Champion walker Nathan Deakes will compete in the final race of his career in the 50km walk at the London Olympics. Photo: Colleen Petch
HEARTBREAK, injuries and crippling pain - the easy option for Nathan Deakes would have been to walk away and ''start a normal life''.
His past four years have been plagued by constant injuries and growing doubt about whether he could return to the top of the world.
But behind all the agony, Deakes has had a burning desire to end his race walking career ''on my terms'' and get one last shot at Olympic Games glory.
And with the end in sight, the former 50-kilometre race walking world champion, world record holder and four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist will make the London Olympics his farewell tour.
It's the goal he used to help him push through the dark times of a tumultuous period.
On multiple occasions he contemplated quitting. But with the end in sight, nothing will stop his bid to win the only medal which has eluded him in his 15-year career.
''In all honesty, if I had won at the Beijing Olympics, that might have been good enough for me to finish because winning at the Olympics is the only thing I haven't done,'' Deakes said.
''My body has told me for a long now that it hasn't liked what it's going through.
''Now I'm listening to it … I've always known that London was going to be my last Olympics and I guess I'm comfortable that it's going to be my last race.
''I've asked my body for a lot more than I should have in the last two years let alone the last 15 or 16 years … it's time to be a weekend warrior rather than pounding myself every day.''
Deakes rocketed to the top of the international ranks six years ago by claiming the 50km world record. That win, as well as Commonwealth Games gold medals in 2002 and 2006, installed him as favourite to claim gold in Beijing in 2008.
But just weeks out from the Olympics, Deakes was forced to withdraw after tearing the hamstring off the bone in his left leg.
He had battled injuries through the early part of his career, but his major hamstring problem started a downward spiral.
Just doing normal things was painful. Getting out of bed was a major struggle and Deakes was unsure if he'd be able to get back to an international standard.
In the four years since he has pulled out of more races than he has finished, managing to complete the 50km event just twice.
One of those was to book his ticket to his London swansong.
In the qualifying race, he completed the entire 50km with strained tendons in his ''good hamstring''.
Add to that his groin injuries, more trouble with his hamstring on both legs, calf strains and now - less than two months out from the start of the Olympics - an annoying calf problem.
''When you consider everything that has happened over the past four or five years, I'm just happy to be in this spot,'' Deakes said.
''But I'm nervous too because I know I've got a lot of work to do.
''I've probably reflected on everything too many times … I didn't even know what a sporting career would hold for me after I had my surgery in 2008. I've probably injured everything apart from my little finger. I think external pressure has definitely changed now, but my own expectations are still there and they are still high.''
To manage his injuries, Deakes has had to modify his training. He's more cautious than he used to and spends more time in the gym than on the road.
He completed a double degree in banking and finance and law while he was injured and he's expecting his first child with wife Antoinette later this year.
And if his rivals think Deakes is not at his best, he's got a simple warning.
''I wouldn't still be here doing it if I didn't think I was going to get a medal,'' he said.
''I wanted to always end on my terms, I've got unfinished business at the Olympics and I've got that fire to keep going.''