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The offseason can be a struggle for many student athletes. The end of the season coincides with the start of the exam period. The excitement of sport is replaced with the drudgery of dimly lit library rooms and daunting exam halls. For the dedicated, hours of summer will be devoted to preparation for the next campaign that is months away.
For Mide Segun, this offseason was not a struggle. It was a battle.
During the 2017-18 season, Mide split time at Right Tackle and Defensive Tackle for QMBL’s American Football team, the Vipers. Despite being new to the team, his stoic yet dominating presence earned respect and he was named a captain before the season began. Fast forward to the end of the year and, having been instrumental in the Vipers securing the Division 2 South East title, Mide won the Vipers’ Player of the Year award and was nominated for QM Captain of the Year. He achieved this despite developing what doctors had diagnosed as asthma.
Except it wasn’t asthma, it was Hodgkins Lymphoma.
This is Mide’s story.
I’ve been playing rugby since I was about 7 and I started athletics around the same time. Athletics wise I was quite successful. I won the indoor Surrey Championship (60m) in back to back years when I was 13 and 14 and won the outdoor 100 and 200 meters in one of those years as well. I started playing American football in university at Warwick for one season, but I left Warwick and took a year out. I’d watched [American Football] before, not that much, but I’d really fallen out with rugby so I thought why not try a new sport and it worked out. I loved football at Warwick, especially as I was playing Running Back there. I still remember my first touchdown. I went ballistic. I got tackled over the line and was looking at the ref waiting for the signal. When he called the touchdown I sprinted all the way up the side-line, only to remember I was then on field goal and had to sprint back the field. Yeah that was a lot of fun, a good experience.
What was joining the Vipers like after Warwick?
It was different. You could tell there was a lot less money involved. We didn’t have a whole changing room full of kit like we did at Warwick. Travelling out to our field was also a bit different. But perhaps because the club was so new I felt much more of a connection to all the players. We’d just started playing so everyone was far more stuck into it. I think at that point it helped that I had changed as a person from Warwick to be more, not necessarily assertive, but I was far more outgoing.
This is an opportunity I’ve never had in terms of being a club that’s just started. Getting promoted in our second BUCs season was crazy. I’ve also never really captained a team before, the last time I was about 11. It’s not something I wish to shy away from, but it’s a bit weird. When I first got called as a captain I wasn’t expecting it at all, I had just joined the club. When I saw I was nominated for Captain of the Year I thought – I don’t know what’s going on anymore!
At what point did you start to notice things weren’t quite right?
It was around the 6th or 7th game [Late February] that I was diagnosed with asthma. I was considered asthmatic for two weeks until the ultrasound came back on my neck. Then doctors told me it was much more serious, it could either be an infection, TB, or Lymphoma. That night I was on the phone with my friend crying for a few hours. I don’t really know what I was feeling at that point. A lot of it was terror. The hardest part of the diagnosis was actually before I got diagnosed. It was pretty obvious I didn’t have TB. If I had TB, surely I would have been quarantined or something. By the time they pulled me in after all the scans and the biopsy, it was pretty obvious that it was Lymphoma. That and the first day of treatment were the hardest moments of it all. I was loving football and somewhat enjoying myself on the university course – which felt as good as it was ever going to get with uni. I thought I was going to have to start again which really sucked.
The thing with Lymphoma is a lot of the symptoms are really casual. As in you get itchy all over, and I had a cough. That’s why they thought I was asthmatic. At the start, it felt like a common cold. It was around the end of February that it got worse. Then in March it really hit a wall. I’d already been struggling before that. I pretty much didn’t attend university in term two. It was just football on Fridays, game on Sunday. That was all I could really do. To the point that I would go outside and then be in a coughing fit for hours after I got back in. That was quite disheartening, so I didn’t really interact with anyone outside football then.
It must have been hard on your family?
It was pretty hard; for my mum especially. We’ve had cancer in the family. Her dad had stomach cancer and passed away because of it. I think she saw a link between them. My dad was a bit better about it, but we all struggled. My brother especially, with him as the older sibling. It was shocking for everyone. We just didn’t really see it coming.
