The rehabilitation process following a serious injury can be a momentous challenge for even the most strong-minded athlete. But when that injury forces you to call time on your career aged just 25, the effect can be devastating.
This was the unfortunate reality faced 20 years ago by Commonwealth Games and World Cup judo medallist Marc Preston, just months short of an opportunity to compete at the 1992 Olympic Games.
Now aged 46, Preston’s resolve in discovering an alternative path in the martial art has now been recognised by the high grade committee as he has just been presented with a coveted sixth Dan from Edinburgh judo legend George Kerr CBE.
“When I was told I would be receiving my sixth Dan, I was extremely touched,” Preston said. “You can only fight as high as fifth Dan so this is for when people in authority of the sport recognise your achievements outwith competing. George is one of only six in the world who has a tenth Dan.”
A hugely successful individual from his time participating in international events, Preston reminisces about a period that ultimately plunged him from the pinnacle of world judo into relative obscurity after a cruciate ligament injury – so severe that it would not only rule him out of the Barcelona Olympics but, also, upon recommendation from knee specialists, end his career.
He said: “It was devastating to have to make that decision at such a young age. You’ve got to bear in mind it was all I’d ever really known since the age of ten so to be suddenly sitting on the scrapheap and having to give up, you start asking yourself ‘what can I do now and what am I qualified in?’ So it was a bit of a shock but it was something I had to accept.
“It was extremely hard to sit and watch on TV as I knew I had a good chance of going to Barcelona if it hadn’t been for my knee.
“I was made reserve for the games in Seoul in 1988 but you just automatically think you’ve missed this one but your time will arrive four years later. But that’s why the Olympic Games are so special as you can be number one for three years as I was in British judo to then pick up an injury and your chance is suddenly gone.”
As his acceptance of such a tragic outcome became more bearable, Preston maximised all his efforts into becoming one of the country’s strongest mentors of judo, an ambition he has achieved through his business Destination Judo. Originally working as a sole trader as Marc Preston Teaching, Preston’s business transformed as a result of the Active Schools initiative which has seen the organisation flourish since its inception ten years ago. “The good thing that happened as a result of my injury is my teaching business. It’s now the biggest in Great Britain as we’ve just expanded into England as well with about 30 different units in total across Scotland and England. I’ve taken staff on who are now partners in the business but it’s all about providing pathways for the thousands of children who are part of the club and developing their skills.”
Despite his sporting and business success, not forgetting his current role with Judo Scotland as vice-chairman, Preston admits his proudest moment was regaining the courage to fight back from a serious knee injury and prove his undoubted ability, even if it was only temporarily.
He added: “My greatest achievement was coming back after my injury where it was meant to be at least a year’s rehabilitation.
“I managed to fight in the Scottish Championships and then on to the World Cup where I took third place so I think that whole period of being out and then coming back put me back in the reckoning. But then my knee unfortunately broke down shortly after and unfortunately that was that.”