Tuesday, November 30, 2010


How many of us are actually grateful for what we have?

My son-in-law's mother arrived yesterday from Canada.  In fact from my home town of Toronto.  Toronto right now is about to settle into their winter months where temperatures can get well below zero degrees celcius with lots of snow to add to it.

The last time I was in Toronto about a year and a half ago I was astounded by the amount of concrete!  Whether it had actually changed since I left 16 years ago I am not really sure.  Maybe it was the fact that I have come to enjoy the Australian landscape, even within the city.

Today as she walked around my very small house in inner Melbourne, looking at our front and back gardens she stated "You live in paradise!"  I had never thought of my house as being in paradise.  It is just our little house, yes we love it and yes it looks lovely right now with flowers and plants blooming.  But paradise?

We went to lunch at a local cafe and had the all day breakfast.  When she cut into her poached eggs she was amazed at the colour of the yoke!  She walked into a specialty food store and was amazed by the colours of the fruit and vegetables.  I just didn't see it, was I missing something.

After they left I gave her statements a lot of thought.  I realized that I take a lot of things for granted.  I remember the first time I got off a plane in Australia, recalling the colour of the sky, the smell of the eucalyptus trees, I could actually smell it and the friendliness of the people I met.  I think that complacency has taken over and I do take all these things for granted.  I have decided that I have to change my way of thinking and be really grateful for everything that is around me and in my life!  I am not going to take things for granted again.

There is a Native American saying which I want to share with you:

"When you arise in the morning
Give thanks for the morning light.
Give thanks for your life and strength.
Give thanks for your food,
And give thanks for the joy of living.
And if perchance you see no reason for giving thanks,
Rest assured the fault is in yourself."

Thank you Joyce for making me open my eyes to see what it is that is around me.  The sights, the sounds and the tastes that make this country the most amazing place.  For that I will be forever grateful.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chasing Dreams

What would you attempt to do if you knew that you could not fail?

Quite an important question to ask yourself!  Just imagine if the whole world thought this way what we could all accomplish.  Everything in life has a risk.  Simply having a shower...you could slip and fall.  Crossing the street...make sure you look before you step.  Leaving the contentment of a good comfortable job...starting a new more challenging career.  Meeting someone and getting married....will it last.  Leaving the comfort of the country you grew up in...starting a new life in a different world!  Everyday challenges and chores have a risk associated and we all do these things almost everyday.  Well maybe not move to another country...but you get the picture!

So why then do we not attempt to follow our dreams?  All dreams have risks, but that is the great thing about dreams.  If you chase your dreams and fulfill them it makes them all so more rewarding; the fact that you have overcome all the dangers and obstacles along the way.

I believe that most of us are scared to follow our dreams because of that first statement I made.  We are scared that we may fail.  But Thomas Edison once said "Many of life's failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

I decided a few years ago that I was going to chase my dreams and should I fail, then at least I have tried.  Chasing my dream of competing at the Paralympics, I have learned that I really didn't know who I was until I could see what I could do.  I constantly amaze myself at some of my progress.  And when it gets to the end of my dream, whether I achieve it or not, I know that I have given it my all.

You should pursue any dream you have at full throttle.  It is your life and your choice - dare to face your fears and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.  See every difficulty as a challenge, a stepping stone and never be defeated by anything or anyone!


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Two Little Words

I started rowing in December 2006 after being asked to take up the sport by the Australian Paralympic Committee through a Talent Search day.  Little did I know what learning to row would do for and to me over the next four years!

How many times do we hear the words "Can't" and "Never" growing up and even into our adult lives.  As children we are constantly told "No you can't do that" and as adults we are told "You will never be able to do that".  Well that is exactly what happened to me back in May 2007 when I was told that I would "Never" be good enough to make a national rowing team.  I believe that both of those words should be taken out of the english language.  Why should anyone have the power to tell someone that they "Can't" or will "Never" be able to do something, especially if they don't really know the person.  I went on to prove this man wrong and subsequently made the national team the following 2 years.

Although I haven't competed internationally this year, I am still aiming to compete next year and help get our crew qualified for the Paralympics in London 2012.  But because I wasn't competing internationally this year I had to find another focus.  I believe in goals, we need them to push ourselves through the pain and dedication to training.  I changed rowing clubs this year and it was probably the best decision I have ever made over the last 4 years of my rowing.