The diagnosis helped. I didn’t do that much research, but I’d say it helped my family more because they got a lot of information and it was like, I’m going to be OK. It may take a while, but I’m not going to die. It helped me start to move on and think forward, especially regarding post treatment stuff. I didn’t really know what was going to happen during it. I didn’t really look up chemotherapy or any kind of treatment and what happens next but still, in my mind, it made it a lot easier because it now had a name. It wasn’t something nameless that I couldn’t deal with.
What happened after the diagnosis?
Chemotherapy started just after exams. At that point I had to plan to do them because I’d still sort of been keeping up with work. I actually did one exam then deferred the rest of them. It wasn’t that bad, but there was a short period as I was having my blood done when it was kind of like, oh this is actually real, it’s starting now. I suppose it was quite scary, but I was fortunate to have transferred hospitals. I was diagnosed in Croydon University hospital and they sent me over to the Royal Marsden which has a young people ward which is really nice, everyone there was great. Not to say the Croydon ward would be bad, but the amount of money put into the Marsden is amazing. I was fortunate to have been there. They have a lot of support staff. In that first week I had already spoken to the youth officer Ella, and you always get someone from CLIC Sargent who is there to help you with anything you need. They helped with a lot of the uni stuff, keeping in contact about what was going on.
By far the worst part of chemo was just sitting at home; I couldn’t get on public transport due to the infection risk. Right after my first round of chemo woke up in the morning and I was throwing up so had to go to A&E that morning. There’s a hotline you can call and we were asked if we were on a list but we didn’t know about it, and so they sent us to Croydon hospital. The moment I took paracetamol that morning, everything went back to normal apart from my pulse. They kept me in for 2 nights and half a day because my pulse wouldn’t come down. It was frustrating because I wasn’t getting any medicine and none of them were authorised to give me my chemo medicine, so my parents had to come in and give me that.
The doctors would come round and ask me how I was feeling, I would say “well I’ve just started chemo so I’m not feeling great.” That was really frustrating. During the actual chemo, that was probably the most annoying part and it wasn’t even directly related, which was quite unfortunate. I never had to go back to A&E but I kept to myself because it was such a bad start, I didn’t want that to happen again.
What was support like from outside of your immediate family?
It was really good. I didn’t post it publicly, only the Vipers as a group knew. I had a lot of people wanting to see me, but we had to turn them away in case they were carrying anything. It meant a lot to get messages from everyone. Even if I didn’t reply, it really meant a lot. I’m not the best at expressing that but it was really helpful, especially at the beginning when it’s scariest and you don’t know what’s going on. To know that people care helps.
That was one thing I was worried about. When you’re reading up on this, people talking about the lymphoma they’ve had and the cancer they’ve gone through, a lot of them are famous people. One of the things Coach Chris sent me was a college player [John Connor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Steelers] who got a message from Ellen Degeneres. I thought, well, where’s my message from Ellen? But it was really good to have people contacting me. It gave me something to look forward to when I was finally back, to get out and see these people again, because they actually care. It was nice.
Was coming back to university this year on your mind when you started chemo?
“Absolutely not. When I started it was, ‘I guess I’m taking another year out.’ When we saw the way the cycles lined up, it was fortunate. It could have been 4-6 cycles and each cycle being 3 weeks, but I was there for 12 weeks because after 2 weeks you have a scan which came up completely clear after the second round of chemo. That was the start of July, two to three months after diagnosis. The scan was completely clear, so I was in remission. You get an all clear two to three years after remission so there’s every chance it could come back. It’s not fully over yet, but obviously we’re hoping. And I responded quickly to the treatment. I didn’t know what was to come when I got the remission news but I knew I didn’t have to put my life on hold again.
So was there a moment you decided you were going to try to come back this year?
Yes there was. My parents said I should do my exams, move on, get the degree, because they know I don’t enjoy the academics of uni. I just thought why don’t I just do it next year? I had every reason to take this year out and go and get better. But then my brother spoke to me and said, “do you really want to explain this to every employer you go to? You’ve already taken a year out.” That was when I knew I had to try to come back. It’s not that I’m ashamed of this, but don’t want to let it define me in the future. My brother had to resit a year and spoke about how getting back into it was one of the hardest things he’s done. So I thought I’ve been through this so might as well give it a go. That was four days before exams started, so it was short notice.
Timeline wise, the day after the last cycle of chemo finished was the first [September] exam so I didn’t have any time off and wasn’t feeling the best. You’re coming out of the rest week of chemo basically, so I hadn’t been on anything for a week, but I was still tired constantly – I was on about three Monster [energy drink] a day just to be able to do enough work to pass and, fortunately, I did.
