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  1. The Power of Won

    January 10, 2015 by Sp8y

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    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.


  2. Enough Stalling let’s do this

    December 13, 2014 by Sp8y

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    When Nike came up with their marketing genius catchcry of ‘Just do it’ back in the late 80’s it was reportedly based on the last words of a convicted death row inmate, who after numerous stays of execution finally said enough stalling already, let’s do this.

    It’s slightly ironic that a slogan motivating people to improve their lives was based on the last words of the end of a life, but perhaps that’s the point. Life is short. Unlike the inmate we don’t have a definite end date, our end may be a certainty but all we know for sure is that right at this moment we’re alive.

    In this past month I have attended two funerals. Both lived full lives regardless of age, one happy to go at 97 and the other no doubt wanting more moments leaving us at only 51 years of age. Death has a peculiar way of temporarily stopping time for the living, allowing time to reflect, to reassess and to recognise that life is short. We may procrastinate about what to do with life or we can just live it.

    Sounds simple doesn’t it? You need to lose weight, get fitter, look hotter, be smarter, earn more money, make more friends, be happier, help people, help yourself – you know the slogan – just do it. Unfortunately more often than not we tend to just find reasons why we can’t just do it. After all, finding reasons not to do it is so much easier than doing it, or so that voice inside your head will have you believe.

    Over the years I’ve learned a few techniques for turning down the volume of the annoying little procrastinator that freeloads somewhere in my psyche. It wasn’t easy because she’s a cunning little bugger that chooses her moments carefully. Not only does she choose her moments but also her allies, steering towards people that advise strongly against doing anything outside of just what you’re doing right now – because hey if it isn’t broken then why fix it?

    Fixing it isn’t the point, enhancing it is.

    It may not be broken; it just may not be the best version that it could be and let’s face it, life is for the living and not to just become inanimate infrastructure for others to walk over. Just not doing it may be the easy option but eventually even the laziest participants in this game of life get tired of being doormats.

    So how do I shut Miss Procrastinator up, build a bridge and get over it, swallow a spoonful of cement and harden up, buck up and just do it? Well the first thing I do is lie to myself, well not exactly lie per se, more that I don’t allow myself to delve so far into the ‘what ifs’ that I stall at the starting gate.

    In the early days of training it took a lot of self-negotiation to get out of bed in the morning darkness and go riding before school. When the training sessions became harder and winter set in I had to find a better negotiating technique another than the ‘doing this will help you win’ logic, I had to play tricks on my mind. Towards the end of the week when my legs were so sore that I could barely walk I would set my alarm for 30 minutes before I had to get up and when it went off I would put my bike shorts on, reset the alarm and go back to sleep for another half hour. Then when the alarm went off and my first thought was to find a reasonable excuse not to go out training I would realise that my bike shorts were already on and so I had to go. I had a rule that once the shorts were on there was no turning back. I convinced myself that I must have already decided to go training, the bike shorts on being definitive proof, and so there was no need to argue, my only option was to just do it.

    Years later when doing intervals my coach would employ this same logic when he would ignore my words of complaint and excuse– it used to go something like this: After the warm up and the first interval of let’s say it was a two minute high revolutions (i.e. fast as you can) effort with a one minute recovery, I would waste precious oxygen telling him it was too hard or my legs were too sore. He would nod and say “30 seconds” and I would say “but I can’t” and he would say “yes you can, 25 seconds”. Usually I would give it one more last ditch effort citing some other lame excuse to which he would say “10 seconds” – at this point I would suck in air as fast as I could because it was obvious he was confident that this was the agreed path and so there was no point in arguing when my time would be better spent breathing.

    The trick to just doing it, is not to think too much about that first step, and especially not how far you may have to go or how much it may hurt, always concentrate on the good stuff – the satisfaction that you will have from that new body, or successful venture. I like to call this the ‘absolute pleasure’ principal. If I stopped to think that it was 64km round trip to and from work each day I wouldn’t get out of my neighbourhood. I never think about how far I have to go, I am too busy thinking about how good it feels to fly down a hill or lay my bike down around a corner. I enjoy the doing. The doing gives absolute pleasure.

    This is the moment, so come on, let’s just do it.


