David Phelps won his first Commonwealth Games medal aged 29 at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in the Men’s prone rifle pairs event. But that wasn’t enough, and just a few days later in the individual men’s prone event he won gold! 12 years on, he has just added another gold medal to his collection, at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
However, as David explains, the 12 years in-between wasn’t an easy ride to stay at the top of his game. Often leading to thoughts of giving up, wondering he should invest so much of his life to sport as his journey had been fraught with injury.
After Melbourne, David met his now-wife, Sheree from Podium Therapies Sports Massage in Cardiff. Although at the time, she lived in London, she competed in the sport of rifle shooting and often spent many training camps abroad with David, competing for Team GB and their home countries. In the lead up to the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, David started to notice an injury with his right elbow joint. As well as being an athlete at Sport Wales and having physio and sport science support, David was working at a supermarket to add to his athlete income. Working on the tills certainly doesn’t sound like a sporting injury but David found himself suffering from repetitive strain injury to his right elbow joint which impacted his sporting career. For most people, some time off, physio and acupuncture would help heal such an injury. But as an athlete traveling across the world, dragging kit bags and rifle boxes, strain started to show in Phelps’ scores, both in training and competitions.
Physios at both Spire Hospital and Sport Wales stepped in fast, analysing the situation. With the Games approaching fast, treatments were not working: Physio and sports massage were tried first, then acupuncture and dry needling was trialled with no improvement, and autologous blood injections didn’t help either. If the Commonwealth Games were not on the cards, an operation would have been the next step, but as in most sports, the passion and love for the sport comes before the needs of the body: David was determined to compete.
Steroid injections were used to dull the pain and David left for India to compete in his 3rd Commonwealth Games. Due to the injury, David could only undertake limited training and had to modify the position he shot in. Consequently, he was left adrift from the final and far from the medals he had produced in Melbourne. Returning home, David was swiftly admitted to the Spire day surgery in Pentwyn.
“The service was impeccable. From checking in, to waking up and being asked what I wanted for lunch, Spire surpassed my expectations by far. The surgeons came around and explained they had found more damage to my elbow than first thought. More of the tendon and ligaments had been worn away, damaged and were unrepairable. They had done what they could, but an intensive course of physio and sports massage from my then-fiancée Sheree, would be needed.”
6 months of recovery, watched over by both Spire, Sport Wales and Podium Therapies left David preparing for the ongoing season of shooting competitions. Losing is something that every athlete has to learn, but not one that you take lightly. Phelps was straight back in the game, determined to make the Glasgow 2014 Games a resounding success. Not only this, but 3 weeks to the day after the Glasgow Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, he was getting married!
“The more and more we planned the wedding, it gave me time away from the range and let me mind rest away from the stress of competing, it was the perfect prep combination. Wedding and Commonwealth Games. Besides, even though Sheree was competing too, she did most of the planning and had it all in hand. I have always been a big lad,” as David explains, “So for the wedding I knew I wanted to look my best”.
A personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach and plenty of sports massages from Podium Therapies, David had lost a massive 7.5 stone! However, an underlying injury, previously masked by his weight, now started coming to light: a torn labarum in his right hip. “In the prone shooting position, you bring your right leg up at 90 degrees, suddenly not having a belly to lie on, cushioning the pelvis on the floor, meant my shooting position had changed. So much so that now with my hips touching the shooting mat, I wasn’t able to lift my leg without being in agony.”
Once again, Spire physios and Sport Wales physios had to decide whether before or after the Games was going to be an option for investigations, treatments or at worse going under the knife again. After the Games was the only option. Weight loss, change of position and ongoing hip pain, lead to a better score in Glasgow, but one that wasn’t enough to make the final.
Spire, this time in Cardiff Bay, welcomed David for surgery which lead to an overnight stay for his labral tear operation. “Despite being day surgery, I was standing that afternoon! I stayed overnight for pain management and was a bit cautious of moving around at home on crutches. Recovery was jointly between Physios at Spire with full communication with Sport Wales. I was mobile within a few weeks, but unable to drive or even think of externally rotating my leg out to attempt the shooting position.”
“His recovery and determination of two major injuries in Dave’s sporting career, lead him to become a different athlete. He didn’t have an easy sporting career. Heck, what athlete does? But these injuries changed Dave”, his wife, Sheree, explains. “He seemed to be even more determined to compete at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. He became more ‘selfish’, single minded and more focused than ever before. I didn’t see the lead up to Melbourne’s Gold medal as I didn’t know David back then, but after seeing Delhi and Glasgow’s lead up, Gold Coast was far more focused and precise. He wanted this more than anything else!”.
Knowing he would retire to married life and coaching after the Gold Coast Games and the fact that the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games was not to include the sport of shooting, this was Phelps’ last shot at gold!
On the morning of 10th April 2018, David got into his shooting position, although adapted over the years, no aches or pains were present. Placing 7th, Phelps made it into the final where after each shot, ever increasing his lead, he fired his last international shot to claim Gold.
David Phelps, double Commonwealth Champion across 12 years of ups and downs, brought another Gold back from down under.
“Spire was recommended by Sport Wales performance and the choice for all stages of treatments, operations and recovery. The efficiency of Spire and the friendly staff and surgeons that helped throughout the whole process was impeccable. From making appointments, to help with MRIs and X-ray’s, the surgery itself and the recovery path after was amazing. I may now be retired but any of the athletes I coach will be recommended to Spire should they ever be in the situations I’ve been in.
To Spire and their services, thank you. Without your input, Gold would never have been a plausible goal!”
To find out more about Podium Therapies and Sheree’s work, visit their website here; to find out more about Spire Cardiff Hospital, visit their website here; and to find out more about Sport Wales, visit their website here. Follow David on Twitter here.