What are your goals going forward?
To be honest when I was thinking about coming back for this year, most of my reason was football. I doubt I would have come back if not for football. It’s because of this unique position we’re in. We have a chance to do something special with this group of people. Whenever I am out there, even when I was really ill – especially by the last game – I was still going as hard as I could. If you’re here, why not go all out and see how far you can really take it? That’s why I want to push everyone at the club. You’re already here, you’ve made it out here, so let’s see what we can do.
I’m not willing to stop like I did last time. If the cancer does come back I’m not that fussed. I’ve beat it once and I’ll beat it again. I can’t do anything about it, so I just don’t think about it. Either it comes back, or it doesn’t.
In May the thought of returning to university was out of the question, now five months later, Mide is back at university and has returned to the Vipers as the starting left tackle for the upcoming season.
The way he has handled the situation is testament to his incredible character and determination.
He is still waiting on his invite to the Ellen Show.
When it comes to material things, Queen Mary will never be mistaken for Loughborough or Bath or a whole host of other universities. But whilst we may not have the state of the art facilities and deep pockets, we don’t lack in phenomenally driven people who are willing to commit most of their time and energy to their club. Now, whether you’re either playing for or running a team, life can be a struggle when you’re involved in sport at this university. But the struggle can also be massively rewarding and worthwhile. When it all comes together, the incredible people involved in QM teams can create very special moments that will live with you forever. That’s the joy of university sport, there is nothing like it. Take Queen Mary Netball. Their rise to Club of the Year from disappointment merely two years ago is one of those moments, engineered by outstanding individuals.
The Netball model shows how sporting success can be achieved at this university. Our hope is that you see this article as an opportunity; a useful inside view at how QMN turned last year into such a success. Maybe you’ll want to steal a few ideas on how to further improve your club. Maybe you’ll be inspired to go the extra mile, within or outside of your sport. Or perhaps you will simply further appreciate the remarkable things students are doing in the university sports department.
It starts at the bottom. With a three-figure membership, Queen Mary Netball come close to the biggest club on campus. Think about that for a second. It’s pretty incredible for a sport that is, even at the highest level, just about semi-professional. QMN have created this popularity by fully embracing those who want to play Netball competitively as well as those who are interested in playing more socially. This is a difficult task and impressive achievement when budget restraints are considered.
With this large pool of potential candidates, club elections are strongly contested, with recent results suggesting they produce a high-quality committee. The large member base also means that there’s a lot of people holding club officials accountable. Through this, a clear sense of responsibility is felt by the committee. At such a big club, you have to compete for everything, the people that get a committee role have the responsibility to do it well. The impressive leadership from last year’s president Deanna Lyn Cook harnessed this enthusiasm and talent into an unstoppable machine.
This membership base is a diversely talented pool from which to find an exceptional committee. When you look more closely, it’s hard to deny that QMN have been blessed with incredible people in the right places for the last number of years. It’s a boon that members are effectively encouraged to take accountability and run for these positions. Committee roles can be unglamorous, underappreciated and oftentimes neglected, but this Netball club seems to have a conveyor belt for outstanding individuals. Can you put the outstanding group assembled on this committee down to luck? Perhaps, but you make your own luck. And with last year’s Vice President Charlotte Catchpole assuming the role of president, with the experience of last year and new ideas for this season, don’t bet on anything but continued excellence.
The nature of QMN’s committee makes it an enticing prospect for applicants. The concise structure allows a defined role that won’t overwhelm candidates. Efficient delegation from Deanna Lyn Cook offered relative autonomy last year, allowing the ability to take the initiative and enact change. This has allowed committee members, including but not specifically, Kitty Gardener and Hannah Gaffey – who’s work we shall focus on momentarily – the freedom to set their own targeted goals and work inventively to accomplish them. Without such driven and accountable individuals on the committee, it’s difficult for any club to progress.
You can’t talk QMN and not mention charity work.
We all know that charity work it is rewarding and worthwhile. But it’s hard. Especially within a club, where it involves large scale organisation and relentless drive to maintain enthusiasm. Part of the difficulty can be determining one cause more deserving than others. Whilst all are equally worthy, often identifying one partner charity can enable access to a great deal of assistance and give charity work clear direction. This is the case for Netball who partnered with Coppafeel a few years ago. Support and a clear focus allows QMN to decisively push towards raising money for a great cause.