  3. Giving Up

    December 4, 2014 by Sp8y

    Somebody asked me the other day if I ever gave up. My answer was “never”, but that’s not entirely true, I do give up on some things. It’s usually the things that I consider not worth holding on to, either because I start to feel like I’m banging my head against a moving wall, or I feel nothing at all.
    These things are most often associated with my work, whatever it may be at the time, this pattern of mine doesn’t seem to discriminate between vocations. It wouldn’t matter if was in what I considered to be my dream job. If dream job stopped stimulating my mind then I would walk away.

    It has never been hard for me to walk away from jobs because at the root of it all as much as I have enjoyed a lot of the jobs I’ve had, I’ve never truly had a sustaining passion for them. The only everlasting passion I’ve ever had for anything that I’ve had to work at has been bike riding. Even then, over the years, I’ve had to give up certain aspects of this great love of mine; the biggest of course was my dream to be the one – the Champion Du Monde.

    This was a pretty big dream to give up on but eventually I knew that I had to or I would die trying. Now I don’t mean that literally I would have died, I mean that my soul would have been destroyed if I didn’t shift my goals. Being “that” masters champion or “that” old rider down at the club telling all the juniors how great I once was and how I should’ve, would’ve or could’ve if I had just…….

    No, I’ve never wanted to be “that” rider.

    When I look back on the moment I made the decision to retire from racing it was at a time when I should have been incredibly motivated. I was in top form and riding to the velodrome at the 1996 Olympic trials on the morning of the sprint qualifying. Usually before the sprint qualifying time trial I would be super focussed on my race plan but on this particular morning I was thinking of other things. This was a strange feeling because previously on race day I would never think of other things, there was only ever room in my thoughts for racing. Later in the sprint series when I fell awkwardly and broke three bones in my wrist I tried to blame this lapse in concentration for the fall but really it was a lapse in passion that was to blame. I had stopped wanting it above everything else.

    I didn’t retire for another year and many more races after that but that morning was the moment that I let go of my dream and shifted focus. I didn’t give up on riding because that truly is the love of my life and while I may sometimes think I hate it (like when riding into a persistent headwind for example), I never really lose my passion for it, the passion just shifts according to what I’m doing.

    These days I’m passionate about riding for sheer pleasure without the seriousness or stress of continually striving to be the best. Shifting focus has its benefits.

    Today at work I had a similar light bulb moment about shifting focus and finding some passion in how I earn a living. I’m not in the most glamorous job and I tend to find myself banging my head against that moving wall but at least now I’ve figured out a way to move with the wall so that I won’t end up being “that” employee that could’ve, would’ve and really should’ve if only….

    No, I’ve never wanted to be “that” employee.

    “That” employee and “that” rider are but one of many, and although I may never have been the champion du monde,the one above all, I have never been one of many.

    I am quite simply the one that never gives up.


  4. Stubborn

    November 23, 2014 by Sp8y

    There’s something to be said for the person that stands their ground despite all indications that they are cutting their nose off to spite their face, or that they may be denying themselves something that will truly never come around again – that something that is usually said is that they are stubborn.

    Rarely does the stubborn person realise or acknowledge that the slight satisfaction they may be feeling from standing their ground pales in significance to the joy they would have had if only they had swallowed a tiny dose of pride and agreed to the terms, joined the team, taken that pay cut, made that phone call, sent an email, written that letter or simply said yes.

    I used to be one of those stubborn people. I would stand my ground even when I knew I was probably on the wrong side of right, but that didn’t matter at the time, all that mattered in the moment was that I had made my choice and I was sticking to it – at any cost.

    When you’re a competitive world-class cyclist at the pointy end of the game you have an air of invincibility and an unrealistic view that life will continue as it is indefinitely, you can pick and choose opportunities because there will be plenty more from where they came from, or so you may stubbornly think at the time. Usually there won’t, and passing them up once is passing up on them forever.

    Having spearheaded the concrete velodrome in 1989, fresh from finishing 5th at the Seoul Olympics six months prior, I found myself facing a long recovery and return to world-class sprint competition. In the accident I had managed to break my collarbone so that it required a titanium plate and screws to get it back to where it should be, but the worst of all was the three broken ribs next to my spine with the fourth rib poking into my lung due to chipping the little bony bit of the vertebra that held the rib in place. Essentially I had lost any strength from the structure that allowed my upper body to hold onto my bike when my legs powered the pedals around fast enough to keep up with the other top sprinters.

