Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Unlikely Celebration

On Monday the 23rd of April I celebrated an anniversary.  Not the normal kind of anniversary that most people would celebrate.  For me it was the 14th Anniversary of a whole new way of life.

April 23rd, 1998, 2:15 p.m. was the date that I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  At the time I thought it was the end of the world.  It may have been because the neurologist who gave me my diagnosis was an idiot by telling me that "Your life as you know if is over, I would suggest you go home and put your affairs in order before you become incapacitated".  Nice thing to hear when you are by yourself with absolutely no symptoms anymore!  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that one day I would celebrate this date!

But I am one of the lucky ones!  I have a support husband, my family (even if they are thousands of kilometers away), a good medical team and friends.  When something like this happens to you, you certainly find out who your friends are!  I think back to those first minutes, days and months and I couldn't have done it without everyone who was there to support me.  But I am also pig headed and stubborn and I made the decision that "NO ONE" was going to tell me how my life would play out!

Today I don't think I would change my diagnosis of MS (except maybe the way it was delivered!) because it has made me who I am today.  The worst part of this disease is the unpredictability, it can diminish the quality of life and create a world of never ending uncertainty, but isn't that what life is like generally?  Don't people say that the only guarantee we have in life is taxes and death?  Today is the only guarantee that we get, we can't change what happened yesterday and we have no idea what will happen tomorrow.

Living with MS is never easy, but life in general is never easy.  Living with MS has given me opportunities that I never would have had without it in my life.  It has given me the opportunity to:
  • represent Australia at an elite level in rowing and now cycling
  • to advocate for people living with a disability
  • to educate and motivate
  • to run and build a charity event to raise money for people living with MS
Yes MS has taken some things away from me but I like to think of the glass as half full instead of half empty.  It has also taught me some really important lessons in life:
  1. That nothing is impossible if we dare to face our fears and believe in ourselves.
  2. See every difficulty as a challenge, a stepping stone and never be defeated by anything or anyone.
  3. That what I am able to do depends on what I expect of myself and on what I choose to do with my time.
  4. To love the journey and not the destination.
  5. To live my life with passion because who I am and what I do matters.
That first neurologist was right when he said "My life as I knew it was over", but not in a bad way.  I certainly didn't choose the life I have been dealt, but I do have a choice as to how I live it.  I will continue to live it with passion and drive.  I will get up each morning enjoying the fact that I am alive and I will continue to look beyond the presumptions and limitations that others imagine.  You have to connect with your own vision of how life can be, no matter what you are going through and not listen to those who have a negative view of life.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The True Test

Well last weekend was the "True Test" of the last 6 months of all the hard work I have put in.  It was Nationals time again, only my 2nd Nationals as a Cyclist.  The Australia Para-cycling Championships were being held once again on the Sunshine Coast, just outside of Caloundra.  Now usually this time of year in Melbourne the weather is not that great, but in the lead up the weather was magnificent!  I was a bit miffed as I was hoping to get out of the cold and head to the heat for a few days of training in the sun.  The day I left however Melbourne didn't disappoint as it turned cold and rainy!  I arrived at the Maroochydore Airport in beautiful warm weather, jumped into the van I had hired and headed to an apartment on the beach!

I had a magnificent 4 days of beautiful weather and then it hit, just in time to race.  The weather app on my phone said that there would be a few showers!  I would hate to see what a torrential downpour looked like if that was only a few showers!  But the racing was still on and when we are overseas you never know what type of weather you will get, so you race in it all.

The Time Trial course is a great one, very flat, out and back for a total of 8km, but very open so the head wind going out the first 4km can be brutal.  Combine that with the rain and it was a lot of fun!  But at the turn around you get a fantastic tailwind that helps push you to speeds that you would love to be able to do without the wind.  In the end I was very happy with my time and speed.  As it was the same course as last year I could look at the improvement, although the distance was changed, but I averaged 5km/hr faster than last year.  Crowned National Champion in the Women's T2 category was just a bonus.

The Road Race was the next day around the Glasshouse Mountains the exact same course and distance as last year.  I was sent off with the handcyclists and the one thing I didn't count on was the amount of dirt and water that those handcycles kick up off the back of them.  I hadn't even gone 200m and I was wet!  At least the weather helped up by absolutely bucketing down around the back of the course which washed off the dirt!  The course itself has a few hills with a couple of 90 degree corners!  Thank goodness a couple of weeks ago we had some bike handling skills at the Kelly Camp I went to.  They certainly came in handy along with the practice I had in the underground at the apartment I was staying at.  Helen (my coach) had me practising a figure 8 down there and it certainly helped!

In the end I completed the course almost 3 minutes faster than I had last year.  I felt pretty good at the end of it although my legs (if they could talk) might have been thinking differently.  But again crowed National Road Champion!

I am pumped now for our European Tour which we leave for on the 31st of May.  We are only heading to the 2nd World Cup in Spain in June and then get a chance to have a ride on the course for London, then home.  Hopefully by then I will know 100% for sure if I am on the team for London.

