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  • Writer's picturePaul Struthers

What's in a name?

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

December 15th 2021. I don’t remember much about that day except I’d had enough. I was exhausted – physically and mentally – and I’d been talking to my wife, Kate, and one or two trusted friends about resigning from my role as Chief Executive of the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA).

Kate obviously wasn’t particularly keen on the idea but I was completely convinced that it was the only way forward for both myself and the PJA. I guess seeing your loved one crouched down on the kitchen floor begging you to let them resign is a pretty effective way to convince you they really couldn’t carry on.

The PJA Board were incredibly understanding of the situation and that I was not in a good place, accepted my resignation and by the end of December I had left. I felt dreadful, not just mentally but also because I knew that I was leaving them in the lurch in the short term.

The plan at that stage was always to take a good few months completely off, and that’s what I did. January was awesome, completing a thorough handover to the PJA team but generally trying to recover. I’d spent 10 years at the PJA and had been, or at least had tried to be, completely dedicated to our members.

No holiday went uninterrupted, oftentimes with some quite major issue for one individual jockey or another. I was always on call and wanted to be - jockeys work their tails off, riding (if they can) seven days a week, afternoon and evening, pay a lot of money to be a member of the PJA and deserve someone to always be on the end of the phone. Post-Covid, the workload increased significantly and 50 to 60 hour weeks (not factoring in out of hours calls) became the norm. It was this build-up of pressure that had left me crying on the kitchen floor and what I needed to recover from.

Into February and despite a skiing holiday with the family to look forward to I began to feel really low. The absence Our CEO, Paul Struthers, speaks about the pressures

of constant emails, phone calls and of work in an interview with Nick Luck on Racing TV's

mini-crises to deal with, which had been Luck on Sunday in December 2022

so liberating in January, now left me feeling

lost. So much of my life had been given to

the role that my identity (to me at least) had

been defined by what I did and it was

almost like I had withdrawal

symptoms. It was probably the closest I’ll

ever come to feeling how sportspeople must

feel after they step away from their sport

either into retirement or their second careers.

Having been a vocal advocate for athletes’ mental welfare and open about issues I’d had before with my own mental health, I remembered an offer made to me when I left the PJA by Lisa Hancock, the Injured Jockeys Fund Chief Executive, to get in touch If I ever felt I would benefit from speaking to someone from Changing Minds, their mental welfare providers.

So that’s what I did. I booked an appointment with one of their clinical psychologists, Vicky Hill, for my return from holiday. That step alone was an initial weight lifted off me and we had a wonderful week’s skiing prior to my first appointment the following week.

Without going in to too much detail, at my first appointment I spoke about the circumstances of my departure from the PJA and also about my mum (I can’t quite remember how that came up). My mum had died of cancer when I was 12, something that I wasn’t expecting, however naïve that might have been. Back in the 1980s you were back at school the next day and just had to get on with it, almost as if it never happened.

I knew my mum’s death still affected me even if I couldn’t really understand why, and played a big role in shaping who I was and why I was the way I was. But other than seeing documentaries about men who’d lost their mum when they were young it was just something I’d learnt to live with.

Vicky told me that the likely ultimate cause of my current (and any previous) issues was the unprocessed memories of the trauma of losing my mum. These memories were effectively “stuck”, and at certain times of high stress they would subconsciously trigger physical and behavioural responses, like a form of PTSD.

Vicky recommended that I try a relatively new form of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR for short. You can read more about it here, but in the most lay-persons of terms it’s a way of triggering both sides of the brain at the same time to properly process any traumatic memories.

I underwent a total of three sessions which were very emotional and exhausting, recalling as was required incredibly upsetting memories. I almost felt I was being conned or was conning myself, so effective was it. When you’ve spent 36 years fighting to suppress memories because the minute they came into your consciousness you start crying, being free of that is so incredibly liberating it’s hard to explain.


The last eight months since my treatment ended have been a journey, full of ups and downs.

On the plus side, despite all that’s going on in the world, I’ve been fortunate enough (as cliched as it sounds) to create some amazing memories with my family.

Sunset on the Isle Of Lewis in April

We had the most incredible road (and boat) trip to the Outer Hebrides, had a lovely week in France with extended family and a holiday to one of our favourite places, Pembrokeshire. We’ve eaten as a family nearly every night and enjoyed countless evenings playing board games (shout out to Dixit, Codenames and Risk) and cards. I’ve continued coaching kids football and cricket, which I love, and have become a qualified football referee. I’ve had the time to exercise more and am as fit as I’ve ever been. My golf handicap got down to 16, though almost as quickly has gone back up to 18! Some domestic jobs that had long been put off got done and the house has been impeccably clean and tidy, much to Kate’s annoyance!

On the work front, I started job hunting in April and have worked on a couple of interesting projects in the wider sporting world as well as managing a local golf centre one day a week. I’ve been in for a number of and exciting and interesting senior roles within sport without quite getting any over the line, each final rejection a gut punch that set you back. For anyone that’s been there, it isn’t easy.

Any gut punch I felt about not getting any of the roles I'd been in for paled into insignificance when we had to put our 14 year old lurcher, Maggie, down at the end of November. We got Maggie 6 months before we had our eldest, Eve, so she'd been with us for the entire duration of our current lives. I knew we'd be upset but just how devastated we were caught us by surprise Maggie

and off-guard. I cried for days but know it

would have been far worse were it not for

the sessions with Vicky I'd had earlier

in the year.

But throughout that job search I kept being encouraged by others to set-out on my own. I’d spent almost two decades specialising in sports integrity and regulation, crisis comms and media relations, and athlete welfare and had done so for both a governing body and player association. ‘There aren’t many, if any, with the same experience and skillset, and we think that would be valuable’ was the view being expressed to me.

Having always been an employee, being self-employed was not something I’d really considered, but having taken the time to be able to fully commit to something new, we not do it for yourself whilst at the same time doing something that you’re completely passionate about? So that’s what I’ve decided to do and it’s what I’ve been working on for the past three months.

I am super excited to be launching my own business, and am incredibly grateful to Vicky Hill and to Lisa Hancock that I can finally think and talk about my mum without getting at all upset.

Oh, and one more thing. My mum’s name was Moya.

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