The Commonwealth Games was full of celebration, victory and history-making. Endless avenues for inspiration were on full display. For some of us the inspiration to get active, others to pick up a new sport, maybe some people were inspired to push their limits, fulfil their potential – be that in a sporting sphere or not.
For Crystelle Lake the Commonwealth Games provided inspiration in a way that not many will experience. The inspiration to be there next time. These Commonwealth Games were what could have been. Crystelle suffered an injury to her ankle in the months leading up to July 2022 that meant her dreams of becoming a Commonwealth Game athlete would have to be put on hold. Having reached the necessary heights at the start of the year to qualify for the Games, she had that opportunity stripped away from her when an ongoing ankle injury, that would subsequently require surgery, left her season prematurely shattered.
When I sat down with her, there was a maturity and acceptance towards the situation that was admirable. Crystelle told me: “a big thing for me is that I believe that everything happens for a reason”. You could tell that this attitude has left her gaze now pointing forward to what could be, not what could have been.
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy, Crystelle admitted: “at times it’s been hard to watch [the Commonwealth Games],
“but she was quick to praise those competing in Birmingham, ‘but some of my teammates are competing and I’ve loved cheering them on, it’s been unbelievable to watch – I’m over the moon for them”.
You could see her pride and delight for Scottish gymnastics as she discussed Shannon Archer who wrote herself in the history books by becoming the first women’s artistic gymnast to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games for Scotland by claiming vault bronze. There was also a silver medal to follow from Louise Christie securing Scotland’s best ever result in rhythmic gymnastics.
The road to recovery has begun for Crystelle though, after professionals had assured her her ankle was only sprained, giving her hope she might have been able to compete in the games with just one piece, her and her family persisted for her injury to be examined more closely. They were right to fight for it to be taken seriously, as subsequent explorations and MRI’s led to a conclusion that surgery was necessary as a joint injury was uncovered. There was a relief both mentally and physically for Crystelle as she was finally given some answers on her injury. She said: “now that it’s fixed, I feel much so much better, both physically and mentally, I can now rehab knowing I’m doing it properly and I’m not rehabbing on an injury anymore, its making progress every single day which is the main thing”.
Sometimes injury gives you a new perspective, a new approach to the sport you’ve done day in and day out since you were a kid. I could see this in Crystelle when she told me: “it’s been really nice just getting back into it, even simple things like swinging on the bars, I hadn’t done in so long, so it was just great to get back out there. It’s 100% just allowed me to appreciate the little things to the full again.”
She joked: “the first day I was back on the bars, my shoulders were so sore the next day, it was so weird, I am not used to being achey – I’m used to just having pain in my foot! But it was a nice pain, the right kind of pain!”
The disappointment of missing Brimingham 2022 has left Crystelle with a glint in her eye, a fire in her belly. I wonder if it will give her an extra edge as she trains to be back at her best and ready for the 2026 Commonwealth Games in Australia.
I ask her about her goals going forward and it’s clear that representing Scotland at the Commonwealth Games is where her eyes are focussed: “definitely Australia 2026 will be one of my main goals”, and you can see she is committed to putting in the work to get there. She follows up quickly: “but I want to just get back to full fitness again, I’m hoping if I just take the rest of the year out, I’ll hopefully be back for the Scottish Championships, even if I’m just doing a couple of pieces, it’ll just be really nice to compete again. And the British Championship – I’d love to medal there and make some more finals”.
Her injury was a timely moment to begin her time as an athlete with the Institute for Sport. They provided a turbo-boost to her rehab and recovery. Crystelle shared: “we have literally gone from me and my mum doing everything to having a whole team of support, they’ve been amazing, the S&C and rehab has moved to a different level”.
She’s excited by the difference she’s noticed, even within just 6 weeks post injury, and it has given her a real positive mentality towards her recover. But she was candid that her injury required a massive lesson in patience. When I asked her how she would encourage others going through similar injuries she said: “you have to believe your time will come, you have to have a strong belief system. When I was younger I struggled to believe in myself, and that can really effect your performance – I can see that in comparison to how I am now. And you’ve got to have a strong support system and a positive mindset”.
In driving you always get told to keep your eyes fixed on the direction that you are wanting to travel, get distracted by parked cars or passers-by and you will find the wheel subconsciously moving in that direction. Crystelle has tunnel vision for returning for a successful season next year and for successful qualification for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. I have a feeling with a focus like that, she might just get there.