That #bestnine on Instagram is a funny thing isn’t it…you let a computer algorithm decide your highlights for the year. It’s the anomaly that exists on social media that we post the best of ourselves, the way we want the world to see us: the Wheel Women #bestnine is a glorious exposé of wins, success, fun, laughter and a little bit of adventure. But the saddest part is that I had to ask a friend to remind me what was great in the year almost gone.
No computer algorithm could remind me of the loss, the frustration, the hard work, the late nights, the disagreements, the tears…oh yes, and sometimes the incredible lack of tears behind the pictures. Fighting against that human spirit when it falls in a heap is like climbing a small Everest, and no algorithm will ever be able to detect the pain behind some of the pictures it selects as your #bestnine.
At the close of another year at Wheel Women it may seem incongruous for me to write about negativity in the face of what has always been an incredibly positive, vibrant, successful group – but behind this year has been so much heartache, shock and at times darkness. And I have debated over and over again whether to post this, or not…
As always we started our year with the #wheelwomenride at Tour Down Under. I left Melbourne for the event knowing my mother was ill, rode on the day to know that things had declined substantially and felt the anxiety quietly as we rode, and exited Adelaide sooner than expected to get back home only to lose Mum the day after my return. It called an end to many months of suffering, stress and sadness. Perhaps I surprised many by my lack of tears…all I wanted was to be left alone, and to ride.
The success of the #wheelwomenride at TDU became a forgotten blurr in my mind. With 100 riders in attendance there was no question that what Wheel Women does inspires so many women to just give riding a crack. What I had set out to build some 6 years ago was recognised by others too when I was named as one of the key Ambassadors for the This Girl Can VIC campaign, an honour I still can’t quite believe! But shadowing all of this for me was that monumental loss of the woman who told me ‘keep moving, just don’t stop’.
Mum wouldn’t be there to see the final This Girl Can VIC ads hit the tv screens, or see her daughter who wears ‘ridiculous’ lycra be on the back of a bus and the side of a tram…maybe it was best she didn’t see it! She scorned my obsession with riding for a long time, but eventually conceded to feeling jealous about my ability to be active, mobile and fit – something she had lost due to her choices about activity versus inactivity along with incapacitating arthritis.
My choice of activity meant I was winning. Wheel Women took out the Best Outdoor Active Recreation Program at the VicSport Awards, and later in the year I was named as the recipient of the Cycling Luminaries Leadership Award – oh the incongruity of this one when I’d felt incapable of any leadership. For a second year running I acted as an Ambassador for the Jean Hailes for Women’s Health organisation which is a wonderful organisation to work with and represent – only to find I felt like a fraud. You see, all that activity didn’t mean I could dodge a bullet…I wasn’t as healthy as all seemed. I’d warded off the potential Type 2 diabetes scare I’d been warned about by my doctor some years earlier, and I’d lost weight and gotten a whole lot fitter….but there was far more to this picture.
The real slap in the face came when I was diagnosed with heart disease – it really knocked me for six. All that activity, fresh air, fun and positivity couldn’t take away the fact my genetics pre-disposed me to the 50% blockage in my left aorta. My father died of a heart attack at age 52, so the fear of that unknown had always been with me – I didn’t dodge that bullet! I’ll admit, it clouded much of my thinking for many months as I come to terms with the implications of heart disease. I felt like a fraud to be an ambassador for women’s health.
On the upside, I am now armed with crucial information…at least I found out the importance of talking to my doctor when all is not well. I found support, care and concern.
This year has marked so much loss for me, both physical and metaphorical: loss of family, loss of friends and friendships, loss of health, loss of my beloved best doggy friends Lucky and Barney (my two dogs who I lost within 6 weeks of each other). It’s been hard to stay focused and positive, or make good decisions in the face of such overwhelming grief. I have had a year of feeling like most things I have done are wrong, and embarrassingly imperfect. And I’ve sure made some monumental mistakes too.
So what have I learned? When we choose to be critical of ourselves, and of others around us we drain ourselves from being able to see the great stuff…it’s an energy zapper. And I’ve done that this year…I feel zapped. So when I look at that computer generated #bestnine I must admit I felt a little angry, quite sad, very imperfect and downright frustrated.
I may not always get it right, it’s not for want of trying. And though I may also not always project the most welcoming of spirit, it’s not something I feel proud of. Letting go of the dark times that have shadowed this year have been, and will be, the most difficult thing to get me across the line for 2019. There has been some truly awesome stuff at Wheel Women, and I just need to remember that a little more. At the c,lose of the year I am quietly reminded of the great stuff buried in there….above all, the people.
- the lady from Afghanistan who never learned to swim or ride, so she is ticking the good things off her bucket list.
- the woman from Saudi Arabia who I watched ride off with her partner after teaching her to ride…he stopped, kissed her and they kept riding. It was a beautiful moment.
- the rider who told me, ‘this is team work, look at us…I love this, I love this team work!’
- the one who told me that WW has filled the ‘dark spaces’
- the rider who has been riding for less than a year but completes a 400km multi day ride
- the amazing teamwork and friendship we had at the Shimanami Cycling event in Japan
- the incredible welcome we had from the Japanese riders who have become lifelong friends
And the extraordinary women at Wheel Women who make Wheel Women my happy place.
These women really move me…the power of such simple achievements and words are worth so much more than any awards or accolades and lift my spirit beyond words. Six years ago the dream was simple…more women riding, more often, more confidently and to make a difference. Despite the inability to see through the darkness at times this year, there has been so much to be truly joyful about.
So I guess my message for the year gone, and the year we are about to enter is don’t be critical…be constructive. Don’t be negative…be positive even in the face of when things don’t always go the way you want them to go, even in loss. Be kind to yourselves and to those around you…don’t expect to always get things right, have no expectations. Keep riding, keep living…ride far, ride free, ride strong. And smile.
NOTE: Thank you to the amazing Ride leaders and Coaches at Wheel Women who give so much of their time to keep women riding and help make a difference…and for more than once providing the shoulder I needed!