    It took a long time to get back to world class sprinting; in fact it wasn’t until 1995 that I had finally rebuilt my shattered upper body to a sprinters torso but in those in between years I had to reinvent myself. Rather than bow out of top-level competition I managed to transfer my fitness and speed over to the points race event quite successfully. The problem was that the Olympics had positioned me as the 5th best sprinter in the world and I was expected to continue to be that even if my body wasn’t capable of it. It’s hard to move yourself out of a box you have largely placed yourself in.

    The fall-out of competing as an out of form sprinter was poor showings at world titles and Commonwealth Games in the sprint event while at the same time smashing out brilliant performances in the track endurance points race event. With a year to go until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics my coach and I decided that in lieu of a points race event at the games I should set my sights on getting into the Barcelona road squad. My base fitness was exceptional at this time and my top end speed better than what most roadies had to offer. There was no way I could climb mountains like the alps but if I could climb well enough to keep contact with the bunch then I could definitely win any bunch sprint.

    It was an ambitious goal but we trained hard. I say “we trained hard” because my coach John was there for every kilometre of the 100km motor paced rides through the National Park and the 100 lap training sessions behind the motor bike on the track. He listened to me whinge and cry over sore legs and bum from the road miles and he massaged out most of the lactic acid that had made a new home in my thighs. A few months out from the selection trials we soon learned that it wouldn’t have mattered how road ready I was, in the mind of the selectors I was the sprinter for the Games and that was the only event that I would be considered for.

    At this point most rational people would have accepted the best of a bad situation and gone for the sprint selection and a second Olympic team, but I have never been accused of being rational and so I dug my heels in and told the selectors if I couldn’t try for the road squad then I wouldn’t be going to Barcelona as the sprinter. I had stood my ground and showed them I meant business! But really all I had achieved was missing out on going to my second Olympics. Kathy Watt went on to win the women’s Olympic road race in spectacular fashion while I raced in Valencia at the World titles (aka all the events that were not held at the Games that year) and had a poor finish in the points race. Looking back I would have much rather have finished poorly in the sprint at the Olympics than not gone at all.

    Four years later I crashed out at the Atlanta Olympic trials and was left off the squad because the coaches had thought I had become “soft” and chosen not to continue to ride after merely spraining my wrist. Three days later when I had marched into the cycling federation offices with my new fiberglass cast holding three broken bones in place I was greeted with an apology and an offer to meet up with the squad in Germany. Ms Stubborn raised her head once more and told them to shove their team where the sun didn’t shine and that I would never race in Australia again!

    It was a great moment.

    Or was it?

    For that moment of great I will never know what could have been. I don’t spend time thinking about it (except for now while writing this)- thankfully, but it did teach me that as cool as stubborn might seem to be at the time, it never stays that way. Given a do over I would have tried with everything I had to make both Olympic teams and taken every single opportunity that was paraded in front of me.

    Life of course rarely provides a chance at a do over, or second bight of the shiny apple, life just continues to unfold and you can be the lead character in the novel or the reader.
    These days there’s no room in my box for stubborn, I choose to take the opportunities that come to me as they come. Read into that what you like but I’m the lead character in this novel and that shiny apple never tasted better.


  5. Trust

    November 19, 2014 by Sp8y

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    It’s virtually impossible to get very far in this world without employing a little bit of trust. Every time we cruise through a green traffic light we trust that the other vehicles are obeying their red stop signal. We trust that the people that have worked on the machinery that we are risking our lives on every day have done their job properly and we won’t fall from the sky or derail in a tunnel. We trust that food has been prepared in a way that won’t poison us. We trust that the licensed builder can actually build.

    We trust mostly because we have to in order to function in society. Trust of course is also inherent in every relationship where there is a level of understanding and respect that forms a bond of trust whether we verbally acknowledge it or not.

    Sometimes the non verbalised trust is the strongest of all because that comes from a place of deep seated understanding that can’t easily be explained -like faith, it just is. Sort of like the trust your dog has in you, it’s a shared understanding that you’ve got each other’s back. You don’t have to say it, you just know it.

