The Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer 2012 - something I have put so much time, effort, energy and money towards seemed to be over in a blink of an eye. No sooner were we lining up at the start in the freezing cold and rain, we were then crossing the finish line in beautiful sun-drenched Albert Park.
But then I seriously reflect on the ride. The 200km ride that I needed to put every ounce of mind, body and soul in to complete.
Now, I will be honest. I have tried to write this 100 times, but the emotion still gets in the way. There is just so much to write about, I have broken it down into chunks.
Be warned – this is LONG! Even for my standards!
Starting the Ride
Arriving at Albert Park, I was nervous. Not nervous for the 200kms, but nervous at the prospect that I had a team of 5 other riders who I felt completely responsible for.
Team Fighting Back - ready to go
Jen - From what I heard, Jen was going to do OK!
Greg - Greg had put in a lot of training, so was going to do OK
Julie - who I thought might struggle because of her ankle (that was smashed up about 7 years ago in a car accident)
Small Nicki - who should not have been riding due to an injury. NOT riding I must re-inforce.
Tall Nikki - a current cancer patient who had also battled a knee injury and didn't have a great preparation leading into the event. (But boy did she train hard!!!!)
And my 2 Liv/giant girls who were also riding with us. Corinna and Tracey AKA Cheap & Nasty! The good thing was that Corinna and Tracey were going to help with trying to keep the team together!
So here we all were, ready to go. I was so nervous and excited I just wanted to get going. I was getting very edgy, couldn't eat, my phone was ringing and I wanted to spend a few minutes with my hubby to take this all in. For this event was for both of us!
It was then time for the Opening Ceremony to take place. Initially I didn't really listen as I was too busy being distracted by everything else. But eventually the words started to sink in. And BANG - there was the harsh reality. From there, the tears started. And it was like I was thrust back 5 years and was feeling all the pain and hurt for Vince. Only this time I cried! I didn't need to be strong for everyone else any more, and I allowed myself to let go.
Then a moment I will never forget. 4 riders lead a bike with a yellow flag through the waiting riders. The yellow flag represented a rider who had cancer. The bike without a rider was a symbol of why we ride. We ride for those who can't. At this point all my emotion took over and I stood there realising that this 200kms was one of the most important things in my life that I was going to do.
It was then time to say goodbye and through teary eyes, I said good-bye to my husband. He was so proud of me and I would not let him down!
The music then started pumping, we dried our eyes but the lump in the throat remained. We were slowly let go in waves and it took about 10 minutes to eventually get on our bikes. Just before I got to the start line a lady came from no-where shook my hand and thanked me for the special job I had done. She had seen my Bronze Ambassador badge on my sleeve and was explaining to someone the significance of being an Ambassador. It was just a shame that I had to cover up the jersey because of the cold and threatening rain. (*Note, it was covered up with my Liv/giant gear so something that I am just as proud to wear!)
About the Ride
Now, here is a summary of the Ride. Without the emotion!
Day 1 - It was a very slow ride out of the city and one made difficult because we had already been broken up as a team. I really wanted us to stay together as long as possible, but in a situation like this it was next to impossible. Also in a sea of people basically wearing the same thing, it was easy to lose sight of others. The other reality was our team were all at different levels and this was the first time we had ridden together. For me, I would have loved nothing more to ride the whole way together, but in reality this wasn't going to happen. For me being one of the stronger riders, I didn't want everyone to feel they had to keep up. And I also didn't really want to be held back either. As much as this was a chance for the team to celebrate, we also had very different reasons for doing this.
So we were on our way to Healesville and at all times I felt like I was checking to see where everyone was. I felt like the mumma of the team - which I was. The most enjoyable part of the ride of Day 1 was the section between Ivanhoe and Research. Enough hills to sort everyone out, not quite enough to challenge us. The roads were all good and between Corinna, Tracey, Greg and I - we put the foot down! I clearly recall Tracey yelling out "It's a ride Corinna, not a race" ... but man we were having some fun. Greg dropped off the back around Eltham and I wanted to slow for him, but I was also having heaps of fun. Knowing Research wasn't far, we continued to hammer it!
Then the part I knew would challenge awaited us. The hills. The road between Research and Lilydale, via Warrandyte and the famous Jumping Creek Road is bad. Bad for the hills, bad for the condition, bad for a cyclist as it has no shoulders to move from the vehicle traffic ... and a whole heap of inexperienced cyclists. It was very frustrating - especially having to brake going up hills. Mentally, it was exhausting staying on top of every situation! Physically, it was challenging. When a ride is advertised as anyone can do it, and you don't need a special bike - this route was not for them!!!
After lunch is was only 25kms into Healesville which only challenged me as fatigue was starting to set in. And I was conscious that we had to do all of this tomorrow. Arriving in Healesville, we still had another 3kms to reach our overnight stay, to which I arrived to my family waiting. Mello, the kids and my dad who had come all the way from South Australia to experience this milestone in my life.
Day 2 - We all left at our leisure from 6:30am. It was very relaxed as we all headed off when we wanted, so congestion wasn't a real issue. We were heading home so the feeling was great. The fact we had 100kms in front of us was at the back of mind. I wasn't aware of what the road ahead was like, so every corner was new. And it was in parts of Melbourne I had never heard of, let alone visited. Many comments I heard was "it's all downhill from here" ... how wrong that was!
