By Owen Morgan
When you’re an international 400m hurdler, the obstacles you face aren’t always of the two-foot-six inch variety.
During a career plagued by serious injuries, Caryl Granville has been accustomed to overcoming adversity.
But the Swansea Harrier is now facing possibly the biggest hurdle of not only her athletics career, but her life.
The 30-year-old was hit by a bolt from the blue earlier this month when she was diagnosed as having several deep vein thrombosis (DVTs) in her leg.
The condition, which sees clots forming in veins, can be potentially life threatening if the clots break free and travel through bloodstream and become lodged in the blood vessels of the lung.
Speaking exclusively to Dai Sport, Granville said: “I don’t know how close it was to being way worse.
“The main risk of it is a pulmonary embolism and that’s why I was so worried. That could have been catastrophic. It could have been awful.”
Granville, who has worked for many years as a cardiac physiologist, first suspected there was something wrong when she felt a pain behind her knee while suffering from a fever and bout of diarrhoea and vomiting.
“After the first night of D and V, I remember waking up and having pain in my knee and my adductor, but my mind was elsewhere because I was quite ill, so I didn’t think much of it,” says Granville.
“By the Sunday I was feeling a bit better and was concentrating on my leg and thinking ‘I haven’t done anything, why does it hurt’?
“On Sunday evening we went for a short walk, no more than around 800m and my calf just swelled up so big, so immediately, I was ‘oh, no, I’ve got a DVT’.
The problem was initially diagnosed as being muscular by an out of hours GP, but Granville wasn’t convinced especially as the symptoms started to develop over the next couple of days.
“On the Wednesday I noticed I had pitting oedema on my shin. When I pressed my thumb into my shin, my thumbprint just stayed in there.”
A virtual GP appointment, arranged through her employer, advised Granville to go straight to A and E where a blood test confirmed her fears.
“I was started on anti-coagulants on Wednesday and then on the Friday I had the ultrasound.
“The ultrasound tech said afterwards, ‘when you walked in, a young, athletic looking girl, I thought this is surely not going to be a DVT’. She was surprised when she found quite a few.
“I had some clots in my quad and also behind my knee and that’s where I am now.”
The Welsh Commonwealth Games athlete was immediately put on an initial three-week course of blood-thinning injections, which will potentially be followed by another six months of anti-coagulant injections.
It was then that the seriousness of the situation started to sink in for Granville.
“After the positive blood test came back and I had to go back to have another dose of Heparin put in, I was an emotional wreck.
“I cried just before going down because I couldn’t put my sock on and when the sister was giving me my medication I was just so emotional, I was crying about everything.
“I think the shock had hit me by then. This is not something you get over very quickly, it’s not just a normal athletics injury like the others I’ve had, even though those have been horrific. It’s a bit more serious. It’s a health issue.
“Thankfully now I’m on the blood thinners and the risk is a lot smaller. I need to keep my leg moving, doing calf exercises and stuff, but it’s also in the back of my mind ‘what if my clot moves’. So I don’t really know what to do at the moment for the best.”
Granville must now wait to find out what caused the DVT and what treatment she must undergo over the coming months.
“Dehydration is a risk factor for it but one episode of D and V shouldn’t have tipped me over the edge and end up with a catastrophic event like this,” says a puzzled Granville.
“They are doing a range of tests and once everything comes back, the consultant will give me a ring and we’ll have a chat to see what the plan is.
“At the moment we don’t have a clue and everyone keeps telling me I am the unluckiest person.”
At the start of this year, like many people in this most unpredictable of years, Granville had planned a very different 2020.
In January, she moved from the NHS to a new job doing 3-D mapping of the heart, which promised to give her more time to train and achieve her ambition of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
There was also another huge date in the diary for next month – her wedding day.
“I was also meant to get married in a month, but coronavirus cancelled that so it’s postponed for a year. I can’t imagine getting married in a month when I can’t even walk a couple of metres.
“It’s still painful, if I stand up and stand still I can’t do it for more than a few seconds, my calf is in agony straight away. I’m now able to bend my knee just past 90 degrees which I’m very proud of.
“I have got a horrific limp, I can’t really walk more than 10 or so metres before I have to sit down and put my leg up in the air. It’s a big change.”
It certainly is for a sprinter who represented Wales at the last Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018. Her current pain, which she describes as “excruciating” and immobility also raises the question of when she will be able to return to athletics.
“I was asking a lot of those questions when I saw a registrar on the Friday after the clots had been confirmed and she said I would have to ask the consultant,” says Granville.
“I think exercise is great for it but it’s whether hurdling while on blood thinners increases my risk. If I fall and bang my head then that could cause a lot of damage.
“I’m keen to get back running as soon as I can. Maybe if I don’t hurdle for the six months I’m on the blood thinners, just work on my running. As long as I don’t get any more clots. I’ll just have to make some adjustments.”