In June this year I joined the Melbourne Rowing Club and started training with the Masters Women.  There are some amazing women at this club, some who have been rowing a very long time, some who have been rowing for about the same time I have.  My coach has remained the same as he came to the club as well. 

The focus of the women at this time of the year was the Head of the Yarra regatta.  This is the largest regatta in the southern hemisphere totally devoted to the "Big Boats", the eights!

With 5 crews to look after, 4 of those being female crews and one a mixed crew, my coach has his hands full.  I don't know how he did it, but he worked out all the crews, took all of them for training sessions and really made all of us believe in ourselves and our abilities.  We all took turns in different boats and in different seats and he finally came up with the combinations of crews based on rowing scores and ages!

When he finally asked me to stroke one of the crews (for those non-rowers this means to take charge of leading the other rowers when it comes to stroke rate and speed) I was very honoured but to be honest scared to death!!  I am sure there were a few of the rowers who were concerned that due to my MS I wouldn't be able to carry out the task and to be honest, I wasn't sure I would be able to do it!  I certainly didn't want to let anyone down on the day.

That day dawned yesterday, all the hard work had been put in, the blisters, the sweat and the sore bodies all for this one day and this 8.6km race.  I can tell you that I was extremely nervous even as we were carrying the boat down to the water, but once on the water my stomach settled, I focused and I knew what I had to do.  The weather wasn't exactly the best but for the time we were racing it was probably the best of the day.

We knew that we were starting off first in our category and had 16 boats that were going to chase us, so the plan was to get out really fast.  Row the fastest first 2km that we could possibly row because after 2km it becomes harder to pass due to the twists and turns in the river.  But the most dangerous place on the river in this race was Big Bend, a 90 degree bend in the river.  With all the rain that we have had the silt had shifted and gathered at this one corner, so to get around this bend without a mishap was probably going to be the breaking point of other crews.

By the time we hit Big Bend we had about 400 metres on the crews behind us. (Not bad for only a 10 sec head start)  Our coxswain Emma is so experienced that she took a fantastic line and we really zipped around the corner then drove our legs as hard as we could to get back up to speed.  At this point we still had about 4km to go, so it was up to me to keep a good rythm and stroke rate and up to Emma to keep us on our toes with our heads firmly focused on what we were supposed to be doing.

But with about 1km to go an almost unbearable pain started in my hip and I really had a hard time getting up the slide and even sitting up straight.  This felt like a nightmare about to start! The velcro on my right shoe had come loose right near the start of the race, so when my hip started to hurt I couldn't even use my foot to help pull me forward, as it was loose in the shoe.   I am sure that Emma could see it in my face every time she said to me "Sit up...sit up".  Believe me I was trying to.  When she realized that I had a problem she quickly yelled to everyone "Right bow 7 lets help Carol, keep it long, keep it strong! Let's all back her up" and with that I could feel the boat lift! All of a sudden I heard the finishing line horn, the most beautiful sound in the world, especially if you are in absolute agony...it's over.   I quickly looked at my watch and then looked ahead for the other crews.  It took almost 3 and a half minutes for the next crew to cross the line...that was a good omen, but we had to wait to see what the boats at the back had done.

It didn't take long to find out the results...we had WON!  Not only with the handicaps (due to ages) applied but on raw time!  All that hard work had paid off.  Not only that but out of the four female crews, 3 of them had won and the 4th was 2nd!  Our coach had done the most remarkable job!!

So I want to thank the women who backed me up in that boat!  You are the best!  Thank you for your friendship and your encouragement...no one can ever take away that win from us and no one can ever say to us those two little words...Can't and Never !  Through rowing I have two new favourite words; Teamwork and Friendship. 

You my friends have all made huge waves in my life!!

Melbourne RC Masters Women E Crew

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hard Act to Follow

The other night I had to speak at the Bayside Business Network at the Sandringham Football Club.  They had asked me to speak there because they had heard me speak for AXA Insurance back in August about what having Income Protection Insurance had done to assist me when I had to leave full time employment.  What I didn't know was that there was going to be another speaker that night who would speak before me.  We had the same amount of time to talk and when I saw who it was a couple of days before hand I just about died!  I had to speak after one of Australia's all time major Olympic Stars!!!  Duncan Free!