    My coach used to always say that talk is cheap and this week I was reminded of how right he was. This week I decided that there was an extra word to be added to his saying -trust talk is cheap. Trust is earned and not automatically granted through positional power or verbal agreement. People don’t trust me because I tell them to, or my position entails it, they trust me because my actions consistently prove that I can be trusted.

    This week it was a work related failure in trust that has hurt me but years ago I was also treated to a valuable lesson in the dangers of verbal contracts.

    At the end of the American season of racing in 1990-ish I managed to catch pneumonia, or something called “walking pneumonia” which just meant that I wasn’t confined to bed but I couldn’t ride my bike either, so same thing in my mind. Rather than spend a winter in Pennsylvania in knee deep in snow I came back to summer in Australia and recovery in the sunshine.

    Around about this time there was an American cyclist that used to ride in the lower grades. She wanted to be an elite rider but she was lacking in a few key areas, namely skill and guts. In the northern hemisphere winter of that 1990-ish year this unskilled gutless rider decided to travel to Australia and improve on skills and guts in the off-season.

    Considering my poor preparation for the upcoming Australian titles I arranged for this rider to compete in the national titles under the proviso that she would “work for me” in the points race. (This was common practice for the track point’s race with the lead rider always having a teammate work for them. “Work for them” in this sense, meant to provide lead-outs and chase down breaks). This was a big deal at the time because it was the first time that a non citizen had been allowed to compete in our national titles.

    As the titles came closer the unskilled, gutless rider became stronger and faster. It was a miraculous transformation in the physical sense but there was little improvement with the other two deficiencies. By race day I was confident that she would be able to do a decent job working for me in the race, she was stronger than I was and was shaped like the male racers. The southern hemisphere climate seemed to be agreeing with her.

    We had an agreement that she was working for me and yet at about the 16km point of the race low skill gutless doesn’t chase a break, she makes a break! The betrayal hit me hard, I had trusted our verbal agreement – meaningless words that evaporated the moment our wheels hit the track.

    I think she went on to win the race, I can’t remember, it has long since ceased to matter. What does matter is the lesson that has again been reinforced this week – just because someone has a piece of paper or a title it doesn’t automatically grant them explicit trust that they can firstly do their job and secondly provide advice that is in your best interest.

    For all that is said, my trust is now completely rooted in the unsaid – a strange position considering I am not one to leave anything unsaid!
    But don’t trust me just because I’ve said it – trust me because I live it.


  6. Never Mind

    July 8, 2014 by Sp8y

    I’ve always been a little different. Now whether this difference was by nature, nurture or pure necessity I can’t absolutely say. I just know that it has been a fact of my life that interesting things happen to and around me, which is fortunate since I love to write so much. Imagine my despair if I were to live a life of normality? The mere thought of the boredom almost destroys me. Luckily for me normality is not one of my multiple-choice options in life.

    Early in life my difference was synonymous with clumsy. By the time I finally got my racing bike I had already had three concussions from schoolyard accidents and lots of skinned knee and elbow experiences; and so it was that when I began bike racing in 1982 my parents stocked up on band-aids and prepared for the inevitable.

    I was a risk taker and I didn’t disappoint. In the first two years of racing I had several spectacular crashes during either training or racing as I crashed my way through three road bikes in just two years. My Grandmother had a unique outlook on my various crashes. No matter how severe the injury, Nan would always have the same response “Never mind love”

    Nan’s three simple words had the effect of normalising my crashes and not making me precious about them. She was right of course; crashes are part of the risk taking that happens every time you get on a bike, whether it’s to train out on the road or race in a surging bunch of 100 riders each eager to be across the line first and willing to take every chance no matter who is in their way.

    Bike racing, like life, is full of risk and you can only get the results when you let go of your fear and take the chance. If you sit around worrying about the potential consequences you will never take your bike off the living room carpet.

    About four months ago I noticed that a piece of chilli was caught beside my tooth. When I got home from the restaurant I flossed the piece out and quickly forgot about it, although the burning sensation of the chilli lasted a few hours after the event, I didn’t pay that much attention. Flash forward three weeks and I noticed that the gum next to where the chilli had been stuck was now discoloured. Two subsequent trips to the dentist could shed little light on the misbehaving gum and consequently I found myself on the medical test merry-go-round.