The timing of Granville’s latest setback is particularly frustrating as the athlete felt she was running into the form of her life.
Her career has been dogged by a catalogue of injuries including a foot injury which not only robbed her of a place at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games but also two years of training.
Jaw surgery in 2016 threatened to jeopardise a place at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but she managed to battle back in time to book her ticket for the trip Down Under. Yet more injuries dogged her in 2019.
But a new job and more time to train meant 2020 started in spectacular style, including winning the Welsh Indoor 60m hurdles title.
“In January I changed jobs. I left the NHS and went to work in industry. Before the Commonwealth Games I was doing on-call shifts, not being able to recover and things like that, so from that point of view my lifestyle changed.
“My weekends were my own, I was able to go to bed and have great recovery. During the indoor season I ran a PB in nearly every race, so that job change was great.
“When lockdown came, we were told to work from home, which meant I was able to train so well even though I wasn’t allowed on the track.
“I was doing all my sessions and I was getting my fiance to run with me. He was getting really quick! I was training so well.
“Then, the first few sessions on the track, before all this happened, I was running ridiculous times. Darrell (Maynard), my coach was so proud of me.
“I know it’s easy to say I was in great shape until this happened, but I was really excited to race. I was going to do the British Champs.
“In the last couple of year my mindset was that I didn’t really have confidence in myself. I always thought ‘you’ve had injuries and you haven’t done enough training for this’.
“But now my mindset was in a good place. I honestly felt so confident that I was going to be able to run a PB this year and I was waiting for the races to come along, but that’s going to happen now.”
As befits someone who specialises in one of the sport’s most gruelling disciplines, Granville is a tough cookie and the setbacks she has experienced has made her nothing if not resilient.
“When it’s happened to you so many times before, you get used to it, even though it’s heart breaking,” she says.
“There’s nothing I can do. I could sit here and cry and say that my life is ruined because I can’t race, but there are bigger things than running a PB.
“I can rehab as well as I can, I can put all the effort in but my leg is going to take as long as it’s going to take, so I just have to be patient and hope that my time will come at some point.”
Granville is determined that she will not just return to the sport she loves but also achieve her ambition of representing Wales at another Commonwealth Games.
“I am hopeful. This is huge and will take a long time to get over, but I think I have got enough time to get back before then,” says Granville.
She’s not writing off her Olympic hopes just yet either. “I really did want to try and do my best to get to Tokyo as well. I think there were six of us in the UK in the 400 hurdles who had a good chance of running in the low 55s this year and next year.
“I’m still optimistic that six months of this only takes me up to January. I’ve come back from horrific injuries in shorter periods of time and been able to run PBs.
“In the 2017 season, when I ran all those PBs, I’d had jaw surgery the year before, so I have done it before.
“The Olympics is probably not that realistic but then if I can get a good season next year, hopefully I can put my name in for the Commonwealth Games and hopefully run a PB, which I really want to do.”
Granville is however disappointed she won’t make the British Athletics Championships, which have been rescheduled to take place behind closed doors in Manchester on September 4 and 5, having been postponed due to coronavirus.
“When I was crying in the hospital the sister was saying ‘there’s no races on at the moment’. I just thought that with the British Championships in Manchester this year being very different, I had a really good opportunity of getting a medal there.
“It would justify all the hard work that I had put in during lockdown. Going out and training every day on your own, putting yourself in the position where you were being sick at the side of the road somewhere, I wanted something to justify going through all of that.”
Granville’s love of running shines through everything she has experienced. “I miss it,” she says wistfully.
“I’m hating seeing everyone posting that they can run and I would just love to be able to walk without any pain right now. A fortnight ago I was in a great place and it’s just so weird that this has happened.”
However, her positivity once again comes to the fore. “If I can just get back running and keep with this new positive mentality I have.
“The 400 hurdles is all mental, putting yourself through that pain for that period of time. I think I’ve finally got that right, so it’s just getting my body back healthy. My mind is great. If I could just get some races under my belt I would be good to go.”
One positive Granville is hoping to take from the whole episode is to raise awareness of the dangers of DVTs by giving the condition some publicity.
She has already posted a video detailing the events of the past few weeks on social media and plans more as she tackles her recovery.
“It shows It can happen to anyone, perhaps I can become and ambassador for DVTs,” she says wryly. “After my video post everyone was like ‘you’re the last person I’d think would have a DVT’.
“It is a serious event, it’s very, very painful which I wouldn’t ever wish anyone to have. Get yourself checked out as soon as you think you may have one. It’s not nice.
“I’m planning to do more videos of my journey back just for me to have something to look back on.
“If there are hard days when I still can’t do X, Y or Z, I can look back and think ‘ a fortnight ago I couldn’t even walk’. I’ll keep that as a bit of a motivation.”
Given Granville’s indomitable spirit, it’s likely the videos will serve as motivation and inspiration for a much wider audience.