This is a story with a difference – it is not about my path to success – it is rather a story about finding a capability that the bullies doubted. Quite frankly, my path to success came really easily. I am lucky to be blessed with remarkable intellect and added to that a level of risk taking beyond most and a willingness to work hard. Success followed.
My life at school was bedevilled by the way of the bully who found my intellect intimidating. It did not help that I was rubbish at sport, no matter how hard I tried. I was the last to swim and sat on the side of the pool during swimming PE until I learned to swim, with some help from my baby sister. The day I showed the PE teacher I could swim remains firmly entrenched. My first bicycle was stolen before I learned to ride, which I did with the help of my mate next door on his bike. At high school, I welched out of playing rugby be feigning a knee injury – that lie worked for 3 whole years and I could play tennis instead. Until the rugby master asked the doctor. I did persevere playing tennis building on the coaching I had when I was 10 or so. That led me to playing squash – my school was the first school that had its own courts – I loved playing squash because I could play alone, and I could take my anger out on the ball. Sadly I was not the most patient of players and did take my anger out on the racquet more than once – I think the record was 9 racquets in one year.
I practised hard to try to be any good. I spent hours hitting and kicking and bowling balls against a wall. In one athletic season I practised high jump and long jump and pole vault so much that I developed a stress fracture in one leg. Sad as that year I had high jumped my own height applying the newly invented Fosbury Flop and had a chance of winning the school championship – could not jump. Oh and being the first kid in the school to wear glasses did not help. Every fist fight started with me having to find a safe person to entrust my spectacles to. My first sport had been boxing. I used it a lot. I took to running – in this way I was able to leave the school grounds and seek solace in my solitude. I vividly remember the Alan Sillitoe book, The Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner. The running was crazy too. Behind the school we had a big set of hills which were on private property. The farmer was well known for shooting at trespassers using salt pellets. I would rather take on that risk than face the bullies at school. I was rubbish at running as it happened. The best I ever did was come second in one event.
For me the bicycle was very important. I could run away from home and cruise the streets. In the 1960’s there was no traffic – we lived quite some way out of the city. I rode everywhere. I took over my brother’s racing bike when he went to sea. I took it to university and stated to ride with a friend. We rode a lot – we rode the 2nd Cape Argus Tour in Cape Town which is now the world’s largest ride. We did a tour after final exams and headed up the coast and back over the mountains. We did not know what we could not do – we just did it. It was a whole lot better than running – less pain and more stuff to see in a shorter time period.
Many years later, I had sold my business. I had moved to Australia and I had started to ride again. I saw an advertisement in Australian Cyclist magazine from an outfit called Cycle Across Oz advertising a ride from Perth to Melbourne. I sent in my money and did some training and I flew to Perth faced with the task of riding 4,500 kms in 5 weeks.
Till then the most I had ridden in a day was 120 kms and the most I had ridden in 10 days was 1,000 kms when I was 20-something. In the first week we rode 3 consecutive days over 150 kms into a head wind. In the 2nd week we did the same again. I used to train 40 kms at a time and faced with a 160 km day I would start with one training ride and then do another and then do another and 4 training rides later the day was done. So good was that trip that I signed up again 2 years later – and rode harder and faster and did more sight-seeing. On that trip I rode my first day of 200 kms in a day. It was no harder than 160 kms. In 2006, a friend invited me to join a 360 km ride in tribute to Sir Hubert Opperman, the doyen of Australian cycling. We rode that pretty well continuously and I started my journey as a randonneur rider riding long distances in set times. The pinnacle or randonneuring is to qualify for and ride the 1200 km Paris Brest Paris event held every 4 years. I qualified in 2006/7 and rode in 2007 – while I did not finish I knew that I had found my capability in sport – I am an endurance rider – and with 7 trips across Australia under my belt, the open road is my oyster. I am inspired to ride and I just get on the bike and ride it.
Support my charity fund raiser from me ride from Sydney to Adelaide completed a few weeks ago - doors close on April 30 http://mymark.mx/FreedomWheels