Mark Dry: Overcoming major surgery to be a double Commonwealth medal winner

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Mark Dry. Photo: Bobby Gavin / Scottish Athletics.

When Mark Dry stood on the Hampden Park medal podium and let out a Braveheart-like roar, he created one of the defining images of the track programme at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Four years later, on the other side of the world, he repeated his bronze-medal winning feat in the most unlikely of circumstances as he once again stood on the podium in Carrara’s Metricon Stadium after placing third in the men’s hammer behind England’s Nick Miller and home favourite Matty Denny.

When the Scottish team was announced back in December 2017, Mark didn’t even know if he would be physically able to compete at the Gold Coast. A long battle with hip injuries meant that the Scottish athlete had barely strung together more than a couple of months of training in the preceding 12 months. “I had to be confident in myself that I would make it to the Gold Coast, but realistically I was under no illusion that there was a real risk that I might not make it”, said Dry.

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The immediate lead up to the Games was far from ideal preparation for Mark. 10 weeks before he was due to compete, he suffered a subluxation (partial dislocation) of his elbow. “When I was prepping for going out to the Games, I was training with one working arm and one working leg. I could only do very limited running, and a small amount of jumping, so my conditioning wasn’t good; it didn’t leave me in good shape. The closer we got to the Games, the more of a struggle it became” he said, looking back on his run-in to the competition.

Some athletes may have called it a day at that point, and decided that they weren’t going to fly thousands of miles to compete when they were spending some days struggling to walk properly. But Mark Dry is made of strong stuff. “I was ranked about 15th going in to the Commonwealth Games, but I really, really wanted a medal. In my own head, I thought that aiming any higher than bronze would be stupid. I was never going to be able to compete with Nick (Miller), but really I knew in my own head that any medal would be a miracle”.

But then, on Sunday 8th April, that miracle happened. By round 4 of the men’s hammer final, England’s Nick Miller had thrown a Games record; the gold medal was all but round his neck. Dry found himself in an unexpected battle for a bronze medal, with him, Canada’s Adam Keenan and England’s Taylor Campbell taking it in turns to swap between 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

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“I’d set myself up with a solid opening throw of 69m, but as the final went on my confidence was growing and growing”, Mark explains. “I was watching all these guys around me making the same mistakes as I had done in other major comps. Every round my belief increased. It was the most amazing thing to be a part of”.

Then in round 6, Mark decided to take a risk. “I knew it was going to be all or nothing. I’d decided that I was going to go so hard that I would probably bail out or put the hammer in to the cage. I told myself that if that happened, and it wasn’t enough, then I’d fought harder than I thought was possible that day. Mentally I knew it had it in me, but at that point I didn’t feel like I had any more in the tank physically.”

Mark’s risk paid off. Within seconds of him releasing the hammer, he let out a familiar roar which suggested that he knew what was about to happen. Sure enough, a 73.12 SB followed – his biggest throw since 2016 and an effort deserving of a bronze medal. Mark had accomplished his 2018 Commonwealth Games dream; a dream which just days beforehand had seemed almost impossible to achieve.

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Did the unexpected Commonwealth success give Mark the confidence boost he needs to look towards further major championships? Unfortunately, it isn’t going to be an easy ride. “I need more surgery, and if it isn’t sorted out quickly, the Doha World Championships in 2019 will be a write off. The Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo will be the next opportunity after that, but I need to be able to throw well during the qualifying period to reach the new qualification levels”.

With a typically Scottish steely determination, it’s easy to see that Dry isn’t going to let his injury worries get the better of him just yet, but he has spoken openly in recent media interviews about the problems he faces just to continue in the sport. “I need a completely new hip”, he admitted to the BBC recently.

Right now, there is a debate about who should pay for this surgery; Mark lost his place on the British Athletics funding programme. “Sport Scotland and Scottish Athletics are trying to sort it all out with the surgeon. There are just some hiccups with paperwork for the hip with the company who are providing it. Everyone is trying to help get this squared away but I’m running out of time extremely quickly”.

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Mark’s lack of funding means that he is having to continue to work around his injuries, meaning that he will have to work when he should be recovering from future surgery, just like he had to in the past. “I have so much to give, and I’m trying to give it, but without the proper time to recover it just feels like I could be wasting my future dreams”.

The future looks sadly uncertain for the Scottish record holder. What will happen in terms of Mark’s surgery and recovery remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure; whatever his future athletics career holds, his bronze medal from the Gold Coast will remain proof that he overcame literally everything that was thrown at him. And that, surely, is a memory to last a lifetime.