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Rated: 13+ · Appendix · Biographical · #1957159
Tales of Chris and Fran – by Chris
Fran and Chris – the past, present and future

In many ways this document, setting out to articulate how I feel about the deepest love and heartbeat of my life, represents something of an impossible task. In a way I never thought possible before I met her, Fran has transformed my life in ways I dared not hope for, and taught me so many invaluable things. It is no small task then to set about to give an overview of how we got together, and the many things we have accomplished and experienced in three beautiful years together. This is a period of time that is a paradoxical one – both life defining, long and profound on the one hand, and yet so short on the other.

I think there are some things so deep and moving, so intrinsic to who you are and want to be that words can only really scratch the surface. Insufficient to capture the true depth of what it is you feel. I only hope the following remarks can begin to show what I feel for my best friend and ‘partner in crime.’

At the beginning

My dad always used to tell me that love would come along when I least expected it, when I wasn’t looking for it. How he had waited until quite late on to meet the love of his life in my mum. He always said how he met her and “just knew” she was “the one.” As much as I wanted to believe that, I had my doubts.

In many ways I owe the awful shackle that was my PhD to meeting Fran. Finding it difficult to meet anyone still being a full time student working towards the conclusion of an epically long and difficult process, I turned to internet dating. Luckily, I have always been a patient person in many ways, as I had some really awful and awkward dates. My previous experience had also seen me get myself into a right mess, moving out to the West Midlands in search of a love that was only ever really requited.

I had been in a very difficult place after that in lots of different ways, and had decided to take a break for a good few months to get my head together. Both best men in Tom and Ian will testify to the up and down nature of my love life and the tales of woe they had to endure with admirable patience. I had even acquired the nickname Bridget amongst some of my friends. I had also definitely decided that I didn’t want a long distance relationship. Not under any circumstances.

I was procrastinating about a particularly intense section of my PhD a few month later when I had decided to venture on to a new website. I was just going to take it easy this time. Nothing long term, just a bit of fun really. After clicking on a few profiles, I stumbled across one which interested me. However, this person was ages away, living in Cambridge and had the same disability as me. There was nothing wrong with that, but I was interested as to how that might play out, having done virtually everything I could to avoid anything to do with disability. It wasn’t for me really!

But..this girl was online…so lets see if she wanted to chat. I saw that she was sporty, which I liked, and noted that her chosen sport was swimming. A quick trip to google and I learned she was a Paralympic swimmer. That was quite cool I thought, and the things we had in common were building up. She also mentioned that she didn’t really talk on the phone due to her disability, which I immediately saw as a challenge! Speaking of challenges, it wasn’t very long until the banter between us began to fly, and somehow onto swimming. I thought this girl was a bit different, as the very next day, the 1st of October I was into the pool in Winsford for the first time in about 15 years. As well as our chats about getting to know each other, Fran received daily updates about my time increases. My respect for what she was able to achieve, using just her arms also grew immeasurably, as she was still over twice as quick as I was!

The first test, and the first meeting

Unfortunately for Fran, though we didn’t know it at the time, our first test wasn’t too far away. Having just won the world championships the previous summer, Fran was on a massive high. However, when the programme of events in swimming for London 2012 was published Fran’s event was not there. For inexplicable reasons (mainly as they made no sense and had no logical or evidential basis) they had taken it out. Fran was distraught, and her dreams of a gold in front of a home crowd were now in doubt. She had gone from being on top of the world to being on the floor in a few short days, and I really felt for her.

It was these circumstances that led to our first meeting. We had been talking each day for a couple of weeks and seemed to be really getting on. It was a bit of a daunting trip down south though for me, as we’d agreed to spend the whole weekend together. A long way to go if we didn’t hit it off. I was so nervous!! Luckily though, I eventually got over my nerves and we had a really nice weekend together, talking non stop and getting to know each other better. I was excited and really hoped that Fran felt the same. Though she was much better at playing it cool than I was, it transpired she did!

1 in ten – a bitter sweet first year

Things carried on for Fran and I as we grew closer together. As I was living at home and the phonecalls were getting longer, the questions from Mum, Dad and Rach were not far away! I was a bit cautious in revealing all (or so I thought!) but I did take a lot of heart from mum and dad saying they hadn’t heard me laugh so much as when I was on the phone to Fran. We started seeing each other more frequently until almost every weekend I was in Cambridge.

Fran was always immensely understanding and supportive, and we began to confide in each other. I was aware that things weren’t going to be easy for us given the geography, her swimming and my PhD but we also wanted to make it work. I also remember thinking that these circumstances were a good test to what we had started, but that if we were to come through, we were made of strong stuff.

A clear initial memory was Fran’s first visit to Cheshire to meet my family. As confident as Fran can be, she can also be very self conscious at times, and this was one of them. Such were her nerves at the prospect of meeting my folks for the first time, she wanted to run away back down the M6! I reassured her that all would be fine though, and sure enough it was!
I think the first time I knew that our relationship might be more serious was when Fran came up to Cheshire for our first Christmas together. By that point, Fran was far more confident with my family and we all were getting on really well. I’d also met Fran’s mum on a few occasions and really liked her too, so the signs were positive. We had a great week together, talked, laughed and kept getting closer. The more I got to know Fran, the more I liked her and the closer I felt to her. My initial wonder at dating someone who had the same disability as me was quickly replaced by a realisation that this gave us something in common: A shared outlook and a determination to make the most of life.

