What is the sum of us?
Are we a predetermined result of our previous behavior destined to continually give the same answer – will one and one always equal two or can the sum of our experience form the platform for something even greater than the original? The simple question is will we only ever be as good as our last race?
In 1988 when I became an Olympian I remember sitting in an auditorium at the Australian Institute of Sport listening to world swimming legend Dawn Fraser speak about the importance of being an Olympian and how this experience would forever change our lives and had the potential to change other lives as well. At the time and for many years after I only focused on the first part of that Olympic equation – how it changed and defined my life. However now, thanks to a year of subtle pushing by my old coach, I’ve come to understand the second part of what Dawn was saying, and that is that the sum of our experiences has the ability to unlock infinite potential in others.
However, as with anything that completely engulfs our hearts, introduce passion into a simple equation and a mathematical quandary follows. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder and after 30 years have passed, in the retelling of that race that you won out of a field of 20 riders it has now morphed into something akin to a world championship with five times as many competitors and a sprint finish to rival the final sprint into the Champs de Elysees! The reluctance to be cast as the old mate storyteller at the races is perhaps why many great bike riders keep their experiences bottled up like a fine wine left to gather dust in the cellar of their memory.
The difference in unlocking infinite potential or just being a great storyteller comes down to three factors – knowledge, perspective and patience.
After a respectable racing career that spanned 20 years I’m confident I have sufficient knowledge and have and will never, close the door on learning more. Perspective is also a no brainer for me, although others may mistake my confidence for a big ego, when it comes down to it I know exactly what I did and how I did it, but importantly I know equally what I did not do. It’s the patience factor that challenges me the most.
I’ve been told that patience earns trust and all good things eventually come to those who wait but delayed gratification has never been my strong suite. When I want something, I want it now. I show my cards, reveal what I have and go for the win. This lack of patience has been a great teacher over the years. In the academic sense my impatience to know and understand things has given me a great education. In the sporting sense it has been a whole different story.
Very early on in my racing career this lack of patience earned me three facial scars that age has recently highlighted again. The year was 1982 and I was competing in my first track titles. I had won a race or two at the local club races and my coach at the time had convinced me I was ready to compete with the big girls at the state championships and get some experience. Get some experience? Oh no, I wanted to win.
The track was a 400 metre flat, white concrete path that outlined a cricket oval that was picture perfect Australiana sporting iconography with an old-fashioned stand and white picket fence in a Sydney suburb called Hurstville. It was never referred to as a velodrome and for good reason. My first and as it turned out, only event, was the women’s sprint, where as an un-seeded new rider I was put into the last heat that contained the State and Australian Champion Sian Mulholland and perhaps two others. With about 150 metres to go a gap appeared in front of me and I went for it. It would have been an excellent move had I been fast enough to get through it, however my lack of experience revealed not the clean air of being in the lead but instead the cold hard concrete of the track as I hit face first, taking most of the skin off my nose, chin and forehead. The simple fact was that I wasn’t ready.
Not that you could have told me at the time, but 1982 taught me a lot about patience as I crashed my way through the racing calendar earning myself the nickname of “Autumn Leaves”. I didn’t have time to be patient. The following year I won my first Australian National title sprint championship, a year had passed and I had proved that I was good enough but if I had been told not to compete in 1982, to be patient and wait until I was ready a year later, I never would have waited, and if I hadn’t fallen so spectacularly in 1982 I may have never been spurred on to become even better.
Over the years I’ve consciously resisted becoming involved in anything to do with women’s cycling, partly because of being burned by the masochistic crap of the governing body at the time I was competing and partly because I didn’t believe that I had anything worthwhile to share. I had never won a World or Olympic championship and so I had incorrectly calculated the sum of me to be limited only to what I had won. However, time has a way of giving you perspective and reinforced belief. Indeed patience earns trust and I know now that the sum of won pales in significance to the sum of the entire experience.
All good things come to those who wait. So good thing I think we’ve waited long enough, get the glasses out, it’s time to bring that dusty bottle up from the cellar.