There’s a beautiful innocence to not knowing or having alternatives. The idea of the grass being greener on the other side has no meaning if you don’t know of any other side except the one you are on. The grass of course can be green on whichever side you choose, one or both, but balance can only be achieved when you choose to feed both sides.
As a Libran I am all about balance and some would say love. I can’t profess to have been successful at either but it is certainly something I strive for on a daily basis, balancing my passion with my responsibilities. Given the opportunity I would spend the money saved for the new kitchen on a new bike and on days like today I would ride for hours drinking coffee and writing nonsense such as this instead of doing house duties.
Balance is indeed easier if choice is taken away, but then without choice it all becomes a bit boring and so predictable that we may as well book an early appointment at the crematorium. Fire up the furnace Freddy!
Well, perhaps not just yet.
I’m a big believer in pushing boundaries, questioning the now and asking what if? This attitude has frustrated many partners, thrilled lecturers and bosses, caused me extreme joy and indescribable despair and yet I continue to prescribe to it. Why? Because life is here to be lived and if we are not growing then aren’t we just waiting to die?
In the early 1980’s when I first began racing there were only a handful of Australian riders that we knew of that had gone overseas and ‘made it’. When I say ‘made it’ I mean that we actually heard back from them. Years later when racing in T-Town I was to discover that countless other Aussies had ventured overseas to race. They had discovered much greener grass on the other side of the world and they had stayed there feeding it.
My first taste of grass on the other side was in 1983 when I travelled to Europe with three other female cyclists. Our respective clubs had sizzled sausages, held trivia nights and raffled tickets to pay for a 6 week trip to Holland finishing at the World Titles in Switzerland. The logic of racing for 6 weeks on flat roads before competing in a road race through the Swiss Alps is laughable now but at the time we didn’t care, we just wanted to experience the racing.
To my knowledge I believe we were the first organised (a term I use loosely) Australian women’s cycling team to compete at an international tournament. A year earlier one of the pioneers of Australian women’s cycling, Sian Mulholland, had funded her own way to compete in the World Track titles in Leicester, England. She came back with a thigh full of splinters but more importantly she had pushed open the door for the rest of us to ride through, if we dared.
My first glimpse of the other side was a lesson in pain and humility. I went from being the big fish in a little pond to a tadpole in an ocean of sharks. We spent 6 weeks racing on the cobblestones and narrow dykes of Holland, mostly getting spat out the back of the bunch or elbowed off the side of the road. It was an incredibly sharp and bumpy learning curve that saw me crack into the top 15 by the end of the trip. In Australia I was racing against a maximum of 20 riders, in Holland the start line was crowded with 100. The style of racing was hectic, whereas in Australia we would roll off the start line and cruise around until a sprint finish, in Holland they sprinted off the start line and kept the pace up, only slowing for corners but then sprinting out of them to get back up to speed in the straights. The grass was very green and it had stained me.
Racing as I knew it was forever changed.
My first race back in Australia was the 1983 National Road Titles held in Sydney. This was to be the last time that I remember racing with my travel companions. While my experience of the other side had spurred me on to greater cycling aspirations, their experience of it had pushed them in directions away from cycling. As I showed off my grass stains with pride, they quickly washed theirs out.
As we waited on the start line, I couldn’t help but smile at the difference of where we had been racing just two weeks prior with 100 starters to now where just 20 women lined up ready to race. Although we had agreed that we would not allow our friendship to interfere with our racing (we were from different states after all) my friend Liz Battle and I shared an ironic smile at the start and she uttered the one Dutch word we had become very familiar with on our trip, “ongelofelijk” – a loose translation would be “unbelievable” but in a cruder ironic sense.
The race was 52km and for three of the four 16km laps I sat in the bunch as usual but then something happened. To this day I don’t know what came over me, perhaps just the realisation that I had experienced real racing and this wasn’t it. I attacked up the last hill and stayed away for the last 10km eventually winning by only about 200metres in true roadie fashion with both arms raised. I was the reigning national sprint champion and would have easily won a bunch sprint but that just wouldn’t have made it a proper race. A road race deserves to have a break away champion that has the nerve to take a chance and put themselves out there. I had unconsciously decided to put myself out there.
Against all odds and logic I had become the national track sprint and road champion in the same year, something that has never happened again, but that isn’t important. What is important is that it happened once and racing for Australian women cyclists was never to be the same again.
I had proved that the grass could indeed be green on both sides and that some stains can change you for the better. Sometimes you need to be brave and just put yourself out there.