Drew Ginn & Ducan Free

Now for those of you who may not know who Duncan Free is, he is one of Australia's best rowers ever!  He was a member of the quad sculls crew in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympics.  After Athens in 2004 he took a year off and then switched to sweep rowing and in 2006 and 2007 won Gold at the World Championships with Drew Ginn in the pair.  Then in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics he and Drew won that elusive Olympic Gold Medal in the pair.

So I figured that was going to be a hard act to follow!  He started with a video of their Gold Medal winning row which was fantastic and so inspiring to watch!  He then talked about set backs, dedication, persistence and attitude.  Upon hearing what he had to say I started to realize that what I had to say would just reinforce his ideas! 

I was feeling much better with the fact that I was going to follow on from him and realized that what I had to say was just as important.  Persistence and Attitude is what life is all about.  We all have set backs in life, but you really have to pull through and take the good with the bad.  Our world is full of challenges and opportunities and we are lucky to have such a big choice.  Life can be so exciting, so don't waste one moment.

Duncan did give us a formula:
a  b  c  d  e   f   g   h   i   j   k    l    m   n   o   p   q    r   s    t    u   v   w     x   y   z   =
1  2  3  4  5  6  7   8  9 10 11 12  13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22  23 24 25 26

He then gave us some words and what percentage those words add up to in life:

T    R   A  I  N   I   N   G  = 92%
20  18  1  9  14  9  14  7

D  E  D  I  C  A  T  I  O  N  = 84%
4  5   4   9  3  1  20 9 15 14

A  T   T   I  T   U  D  E  = 100%
1  20  20 9 20 21  4  5

I think the last one says it all!  You can have everything else right no matter what you are doing but it is your attitude that counts!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turning Problems into Solutions

I watched a short video this morning called "Pink Bat".  It was done by a man called Michael McMillan and it teaches us that many problems really aren't problems at all.  He talks about turning problems into solutions, like mould being used to invent penicillin or an apple falling on your head teaching you about gravity.  Now we all know about these things, but do we really know how to turn our own problems into solutions.

We all share the same world but we don't share the same reality.  What may be a problem to me won't seem such a big thing to someone else and vice versa.  But when we do have a problem we forget that there really is a solution out there somewhere, we just have to look for it.

I think we all just expect solutions to come along, we aren't conditioned to think outside the square or look for other doors to open.  We all tend to focus on one part of the problem and forget to see anything else.  So tomorrow when you wake up I want you to realise that you have two choices:

1. You can make the decision to wake up with problems
2. You can make the decision to wake up to a world with solutions.

Try it, you will be amazed at how different your day might be!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Life's Challenges

Life can throw us numerous challenges both good and bad.  Everyone has their own challenges but it is the way we look at them that make them either good or bad.  I have always looked at the glass as half full instead of half empty.  I am sure that this drives some of my friends nuts at times, but I believe it is how I have learned to cope with living with a disease like Multiple Sclerosis.

It was a devastating diagnosis, 3 years into a marriage, a move 16,000 km's away from family and a whole new way of life.  With the support of my husband, family and friends I have been able to move on with life and accomplish things I never thought possible.  I have decided that life is like a game of cards, its not being dealt a good hand but more so the ability to play a poor hand well.  I have certainly learned the art of doing just that.

A lot of people talk about what MS has taken away from them, but I like to talk about what MS has given me.  It has given me the opportunity to become an Ambassador for MS Australia and as most of my family and friends would tell you, I like to talk!  It has given me the opportunity to become an elite athlete, representing Australia in the sport of rowing, with an aim to competing in the Paralympics in London in 2012.  It has given me the opportunity to start a charity event called the 24 Hour Mega Swim, which is now expanding throughout the country, giving people with MS the chance to apply for scholarships to follow a dream.  And last but not least it has given me the opportunity to really start to like myself.

That's not saying that I didn't like myself before, but I believe that being diagnosed with MS has made me not put things off, try new things, look at all that happens around me and enjoy my life.

I honestly believe that the happiest of people in the world do not have the best of all, they simply appreciate what they find on their way and the most exciting moments in our lives come to us when we are living and doing for others.  I believe that the greatest gift we can possibly give to another is a portion of ourselves.