I had done hill training. And plenty of it! But what I was not prepared for the constant higher gradient hills. There were long climbs and there were short climbs, but for 65kms all it felt like was more hills. Every corner we turned, the road just seemed to go up. To break our pain, there were also some great down hills too. We did the right thing and stopped at the rest breaks, but between 55km – 65km I was spent. I had nothing left to give – other than heart!
The final stage of the journey was flat and we knew from our Garmin that we were closing in on the finish. And then, just like that, it was over.
200kms in 2 days – a challenge, but why shouldn’t it be.
Now for the Emotion
This ride took a great deal of physical strength to complete. But what really made the difference was mental strength. When the body didn’t want to play anymore, we all needed to find something that was going to get us to the line. For me, it was my Angels and Fighters. 26 names on my bike that I was taking on this journey. I had wings on my back and fight in my heart, but there were a few very special people who got me over that line.
The first was Vince. I knew at the end of the 200kms, he was going to be waiting. I also had seen the fight and never say die attitude that he showed when he fought Cancer. He never gave up, and neither would I.
The second was Corinna – who never left my side the entire 200kms (except for about 10kms where she stopped to help another rider and I needed to continue to check on Julie who had been picked up by a medic) But Corinna had fought her own Cancer battle as well. Back in her 20’s she had ovarian cancer, and as she puts it ‘did what she needed to do’. To have her by my side on this ride was a constant reminder that Cancer can be beaten and life is there to be enjoyed. I didn’t need her name on my bike – I had her by my side.
Nothing can be taken away from Tracey who formed our Liv/giant girls team. When the going got tough, Tracey was there to crack the whip and give me a hare to chase.
And there was Nicki, Nikki and Julie : my team mates who had struggled. Both Nicki and Julie got to ride over the line, but their rides were also filled with times in the sweep vans getting them to the next stop. And Nikki who could complete day 2. For my fallen team mates, I would never quit for them.
There were 3 very tough moments in the ride. The first was at the 25km rest stop when our team mate Nicki arrived with news that one of her fighters had passed away that morning. For me, it was hard to comprehend as I didn’t know Michael, but knew his story. What was hard was watching Nicki cope with this news. But she took a deep breath and got back on her bike – after all, we were riding to Conquer Cancer and this disease just gave us another reason to keep going!
The road into Healesville was also a tough one emotionally. This was more for the personal achievement that I had made. For 11 months, the thought of riding to Healesville had been daunting and I had done it. I had achieved half of what I had set out to do, and this was a major milestone in my life. There has not been many moments in my life that I have done just for me, but this certainly was one of them.
And then there was Day 2, when I had depleted my body of all energy, which was the hardest by far. I had 10kms to get to lunch and had to find anything that would give me the strength to get me there. I had nothing more to give and was exhausted. It was then I looked down at the 26 names on my bike. Each and every single name had a story and a fight. And I took the time to think about each person. I was doing this for them. They fought so bloody hard. And so would I. I would die trying if that is what it was going to take. It was at this point that I was riding, sobbing and trying to stay focussed on just getting to where we were going. I had no idea where we were, had no idea where the stop was and felt lost in every sense of the word. All I knew was that I had to just keep going. Corinna and Tracey were wonderful at supporting me through this time and had I been alone it would have been so much harder. Great thing was a good feed and a big hug from my husband at this point was all I needed to recharge me.
Overall, I had to fight with my emotions and also those of my team mates. Nicki was only riding the first half of the day and I knew how this was affecting her. Julie made it 80kms on day 1 and was disappointed on not making it the whole way. Nikki fell ill during Day 1 and had to go home unable to ride on Day 2. Then Day 2 seeing Julie on the side of the road after about 15kms and having her bike loaded onto the sweep vehicle just tore my heart out. I knew that if that was me, I would have been devastated. I didn’t want to tell them I knew how they felt – because I didn’t. I didn’t want to say “You’ll be right” – because they probably wouldn’t be. All I could do was give them my support and tell them how proud I was of each of them. Because I was.
From all of this, I have learnt more about myself than anything. I have learnt that I am physically capable of more than I would have dared to imagine.
But emotionally, I learnt that I do have a heart and it is OK to put yourself out there. Time after time in my life, I have not showed what I really feel. I have been the pillar of strength, the one that people go to because I do cope. This is what happened when Vince was facing his battle. I just accepted the news and went into attack. I was there for anyone who needed me. Ever dependable Bec. And I never gave myself the chance to sit and accept what it was doing to me. I would get a niggle in my heart and a lump in my throat, and would push it aside not letting myself deal with it. For 5 years, I carried this with me, but in my heart I had unfinished business. Vince is now healthy. Everyone had cried their tears and rejoiced the news of his clean bill of health. And I did too, but still, there was something there.
On the morning of Day 1, I started to let it go. I let it out and I couldn’t stop. I felt the pain of 5 years ago and as each kilometre passed, slowly, so did my grief. Just because someone survives, it doesn’t mean we don’t grieve. And at the finish line as Vince stood in front of me, I knew I had done what I set out to do – heal!
I need to say a massive thanks to my team – Fighting Back for being there for me throughout this journey. It will be a time in our lives that we will always look back on and time will not fade the heart-warming moments we shared. And to Cheap & Nasty, who became part of our team on this weekend. We shared a lot out on the road. Laughter, Tears … and they even got me to pick up a chick!!! (Cue Helen Kapalos of Channel 10, who I couldn’t let ride on her own)
This is us celebrating at the end!
But before this moment - there was also a lot of this ...
A moment of indescribable mateship! Words can’t be written about this photos as it will never do justice to the feeling!!!!