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World Heart Day: Gary Fox and the condition that forced him to retire

Three years after retiring from international competition, former England badminton player Gary Fox is still a frequent sight on court – but it’s against doctors’ orders.

Fox, a European junior bronze medallist in 2009, was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation four years ago, forcing him to stop competing at the highest level of the sport.

Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally-fast heart rate, which can lead to dizziness, shortness of breath or tiredness.

Since his diagnosis, 27-year-old Fox has undergone two operations in an attempt to fix his condition – the latest in January of this year – but both have been unsuccessful.

As recently as the English National Championships earlier this month, Fox was forced to retire midway through his and Dean George’s men’s doubles semi-final after his symptoms flared up – the second time this had happened while playing.

But despite the extensive risk to his health every time he steps onto court, nothing is going to stop Fox from playing the sport he adores.

“I have done it for eight years and played through it and at the minute I don’t feel like it’s going to, touch wood, make me drop dead on court. But realistically it could, so I probably shouldn’t do it,” he said.

“I just love competing. It is the reason I got into badminton in the first place and the reason I loved it so much was to compete on the circuit.

“For me to be able to compete against the best players that we’ve got in the country, it is something I love doing still.”

Now head coach of Wycombe Performance Centre, Fox spends his days helping the next generation of shuttlers climb the ranks.

But while he knows only too well the dangers, Fox is putting off any further treatment.

“I could go on drugs but I don’t want to, I could try and get another operation done but if I did it would be a lot more risky as it is much harder to try and treat, so in the short term I’m not looking to get another one done,” he said.

“I have been told I have to stop playing when I go into AF. My heart rate was about 200bpm about five minutes after I stopped playing at this year’s Nationals.

“I shouldn’t be competing but I have been. It started when I was 17, so I’d say for about seven or eight years I was still competing through it, which looking back now was stupid.

“Nothing other than competing on a badminton court has made me go into it. Normally my heart is fine – it is just when adrenaline kicks in!”

Photo: Badminton Photo

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