Obviously, this is still no easy task. Here we come back to Kitty Gardener and Hannah Gaffey. At the beginning of last year, they set a target to raise £500. They eventually raised around £3000 – primarily through students – and we know how little spending money students in London have. It’s hard to portray how impressive this is. Above the finances though, the charity netball tournament organised and officiated by QMN brought sports teams together in a way that only Merger Cup seems capable. While it may not have had quite such a large impact on campus generally it still has a far larger sports driven impact than has been seen by anything else for some time.
The work wasn’t limited to one event. A change bucket was seen at all socials through the year, along with a number of other drives:
‘Lets Get Quizzical’ and ‘12 Days of Titmas’ were nominated for RAG event of the year
There were end of season RAG awards for Hannah Gaffey and the Uni boob team as recognition for their outstanding efforts.
Alongside the work with Coppafeel, QMN also worked with PlayStopPause to bring consent week to Queen Mary.
Also had a collection for sanitary products to donate to Bloody Good Period who provide menstrual supplies to asylum seekers, refugees & those who can’t afford them.
Having an impact outside of their sphere was a huge factor in Netball winning Club of the Year at the Queen Mary Club Sports Awards. The incredible work of the Netball charity team has set a standard that all clubs should look to follow.
On the Court
QMN had a relatively successful season competitively. For a start, none of their four competition teams were relegated. As far as start’s go, that’s a good one. Flux with squads – obviously, most students are only eligible for the duration of their three-year course – makes mere maintenance a difficulty for a lot of teams. Overcoming these difficulties, QMN’s teams were commended for their cohesion by rivals and umpires. The Second Team had a particularly great year as they secured promotion to the South Eastern 6B division. It’s difficult to highlight individuals in such a deep group but Jessica Enemokwu, coming into the First Team, made a difference with mean defence. Further, the play of Tanya Tan fuelled QMN’s Second Team with amazing work ethic, contributing to a great group effort that pushed the side to their promotion. Anyone who knows her will be aware of her dedication and the impact such drive can have. The success of Introducing fitness training sessions was apparent across the squad last term. This programme has been expanded for the coming season, so it’s natural to expect even greater performances throughout.
The reward for all the hard work put in by QMN came at the QM Sports Awards. It is the target of every club to win Club of the Year, the ultimate recognition from Queen Mary of the season efforts. For some clubs it is a distant dream, for others an expectation. For QM Netball, it became the season expectation rather early on in the process.
Such was the impressive nature of their season that, on awards night, it seemed like a forgone conclusion. Netball had eclipsed their competitors, going from 2017 also rans to 2018 Goliaths. It cannot have come as a surprise to many when the announcement came. At least for those who were still sober enough to understand what was happening. As new president Charlotte describes, “it was amazing to get the recognition for the club and committee, it was great to feel like our hard work had amounted to something and that the SU and other students appreciated how far we’d come.” You have to hand it to them; no other team deserved the prize more than QMN.
This isn’t to say they have perfected ‘the sports club’ at QM. As with every QM sports club, there is area for improvement. New president Charlotte has identified on court performance as the key target area for the coming season. 2018 sees a complete withdrawal from LUSL competition to focus on their BUCs commitments and with this comes an expectation that all four performance teams will be competing at the top of their divisions. January re-trials to create a sense of year-round competition for squad places highlight their desire to push forward as a performance club. The excellent club structure off the court allows for this greater devotion of resources to performance, but the results are as yet unknown on the court. The coming season will be a measuring stick, and the increased pressure to perform will bring with it a different set of challenges.
Striking the balance between participation and performance will require excellent strategy and leadership. Whilst it has been made clear that performance will be the emphasis, the impressive size of the club could pose problems as making all members feel valued could be difficult. Perhaps for Netball that balance has been found though, as they are undoubtedly a very close but inclusive social unit. The self-styled ‘biggest girl gang on campus’ strive to empower women through Netball, and every bit of evidence suggests they are doing exactly that.
So now you know more about QMN, why not get yourself and some mates down to Mile End Park Leisure Centre on a Wednesday to watch? We’ll certainly be watching here at Front Runners!
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