    If my Grandmother was still around she would have told me to “never mind” but she isn’t and so I did. I minded. I minded a lot. I happen to like my mouth and I wasn’t keen on having anything wrong with it. Now a lot of people will argue that I’ve had a continuous content problem with my mouth, or at least with what comes out of it my entire life and so it would be fittingly ironic to now have something actually wrong with it. These are a lot of the same people who tell me not to ride in traffic or take any sort of risk. These people love the safety of their carpet even while their wheels gather dust.

    But maybe this time they were right? It was my mouth and not something I was willing to negotiate on, and so I worried. Me. Mad biker that flies down hills and life in the dark at 45km/h weaving through peak hour traffic with little more than lycra and a gut feeling protecting me was all of a sudden worried to take my wheels off the carpet.

    All of a sudden I started to think about risk and getting older and all of the things that could go wrong. The safety of the carpet became an annoying mantra, until today. Today the results came back – apparently it wasn’t a chilli that had been stuck in my gum but a shard of glass! Oh yes you read it right, a slither of glass that had caused a pigment change, not an endocrine disease or melanoma or some other ‘normal’ disease but a crunchy piece of window material.

    The specialist slapped me on the back and laughed about how unique my problem had been and that she would never had guessed it could be something so unusual, so different, but I should have guessed, I should have known that there was nothing to worry about. I should have trusted that my body wouldn’t let me down, especially my mouth, despite it’s numerous slips, it was still one of my prized and trusted assets.

    The next time a Dr Worry points to one of my irregularities I’m going to tell her to never mind and then wheel my bike out of her carpeted surgery and freewheel back into the blissfully risky world of just being different.


  7. The Fine Art of Control

    June 24, 2014 by Sp8y

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    It’s not only Major Tom who needs to make a call in to ground control every now and then, even self confessed control freaks such as myself find that sometimes you just need to step back, take a breath and focus on the basics of the fine art of control.

    I call it a fine art because like art, control, or more specifically what it is we are attempting to control, can be a somewhat subjective issue. From nearly 48 years of cheers and tears I have discovered that life is so much more enjoyable when you recognise what is in and what is out of your control. Key to this basic rule is the golden rule of never trying to control your feelings.

    The only thing you can control in relation to feelings is the reaction and actions that you choose to make over those feelings.

    To have any sort of success as a bike racer you must master controlling your actions and reactions to feelings. You learn fairly quickly when it’s acceptable to act on emotion and when it’s not. The rider that crosses the line first with arms raised in elation is adored by the crowd, while the rider that crosses the line last with arms raised in disgust is labelled the bad loser. They are both acting on feelings with similar actions but very different feelings that elicit a completely different interpretation from an audience, and trust me; there is always an audience.

    1984 was to be a pivotal year for my education in control. I was on top of my very small world having won both the national sprint and road championships the year before and practically every race I had entered since. When I was chosen for the Olympic team to compete in the first ever Olympic cycling event for women my ego had forced my head to bulge beyond description. I felt invincible and I acted that way. Arrogance was too nice a word for me in 1984.

    The lessons in control soon came.

    The Australian coaches could not ratify my selection due to insufficient international experience. So after being measured up for my Olympic blazer I was told that I wouldn’t be going to Los Angeles after all but I would be going to an International road race in China. The timing of this event would prevent me from defending my national road title but it would give me international racing experience. Needless to say, I was upset. I reacted by mouthing off to the president of the cycling federation and from memory I may have thrown or kicked a few things – an act that established me as a troublemaker and rebel.

    Acting out on feelings became my signature move.

    A few months after the Olympic let down the lessons continued. After an argument with my partner at the end of a 4 hour training session I acted on my emotion by dangerously riding off a gutter and out on to a busy road where a car hit me head on. Concussion, deep cuts to my leg and a broken collarbone later and life it seemed had spiralled out of control. This mayhem lasted for four more years and my reputation as a volatile bad ass grew. The more I tried to control my feelings the more I acted out in frustration.
    It took until 1988 to realise I was better served by just allowing feelings to happen and trying to control my actions instead.

