089. Adapt, Master & Prove Your Success with James Roberts

The Do a Day Podcast from Bryan Falchuk

James Roberts was born with a congenital disability called femoral dysplasia and a floating hip of the left leg as well as scoliosis of the spine. He grew up on a NATO base in S.H.A.P.E. (Casteau), Belgium but now resides in Prestatyn, North Wales. He is an online training and nutrition coach by trade, but was an elite Paralympic athlete for just over a decade. James has been lucky enough over those years to have represented Great Britain at countless World Championships and two Paralympics Games (Beijing 2008 and London 2012) to just name a few achievements as a professional athlete.

He started out my sporting career in swimming and was part of British Swimming’s Potential Squad from 2003-05. During that time, James held the SB8 200m breaststroke and 50m breaststroke national records.

After being dropped from the GB swimming program, James moved on to rowing in 2006. The transition happened fairly quickly as he made his first senior international competition that summer at the 2006 World Championships in Dorney Lake, Great Britain and made the final, finishing 6th. He was a 2007 World Championships Semi-Finalist, 2008 Paralympic Finalist (5th) and 2009 World Championships Finalist (5th).

James made yet another transition in his sporting career, this time to sitting volleyball. From 2010 until 2012, he amassed 56 caps for Great Britain. My first international was a surprise selection to compete at the 2010 World Championships in Edmund, Oklahoma in the US. He was lucky enough to have competed for Great Britain at the only European Championships in his career as well as a Continental and Intercontinental Cup. His volleyball career calumniated at the London 2012 Paralympics were the GB sitting volleyball squad lost in the quarter-final to the eventual silver medallist, Iran.

James came on the show to talk about his journey, and the lessons it taught him about how we can adapt and succeed regardless of what’s thrown at us.

Key Points from the Episode with James Roberts:

  • James is an amputee who helps fellow amputees control their health and wellness, with a particular focus on weight loss given the unique situation amputees face that others may not.
  • He’s spent a lot of time looking at different diets and how they interplay with lifestyle, and has instead focused his approach on creating consistent, sustainable lifestyles through re-education and coaching.
  • Restrictive diets only work while you’re restricting, but when you take something away, you lose something, and when you come back into your life post-restriction, you find out just what you’ve lost (and it isn’t weight).
  • As we got into James’ background, we talked about limiting beliefs.
  • He talked about people he works with who talk about knowing their limitations, which he is not sure we all know that about ourselves.
  • The perspective and openness we have is where the limits truly are. If we believe our limit is X, then that’s what it is.
  • James has learned first hand that we don’t always get that right.
  • James is not technically an amputee, but rather has something called Femoral Dysplasia, which means he is missing his femur, has a small fibula and tibia (the lower-leg bones), which is attached to his hip.
  • James was raised in a family with very old school beliefs around what’s expected of each individual – you need to fend for yourself and achieve by your own hand.
  • As a result, James always looked at problems he’s faced as something he needs to find a solution for.
  • As a young boy, he would stand on the side of the playground, and you could see his mind working on how he could adapt how he plays so he can join the other kids despite his disability.
  • It was very rare for James to have a thought of, “I can’t do that.” He felt it as a teen sometimes, but sees that as a typical teen mental state rather than being tied to some specific limitation he felt.
  • The place where that was strongest was in the moments he found himself trying to please other people, or live up to their expectations.
  • In sports, he felt free to perform, while outside of sports, he sometimes found himself in social situation where he found himself caring about what someone else might think.
  • Sports for James has been a wide-ranging list of activities for James, including those he’s played at the Paralympic level for the Great Brittain team.
  • In the past 12-18 months, James actually started to face some mental health struggles that he opened up about.
  • It’s a theme you’re starting to see coming out more and more with celebrities, entertainers and professional athletes.
  • For James, he thinks part of this comes from the need to wear a mask and control who you are to the audience, which can be difficult as we think about who we are and how we relate to ourself.
  • The mental health struggles were easy to play off early on as just being what happens – the stress you have at work, getting older, etc.
  • And dealing with it is something many of us play off, as well. “I’ll deal with it when I get through X.” “I’ll face it when I retire.” That doesn’t ultimately work for us.
  • He realized he should have faced it and dealt with it sooner, which seemed at odds with his role of having a strong, brave face all the time, which only made it harder to live with.
  • It finally got to a place where he recognized that he had a problem, he needn’t feel like there’s a stigma about it for him personally, and it can be ‘normal’ to need to get help.
  • Going toward the light rather than the darkness should never be seen as weak.
  • For James being in the Paralympics, that was such a big goal and focus that coming out of it left him somewhat empty, so he understands where he got to mentally in the wake of that.
  • Motivational speakers often share messages about how you have to endure the grind, but for the majority of people, this is setting you up to fail if you are getting into it for someone’s else’s expectations.
  • In sports, James remembers why most kids get into it – because they love the sport.
  • If it transitions into being something you don’t enjoy, then you should hang your cleats up, so to speak.
  • That lesson applies to really anything we do in life, not just sports. Why did you get into it? Is that still the reason why you do it now?
  • The place we’re in today with the desire for instant gratification is costing us. If we can get back into a place of being willing to do the work and wait for the reward, we’ll be better for it.
  • Life is chaotic and will test us. It’s up to us to be ever-present, adapt and change.
  • If we don’t adapt, it won’t get easier – the game will beat us.
  • Looking for a quick fix is like using a cheat code in gaming. You may “win”, but you’re not beating it, you’re cheating it.


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