James Threlfall: On Failure
Pro Skater and TV presenter, James Threlfall MBE, lets us in on his experience with injury and complacency, where it took him, and what he learned from it
words by Will HALBERT & James THRELFALL
In a social climate that practically forces us to present ourselves as high flying and perpetually motivated, it pays to be honest and open about our failures and how they affect us. It’s important to understand that failure doesn’t define us, but that it’s often a necessary part of a longer process, and almost always a learning experience. James Threlfall talks us through the psychological effects of injury and the importance of making the downtime work for you. EJ
I often joke that skateboarding is both the best and worst thing in my life. I have an undying love for that plank of wood, but my God have I taken a beating over the years. I consider myself a non-violent person; I’ve certainly never been in a fight. Yet skateboarding dishes me out so many cuts and bruises that I regularly wake up feeling like I’ve been in a boxing ring twelve hours previous. It’s great.
The worst beating came a week after one of my then-biggest feats. Any athlete will tell you that they set their sights on milestones – micro-goals that they intend to tick off at some point on their journey in the pursuit of ‘making it’. In 2013, for me that was melon three-sixties; a trick that involves using your front hand to grab the heel edge of your board as you spin three-hundred-and-sixty degrees leading with your toe edge. Make sense? Cool.
Six years ago at the age of twenty, I finally landed my first one over a gap. It was a trick I’d hoped I’d get much earlier, but nonetheless – micro-goal achieved. Then I got another, and another. Consistency increased, comfort (or with hindsight, complacency) set in. Then came the single attempt that I under-rotated. My back foot slipped off the board, and boom: Leg snap. My tibia, fibula and ankle blew into multiple pieces, to be precise.
In those moments, you know you’re beyond committed because whilst the first thing you think is ‘sh*t, I just broke my leg’, the second – and I promise this is entirely involuntary – is ‘damn, how long will I be unable to skate for?’
‘Consistency increased, comfort (or with hindsight, complacency) set in. Then came the single attempt that I under-rotated. My back foot slipped off the board, and boom: Leg snap. My tibia, fibula and ankle blew into multiple pieces, to be precise.’
Messages of support were aplenty, but one from legendary British skateboarder, Dave Allen, stood out in particular: ‘Rehab as soon as you can, and trust me – lay off the unhealthy foods.’ I had every intention, honestly I did. But when you’re five hours deep into a GTA session on that day alone, ‘what can I put on potato waffles today then?’ starts creeping into mind. ‘Bacon and eggs’ became a staple answer. I did precisely what Dave instructed me not to do and got fat. But to be fair, I also did what Dave suggested and rehabbed hard with resistance bands, stepping back on a skateboard four months after trying to spin my foot off. Cue potato waffle hiatus.
Nonetheless, as a distant memory I see now that four months on the sofa showed me that sometimes you get so caught up in the momentum of day-to-day life to the extent of being detrimental to your progression; be that skating or otherwise. During the injury I was forced to stop. In those four months, I assessed who I wanted to be and devised a plan of how to get there. New micro-goals were set for both on and off my board, with newfound ambition and drive to boot.
In 2019 I now have a television and radio presenting string to my bow that sees me busier than ever, and ironically, it’s in part owed to the time that I had four months to do nothing but lie down and think. Nowadays, I try to remind myself to do that more often. Just maybe not for quite as long.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an experience that I want to go through again – but if there’s one thing that failure has taught me time and time again, it’s that times of hardship allow you to take a look inwards, and are ultimately necessary to grow. JT