    1988 was to be my year of control. I controlled everything in scope – what I ate, when I slept, who I surrounded myself with, how I behaved in public, what I said, what I didn’t say – if it concerned an action by me, I controlled it. Racing life became an equation of cause and effect with random uncontrollable events such as crashes thrown in for variety.

    The shock of course came when I left my controlled two-wheeled life for the chaos of normal – a career, a partner, a house, a pet, a social life – a mass of confusion and unpredictable behaviour. It would take me ten more years after retiring from racing in 1997 to find my ground control again.

    After some very painful lessons I realised that the rules I had applied to my racing life still applied to my non-racing life – you can’t control feelings, you can only control how you act on them. Throwing a phone across a desk in frustration or insulting a doctor over results that upset you are really not great moves, but riding home like a maniac to relieve that frustration has the added bonus of increasing fitness and getting me home quicker. The tech team won’t have to send me yet another phone and I won’t be dropping off another card of apology- it’s a win-win.

    It’s impossible to control, hide, squash, deny or ignore feelings – eventually they will work their way out – usually by turning into angry actions and sometimes by strange health issues or body hiccups as I like to call them. Feelings by their very nature are out of control, you have them or you don’t, they just are. You control the rest.


  8. Having a little Faith

    May 24, 2014 by Sp8y

    It won’t come as a surprise to say that I have a tattoo, it’s about as common these days as a freckle, and besides the sheer normality of it all, don’t all Olympians have a rings tattoo? Sure I have that one, although strangely it took me 25 years after the fact to go ahead and get it. Sometimes I need to sit with an idea for a while before I act and sometimes I just act on instinct. One of my earliest tattoos is all about acting on instinct. It is simply my star sign (Libran) with a word underneath it – “Faith”.

    Okay so I don’t have a bumper sticker advising that “Magic Happens” or that I’m a child of the universe and I’m not tied up in mystical imaginings if that’s what you think I am starting to hint at, all I’m saying is that I just have a little faith.

    Coming from a non-religious family that may seem a bit odd, certainly to my Catholic partner it is, but the faith that is tattooed on my skin and within me is not of a religious nature it is simply one of belief, mostly in myself and occasionally in others. It’s hard to pin it down or give it words when it’s really just a gut feeling, something that I know to be true. Over the years it has served me well, except when I ignore or forget about it. That’s when something will happen that sharpens my focus back to paying attention.

    Having bounced my head off various road and track surfaces over the years I now find that I have acquired certain side effects. Our bodies are good like that, they have a memory, they know full well what they like and don’t like, and even if the scar doesn’t show, your body knows it’s still there. One of the side effects of my acquisition is that I have bouts of short-term memory loss; just like what non-brain injured people have except that I just get it more often, like every day often.

    Recently my acquisition struck again and rather than pay attention to that niggling feeling that I needed to do something, I totally ignored every warning that popped into my consciousness. Last week I committed the classic winter commuting error or not recharging my lights in between rides.
    Commuting in winter means that you ride to work in the dark and ride home in the dark and this means you have to recharge more often, practically every day more often.

    Now I’ve been doing this riding thing for a while now and recharging lights is a pretty basic chore but apparently easily forgotten. On this particular day of my memory loss I had turned my computer on as soon as I got to work in order to plug my lights in to charge, but for some reason that didn’t happen. In fact it only happened 9 hours later after a friend asked if I was headed home soon because it was getting dark. Big sigh, yes I was and with two dead lights. Forty-five minutes of charging later and I decided to test how much light power I had for the 32km ride home.

    Time for faith to step in.

    With 16km to go the warning light on my front light started to flash and previous experience told me that I had about ten minutes of light at the current strength left. Ten minutes wasn’t going to get me very far so I switched to what I like to call epileptic mode – the quick flash. The warning light stopped but the new problem was I could only see bursts of the road ahead and not having great night vision in the first place means that bursts of light are about as useful as lightning flashes in the sky. But what to do? I was past the point where I could get on a train and I didn’t have any cash on me anyway, so with no other choice I calmed down and listened.

