Olympic gold medal rower James Cracknell: "I can"t taste or smell anything – eating is something I do to survive"

Gold medal rower James Cracknell: 'I can't taste or smell anything – eating is something I do to survive'



16:41 GMT, 25 October 2012

Can you imagine life without being able to taste or smell anything whatsoever For Olympic gold medallist, James Cracknell, it's a scenario that's all too real after a horrific accident left him partially brain damaged.

Along with the ability to taste and smell, Cracknell was also left with a poor short term memory, lack of empathy and trouble concentrating after being knocked off his bike by a petrol tanker during a charity triathlon.

And as he revealed to Go Faster Food author, Kate Percy, learning to cope without taste has been tough. 'Before the accident I absolutely loved
food and cooking but the only real enjoyment I can get out of it now is
through texture,' he admits.

Rower James Cracknell at Kew, London

Injuries: Along with concentration, memory and empathy problems, rower James Cracknell has been left without a sense of taste or smell since he almost died in a 2010 road accident

James Cracknell in the aftermath of the accident that left him brain damaged

Dangerous: Cracknell's brush with a petrol tanker in the US left him partially brain damaged

James Cracknell and Kate Percy

Olympic rower James Cracknell and his wife Beverley Turner on their wedding day

Leading ladies: With author Kate Percy (left) and wife Beverley Turner (right) on their wedding day

He adds: 'There’s no way I’d have raved about the difference
between the softness of tomatoes and the crunch of cucumber before the

While Cracknell has previously discussed his struggle to overcome his injuries – recently revealing that he once tried to strangle his wife while recovering – this is the first time he has talked about the loss of two of his senses.

Completely unable to taste anything, he admits to piling chilli and barbecue sauce onto his food to try and coax a flicker of enjoyment from his supper.

He reveals: 'In hospital after the accident I would mix starter, main course and
dessert together and smother the whole thing with mustard.

'Dining out in restaurants is no longer a
pleasure for me. Eating is something I have to do
to survive. For me, food is fuel, a means to an end, just like you might
put petrol in the car to make it go.'

James Cracknell rides his bike from Los Angeles to Death Valley just before the accident that left him brain damaged

Back in the saddle: Cracknell eventually completed his epic New York to Los Angeles bike ride

Reunited with Sir Steve Redgrave at this year's Sport Relief mile around Buckingham Palace

Friends reunited: Doing the Sport Relief Mile with former Olympic team mate, Sir Steve Redgrave

The loss of his sense of taste seems particularly cruel when you consider that as an athlete, Cracknell has to consume more than most.

'I’ve always had to eat all the time,
both when I used to row, and now, as an adventurer. The South Pole trip was the toughest,' he admits. 'I
lost three stone simply because my body couldn’t
absorb nearly as many calories as I burnt.'

But despite not being able to enjoy a restaurant supper anymore, Cracknell says that some positives have come out of losing his sense of taste.

'Now I’m not influenced by the taste of
food, I just eat what’s good for me [and] there’s no temptation to eat junk. I
see people all around me piling on the pounds by eating far too much.'

'We’ve got to buck this trend as a society. We can survive on much less.
We overeat massively and don’t do enough exercise to burn off these
excess calories.

'It’s not rocket science, we should ditch processed
rubbish and eat good, wholesome foods, pulses, fruit and vegetables,
fish, good fats, quality protein. Simply put, we should move more and
eat better.'

VIDEO: Watch James and wife Beverly launch his new book


Kate Percy is the author of Go Faster Food. See gofasterfood.com for more information