decision to leave had paid off, I was so happy then getting out of a swimming pool in South Africa my shoulder popped out! With loads of treatment it recovered well, but then in popped out again in the preseason that followed, then again in a 2nd team match soon after that, so it had dislocated 3 times in 3 months! Obviously then I realised that I had a problem.”
So I assume that resulted in a major operation?
“Yeah! What really nailed me though, was that I was woken up in the hospital only to be told by the surgeon that I was in trouble. I had radial tears of cartilage, supraspinatus tear, a hill sachs lesion. To joe public my shoulder was absolutely screwed, so I was booked back in 3 weeks later and had it all fixed but I realised it was serious and that was when I thought it was a good idea to start looking at some other interest.
To go through that, only to be told it was worse than we thought, wow, that was pretty tough to take “
Where were you contract wise?
“That happened at the beginning of my second year of a three year contract. So I was lucky to an extent, I had a year completely out of the game which was a shock, I wasn’t ready to miss that amount of cricket but I had the safety of that extra year. If I hadn’t then I could have been out of the game, with nothing, literally nothing. That’s when I started a maths degree and got fully fit in time for my final year where I took 50 first class wickets!
It’s funny, I remember setting new goals straight away again. Have another good year then I can get back to that performance group I recall thinking.
I did just that, we had a successful one day campaign and I had some of the best stats in the country. I felt I was close to where it all went wrong 3 years before.”
To get back from a career threatening injury at that age showed a huge amount of hunger and determination. Listening to Ian you would think it would have been easy to give up but he didn’t want too, he wanted to keep driving towards his goal, his ultimate goal of playing cricket for England.
So when did it all finish Ian, what happened?
“Well the very last game of that season I had a knee problem believe it or not!! It passed pretty quickly but then, the final straw for me at that time I started having shoulder problems again- I ripped my bicep away from my shoulder!
Speaking about it now its almost laughable, all these injuries! I had earned another 2 year contract from my performances which was great considering where I had been, but I missed another whole year and I was back to square 1. I started to drink a fair bit, not a problem but it helped ease the pain of being injured.
Then somehow I got back to full fitness again, so I thought. I was in the final year of my contract, I managed one full game where I got a wicket then we played Surrey a few days later, as I ran in to bowl my second ball my knee ‘went’ again. I had torn the cartilage off, delaminated it. As I sat in the surgeon’s suite he told me that his recommendation was to stop playing. And that was it.”
It was hard listening to it, although now Ian was very matter of fact, the thought of coming back again must have been so challenging.These weren’t minor injuries, we’re talking major operations. To come back not once but twice shows immense courage, but again? Surely it had had to stop somewhere?
“ What people won’t know is that after I walked off the Oval I sat in the toilet for an hour, I knew that it was over, I was gutted. I was in the last year of my contract, I could tell it was serious and that rehab would be another year or so, no club would take me as an injured player. There would have been no money coming in, I had to accept It was over “
It’s right there that it slaps you in the face. Unfortunately, Ian was injury prone and it was likely that his career was going to finish sooner rather than later, but I couldn’t help thinking after all the effort he put in to come back, again, that the game owed him something. Thats the reality of professional sport.
So it sounds to me as if you had made the most of the time that the injuries had created? Is that right?
” After my second operation I realised that there was a good chance this won’t last forever. In fact it would have been naive to think I could get through 10 years, 7/8 maybe. So I started a maths degree through the open University, worked in the marketing department at the club, did a few day’s here and there with some sponsors and local business’s.
I guess I just got the wheels in motion, I wanted to see what the real world was all about. It’s strange that being injured actually provided the opportunity, in a round about way, to develop the skill base that I already had. I’m not sure how much of that would have happened if I wasn’t injured so much.”
Could you be more precise about the skills that you think you developed through sport that you were able to transfer to your new job?
” There is no doubt that what I learnt back then I use daily now- the relationship management, leadership, working in a team, being personable and the discipline. I have been in this job for a year, when I started I didn’t know a thing about insurance, but I’m in the business development team of Lockton Insurance and things are going really well, it’s been the steepest learning curve I could have imagined, but I felt ready because of what my sporting background had given me, without a doubt “
What pleases me is that Ian still has the opportunity to use the skills and characteristics he developed through playing sport professionally. He couldn’t apply them to cricket as much as he wanted, but like many Sportsmen and Women, he had so much to offer and although the industry is a million miles away from sport, he has been able to transfer those skills and put them into practice.
In my opinion the key message here is that he recognised what he had to offer but more importantly, his new employer, Lockton, saw it and has taken full advantage.