    Listen to what you ask? I listened to what I believed. So what did I believe? I believed if I concentrated on what was in front of me and I rode as hard as I could, then I could get home safely. Riding home at night is like when you set short-term goals; short term goals look at what you want to happen in the near future, when riding at night all you can see is what is about two feet in front of you. The long-term goal in this respect was getting home.

    With only short bursts of light for 16km my short-term goals were extra short and many. At about 8km to go I was so focused on taking in as much information in those microbursts that everything around me ceased to exist, it was like I had superhuman concentration and a bubble of invincibility. In essence what I had was a little bit of faith, faith in my ability to focus and get home in one piece. And where did it get me?
    Home, safe, and in one piece.

    You see, when you have a little faith you don’t need to see the big picture, you only need to see just a little bit ahead. Of course there have been one or two times in 47 years that I have lost faith but she always finds her way home to me. Faith and I it seems, are a great pair, and that’s exactly how I like it. In fact come to think of it sometimes magic does just happen, all you need is a little faith.


  9. Exposure

    May 5, 2014 by Sp8y

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    There’s an enormous amount of vulnerability riding a bike. You don’t get to have the big aluminium, glass and fibreglass protective shield that car drivers enjoy, instead you are exposed to the elements both natural and unnatural. On a bike you have to prepare yourself to withstand outside forces such as cold, rain, extreme heat, snow, vehicles, random obstacles thrown at you either on purpose or by deflection, and then there’s the insults and jibes you also put up with as you ride along just minding your own business. Physical exposure is just part of the deal.

    As a racer you have to prepare yourself for all of these obvious things and more. As a racer you must also prepare for loss. This last part is by far the hardest to prepare for. It’s not the loss that comes from not winning that is the most severe, no, that kind of loss is an even balance from having won and something every racer learns to take on the chin. The loss that is the most heart wrenching is that moment when you realise that you must leave behind your two-wheeled life of living your dream and travel down the road of convention to post racing existence.

    The emotional loss of leaving behind your bike racing family is one of the hardest things to come to terms with and the reason why a lot of bike riders continue to hang on well into their later years, racing masters events and still meeting the weekend bunch rides. Some get into coaching while others work in bike shops, anything to remain close to the source of their happiness.

    Some of us just enjoy daily commutes to work and steer clear of the various two wheeled debates on what bike racing is and is not. There is no need to continually prove yourself when your history has already been written. When you know intimately what racing is, there’s little need to shout around town about it. You already know it.

    I have recently renovated my house and have made room for a library. Living in the city I don’t have a garage, and so my bike lives inside. Conveniently and appropriately, my bike now lives in my library, my two favourite things side by side.

    Last night my partner suggested I put some of my cycling memorabilia up in the library and was surprised at my hesitancy. I rarely display items from what I largely consider to be one of, if not the, greatest time of my life. I think that the reason I don’t display these things is that they act like beacons, their very presence signifying a relationship with another reality that I am no longer able to reach. They are not unlike the books on the shelves of my library, each displaying only a title that signifies a larger story within. These titles read like a summer racing schedule – Coors Classic, T-Town, Michelob Night Rider, Wheat Thins Series, Sundance, Houston, Japan, Seoul….and the best seller list goes on.

    This other unreachable reality in the past is the time spent with my racing family- a small group of racers and of course, my coach. For over a decade we spent the better part of each day pushing ourselves to our limits. We revealed our strengths and weaknesses, we shared joy and despair, and we celebrated life with more passion than a new year’s fireworks display. We allowed each other to witness the ultimate emotional exposure of giving everything we had and all for a chance at that fleeting moment in time when we could say we were the best. We bared witness to our vulnerability and yet now, years later we seldom speak.

    Perhaps it is too close, too raw, something best left in the past, embedded in objects for library shelves, or perhaps it’s just that there is no need to speak about what we already know. We remain that same family, the memory of the experiences creating an invisible thread that ties us as surely as a double helix DNA strand. We don’t always have to talk about our racing past to know and feel a part of it. Nor do we have to display memorabilia to remember what we were. But looking at these shelves now perhaps there is room for a few best sellers from my past, move over Patricia Cornwell and make room for a thriller called Somerville – thrills, spills and raw exposure – a timeless classic.


  10. Balancing the Green

    April 22, 2014 by Sp8y

    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.

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