Richard Luddington's life on the slopes gets perfect therapy
From racing skeleton to working with them
Finding a chosen career path is difficult for so many youngsters the world over and when you throw in the prospect of professional sport, it becomes even harder.
It is a target that ultimately ends up being unachievable for the many, and for the few that get the chance to chase their dreams, the challenge just gets tougher.
So in one of the flattest regions of the country, it is difficult to imagine that the sports centre at Hills Road Sixth Form College would be the catalyst for an opportunity in a winter discipline where a mountain is usually a prerequisite.
But that is exactly what happened to Richard Luddington, and it was also the beginning of skeletons becoming the central part of his life.
It is almost like a Dick Whittington story of the modern age; a young lad heading off for a new adventure that would lead to trips across Europe in an environment so alien to the one in which he grew up.
And then returning with that wealth of knowledge and experience to pass on his advice and insight from the modest setting of a venue hidden away at the back of Cambridge United’s South Stand.
Swavesey-based Luddington was studying at Hills Road when a talent identification day was organised with the British Bob Skeleton Association by teacher Matt Walker, who is now Cambridge United’s head of performance.
“In that year, I was the quickest they had selected,” said Luddington.
“I think they went to lots of athletics tracks and ours was on a hard surface.
“They weren’t sure quite how it compared so they invited us down to Bath, to the push track.
“I did quite well in Bath. I turned up in my badminton shoes and England football shirt and everyone was in spikes and lycra – I misjudged it a little bit as I had never done athletics before.
“It was 20 and 30-metre sprints, and from that I was being pushed down a mountain.”
As a result of his success, Luddington was selected for the Great Britain squad and he combined it with his studies at London Metropolitan University.
He would take up to three weeks off each winter to compete around Europe on the Europa Cup circuit, while spending every other weekend in practice on the push track in Bath.
But his other sporting interests of football and badminton had to take a back seat as balance was needed and Luddington had been right-side dominant in his application of sport.
“When I started doing skeleton, they wanted us to ease off those sports and focus more so I was more symmetrical,” said Luddington, “even from a learning point of view, for what we’re doing now it was brilliant.
“The screening that we had each year, the strength and conditioning that we had and just the movement patterns were a very good learning curve.”
Luddington had always had an interest in either physiotherapy or sports therapy, and being in the skeleton environment, he decided to head down the sports therapy route.
“As I saw people working in that setting and had a few injuries myself from doing skeleton, it was confirmed to me that that’s what role they can play, and that’s what I wanted to follow,” he said.
But five years ago, injury brought an end to his bobskeleton career.
After six years competing, a crash left him with a couple of broken ribs and one displaced one.
“The problem with skeleton is being able to run 20m and lay down doesn’t really transfer to being very good at other sports,” he said. “Having focused on that, I put all my eggs in one basket.”
So in partnership with Megan Williams, they set up the Fit Again Sports Therapy Limited, a sports injury and rehabilitation clinic, in 2013, and after finishing competing, Luddington decided to do a master’s in sports and exercise medicine at the University of Nottingham.
It has helped Luddington work with a wide range of different sports, and people of differing ages and abilities.
He works closely with Cambridge United and has done stints with Chelsea, Millwall, England Ladies and the England Cricket Board, and on his master’s did a placement with the Royal Ballet.
“The range they move through is frightening,” he said. “I remember when we first walked into the Royal Ballet in Birmingham.
“When you see a football player and look at a hamstring stretch, they might get to 90 degrees, but ballet dancers are laying their next to their back and leaning forward.
“It just means that your strength work has to go with a much bigger range. For them to feel a stretch in anything, you have to stretch in a completely different way.
“it’s just completely different in some respects.
“You see common injuries in different sports, but depending on the demands of each sport depends on what you see most of.
“It’s quite seasonal in here as well, so in the summer you see a lot more upper limb injuries because people are playing cricket, golf and tennis, whereas in the winter there are a lot of knees and Achilles.
“Generally, the more elite someone is the more often we will see them and it probably becomes more about injury prevention rather than actually dealing with an injury – they’re at that level when they don’t want to get an injury.”
Having been someone at the top of their chosen sport, it does help Luddington relate to the athletes now in his care as he is able to understand the challenges and pressures that they are under.
And last year, he was able to help give something back to the sport that set him on his way.
“I managed to go out and do a bit of coaching last March for a group that were going out to have a go for the first time, and it was brilliant,” he said.
“It was nice to be back in that setting and see that environment again.”