Just one last note about Nationals, I had embarked on a fitness regime in October, aiming to be the fittest I had ever been for these nationals and I feel pretty good that I achieved it.  Having lost 12 kilos and my power to weight ratio improving, I had stopped drinking alcohol (yes no red wine with dinner), I made a pact with myself that I would have a drink after nationals.  So along with Coaches Helen and Bob and room mate Hannah we all headed out to a beautiful dinner Sunday night and yes I had some red wine!  (Actually a couple of glasses!) It was a lovely night and we definitely had a lot of fun, but now it is back to the training regime. 

I have learned that the best opportunities require effort, commitment and persistence.  The best thing now is that I know I am absolutely capable of making that commitment...I've done it for the last 6 months, and I will continue to put forth the effort that I need to for as long as necessary!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kelly Cycling Camp and Onwards

This past week was certainly an experience I won't forget for a while!  Helen and Bob Kelly who are my coaches were holding a camp in Bright, Victoria.  For those of you who don't know the area it is at the base of a number of mountains in country Victoria.  Not mountains by Canadian standards, but let me tell you after this past week they are "mountains"!  Not only did we have Helen and Bob coaching but also a friend of their's Bec.

Most of the riders at the camp were quite a bit lets say ALL the riders were younger with a few older riders!  Two of us were Para-cyclists, Hannah and I.  To say I was a bit nervous at the start is probably an understatement.  I was extremely worried that I would be left for dead on these rides and end up riding by myself.

We had arrived on the Sunday and our first ride was Monday morning at 8am.  It was going to be a fairly flat ride considering the area we were in and we were broken into a couple of groups.  I was going to be riding with Helen, Hannah, Ash and Alex (two of the younger riders).  We headed off towards Myrtleford.  We ended having a short stop in Myrtleford where we met up with the other group and then off we went again towards Lake Buffalo.  Before we reached the lake we were told to turn around and do a hard piece back to the bridge we had crossed.  Once that was done we were back riding together again.  Unfortunately Alex made a bad decision to try and pull a piece of long grass out of his front tire and got his hand caught causing him to fall, with Ash just behind him he ended up flipping over Alex.  I was behind both of them and found out just how good my brakes were on the new trike!  Thought I was going to go over the handlebars but managed to get the back tires down and stop!  Both boys had injuries but in the end they weren't too bad and both were able to continue for the rest of the camp.  One big lesson learnt...DO NOT put your hand in your front wheel while moving!

Monday night Helen and Bob had asked me to speak to the group to try and motivate them a bit.  I told the riders that there are 3 C's in life, that they were being given a Chance to make a Choice to Change something this week and that there were two words they must take out of their vocabulary...Can't and Never!  The best compliment that I got was the next night when one of the riders Cam told me that he had used those 3 C's and it had helped him during the ride.  It has been great getting messages from some of the other riders to say thanks for speaking to them!

Tuesday was probably the hardest day of cycling I have ever had.  Hannah and I were told to start off first and turn left onto the Towonga Gap Road. We had been told that we had a climb ahead of us on this day.  Wow what a climb it was.  For the first 2 km's I said to Hannah that it wasn't too bad, then we hit it...a 15km climb and I must say that the last 4km's of that climb were the toughest about 12%.  By the time we had reached the top we had climbed just over 2,139 feet.  I had been passed by everyone but I had made it!  The view from the top was magnificent!

The rest of the troups were cycling on but Helen told Hannah and I to ride back down and head back to Bright and then on further past to Porepunkah then turn around and go back to the hotel.  What a ride down!  I must say that age has made me a scaredy cat and I had my hands on the brakes the entire way down!  We did however find a good coffee once our ride was over.

That night we had a great time playing twister!  My god I hadn't done this in years and it was a competition to see who could last the longest.  During the last game Hannah and I became the last two and I must say that I don't think my body has stretched or twisted in those ways in a long time.  In the end I fell because I couldn't put my nose on a circle behind me!

The last day of riding for us and the under 17's was the Wednesday with an hour long warm up then a 6km Time Trial, then a ride to Harrietville which is just at the bottom of Mount Buffalo.  This would have been too much for me to climb and Hannah and I were once again sent back to Bright which was 25km away.  I know that Hannah was disappointed that she didn't get to climb Mount Buffalo but we have nationals next weekend and that wouldn't have been the best thing for us to try a week out from racing!  But it is there to be conquered and next time I will even give it a try!

It was a great few days and I got to know a lot of the riders the Kelly's coach and they are all great young people!  It was also quite a challenge for me and one which I came through pretty good.  It was hard but my body handled it by making sure I took care of it.  I went into this 3 days deciding that there were valuable opportunities to be had in the challenges of those 3 days.  I was living those three C's that I spoke to the kids about. I was given the Chance by the Kelly's to participate and as life is a continuous series of choices I had to decide what Choice I wanted to make in order to effect a Change.  My Choice was to make sure I gave myself every opportunity to Change the way I think while riding.  Focusing on the positives, like realising that I was conquering that climb, instead of thinking the negative thoughts about how much it was hurting. So instead of  adding to the difficulty of the climb with negativity I choose to transform that difficulty into success!

Now as I write this entry I am sitting in Caloundra, Queensland with nationals just a few days away.  Yes I have come up here early but I am ready, rested and raring to go on the weekend.  I have put everything into my training and now is the time to prove to myself that all this hard work has paid off!