Fran had also began to domesticate me! The first time she came to see me, I had “cooked” her a meal of beans on toast, in the microwave! She later told me that she knew this was one of the things which I’d need to change if we were to get together longer term. Over the visits to her house, she gave me the freedom of the kitchen and I began to learn to cook, my confidence developing in the process. Fran was allowing me to be more comfortable in my own skin, something which has continued to date and is one of her many great gifts to me.

Another test came shortly after that first Christmas in the first submission of my PhD thesis, which was a real struggle for me. Up against a deadline and with no real confidence, Fran had the faith in me to coax and persuade me to battle on and get it in. Such was our closeness that I actually came to Cambridge to put the finishing touches to my work. I couldn’t have done that without Fran.

To add to the intensity of that first year, once my PhD was in, it was my turn to support Fran, who was finding life as an athlete increasingly hard. As well as still being shocked by the loss of her main event in London, a succession of niggly injuries made it hard for her to get any sort of established training under her belt. Originally I felt bad that my arrival in her life seemed to coincide with a dip in her form. However, as time went on, I began to feel that we had just come into each others lives at the right time. Without going to too much detail, very early on we knew that we could support each other through the toughest of times. Having survived stern tests early on, we felt our bond was strong.

Daring to be different:
Forging new horizons

I will never forget Fran telling me that if she did not win at least one gold at the European Championships she would retire. Her build up compromised by injury, it was touch and go whether she would even make it to Berlin. Like the true, gutsty and determined fighter she is though, Fran somehow found the strength from somewhere to carry on. Unfortunately for Fran, she didn’t get the golds she wanted, coming away instead with two bronze medals, which represented an outstanding achievement in the circumstances. Watching her, as she gave a wave to everyone after her final race and her long time friend and confident Dr Derek wheeled her out to receive the second bronze, I knew that Fran would retire.

Thankfully, we had been working really hard to put some good opportunities in place for Fran and she was growing in confidence. We had started to work together as client and agent to try and boost Fran’s profile, and with some success. It was now that Fran chose to look for new opportunities in her life beyond sport. She applied for a couple of positions and became an Athlete Mentor on a brilliant national programme and didn’t look back. Fran also gave me the confidence, freedom, support and belief to convince myself that I could develop my work as an agent with other clients. It meant so much to me that her love was so deep for me, and that all she ever wanted was to see us happy and enjoying what we did. Sure enough, with Fran backing me, I began to do some freelance work and built up my base of clients, rapidly becoming a leading sports agent for Paralympic clients.

This work was in a sense my salvation. After a soul destroying PhD which had battered my confidence, this work gave me a sense of energy, passion and drive I had been lacking in so long. I knew I was good at it too, and felt my efforts were being rewarded, which was another thing I had not experienced for a long time. There then followed a chaotic period as I finished my PhD corrections, built up the business and visited Fran. Looking back, I still don’t know how I managed to do it. At one point, I was getting up at 5am and going to bed at 10, splitting my day in two. During that time, I managed to write 100 000 words and finish my thesis whilst building up the business.

I submitted my PhD in June 2012 to allow me to concentrate on the build up to the Olympics and Paralympics. They were to be a very busy time for both Fran and myself. Fran was working for Paralympics GB and I preparing my demanding clients for London and what was to follow. Having started my new career, I was to face an acid test very early on, which I found both a daunting and enjoyable prospect. Even after the thesis was in, the hours were still long and my phone very rarely off! During the games themselves, I was very stressed, working 10 consecutive 18 hour days during the Paralympics.

I also felt for Fran who was finding it more difficult than she expected, and thinking of what might have been. There was little time, and I regret not being as supportive as I might have been. Thankfully though, this time taught me not to be so self centered and the value of a better work-life balance. After extensive research, we booked what turned out to be an amazing holiday to Cuba and finally got some time to relax, unwind and enjoy ourselves.

A bitter sweet Paralympic legacy

Cuba was exactly what Fran and I needed. To Fran’s surprise, she actually saw a new side to me as I truly relaxed for the first time in our company. The long, gorgeously hot days will full of ample self indulgence, plus all the food and drink you could ever wish for. Meeting new people, we found ourselves hazily making our way through the days, helped along by mojitos and long, lazy drinks by a vast swimming pool. We didn’t want to come home.

Again though, there was to come a test as our plans as a couple broadened. Having now effectively moved in with Fran, our thoughts were turning to longer term plans. Unfortunately, as we were both self employed, the prospects of us getting a mortgage in a challenging economic climate seemed remote. As Fran continued to prosper and develop in her job, it made sense for me to make the move to the world of contracted employment. It helped that I had lost some clients which forced my hand a little. I was getting increasingly worried about money, and finding working alone harder and harder. Now feeling better, the pendulum swung back for Fran to have to support me.

As time went on, it became increasingly that I was having struggles of my own. Fran was remarkably patient as she watched me struggle on for a few months at far below par. Then a succession of events, culminating in me leaving a job I had taken that was not suitable led to things changing around.

To be continued
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