Many years ago, whilst I was finishing my 3rd year veterinary medicine at the Belgium University in Ghent, I decided to take my future in my own hands and follow my dreams to move to New Zealand and finish my veterinary degree there. I remember watching a program on New Zealand and falling in love with the green hills, the amazing glaciers, beautiful beaches, and the promise that my life would be better on the other side of the world. I was 20 years old. And as many people were trying to talk me out of this insane idea of mine that I could transfer my veterinary studies to Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand, lecturers at the Belgium University telling me I would be throwing my future away, friends not quite understanding what motivated me to leave all I knew behind, my persistence that this was going to happen regardless of what everyone else thought grew stronger with every objection I got. When I look back on my veterinary career and the way my life has panned out, it was the best decision I ever made. “why can’t you just be happy with normal” I have heard these words from frustrated friends and people close to me many times when my restless existence pushed me to chase another goal or dream requiring me to leave all familiarity behind once again. Change. Chaos. Challenges. Chasing the impossible, searching. I hardly ever see a reason not to attempt something I really want to do, pushing boundaries, feeling a little scared at the thought of the possibilities. It gives me freedom. It is what drives me. It is who I am.
I have always raced in such a way that everything is left out on the course, and not much is left of me at the finish line!
It has been 3 months since I decided to concentrate again on my veterinary career by taking a job at the Dick Veterinary Equine Practice at the Edinburgh University and let go of my elite athlete dream. As much as I loved working at Thrums, I had not realised how much I had missed being in proper equine practice. When it comes to career goals, my job at the vet school has so many endless possibilities that I can see myself working here for a very long time. And although every job has its downsides, I feel like I have reached a point in my veterinary career at which I am very happy with where I am at. (big statement from a gypsy like me)
Before I discovered bikes there were horses
There is always another side of the coin however and for the first time in a good 6 years I had absolutely no athletic goals for 2017. No plans on how to improve, no coaching programs, no calendar with races scribbled all over it, no crazy challenges. And as much as I tried to convince myself that this was exactly what I needed, I also started to feel constricted, as much as my body needed to recover from the 3 years of bashing I put it through, mentally I started to feel more than recovered from all the pressures I had put myself under. It is funny how “never again” post-race turns into “what's next?” pretty soon after. With the end of 2016 fast approaching the passion to be working towards something for 2017 started to take over most of my thoughts.
The best part of my sporting aspirations are the people I have met through sport; Ashmei team mate Owain and me after a run
I decided that if I did want to challenge myself in a race again at some competitive level or on extreme courses, I needed to go and see a medical professional and deal with my injury properly instead of being stubborn about it and ignore all serious symptoms. I went to http://thephysiotherapyclinics.com/peebles-physiotherapy/ based on great feedback I had received from fellow athletes and considered myself lucky to be teamed up with David Ryan, an experienced Sports Physiotherapist with a very black and white approach but who also understood the frustrations of a side-lined athlete. I am not sure if the feeling of luck being teamed up was mutual since I have probably become one of his most demanding clients.
There is something incredible liberating about pushing yourself to your limits
As frustrating as it was to cut back my running and cycling and being given a sporting budget, it was good for me to hear from a professional that if I kept pushing myself, the damage to my sciatic nerve would become irreversible and I would never get the power back in my legs. He also made me see that I was not "doing nothing" as I put it, but that I was working on a long term plan of getting injury free. So instead of interval sets at certain wattages or speeds, I was doing physio and strength exercises which were equally as important.
By talking to Dave, I also realised that it was not just the physical activity I was missing, or that the lack of goals was the issue. I was also missing the whole world that surrounds being an athlete, the one on one attention from a coach, chatting to fellow athletes about dreams and aspirations, being understood by people with a similar mind set, and all the friendships I had made along the way. By having taken a step back, I felt so distanced from what was not that long ago all I lived for.
Sharing the amazing feeling of achievement at the finish line with Jantiene
I have always felt torn between my career as a veterinarian and my dreams of being an athlete. The thirst for knowledge and science in my veterinary career and the desire to be pushing myself out of my comfort zone as an athlete, travelling to remote places whilst physically and mentally achieving the unachievable. There is something so incredible liberating about running, cycling or climbing over amazing mountain passes in search for your absolute limits. Both passions are such a big part of my personality and more and more I have come to realise that I don’t feel quite myself without one or the other.
Trying to perform at elite level whilst maintaining a full time job as a veterinarian took its toll on my body
So here I am, leaving an emotional 2016 behind and standing at the beginning of a lot more stable 2017. Whilst working with the physio I have enabled myself to dream a little again, it will all still depend on how I recover from injury but in the last month on our wall calendar in the kitchen a couple of races have appeared in pencil. The first one is an adventure race in March with the lovely speedy Karin Sloove (she will probably have to attach a lifeline to me in order for me to keep up!) which I think will be a giggle from beginning to end and I am very much looking forward to a weekend of craziness!!
The other one is a bigger project, an 8 day Mountain bike stage race in the Indian Himalayas, 650km with over 16.000m of climbing. The thought of a race like this, the preparation, the training, the travel and adventure has caused such a fire in my belly that I had forgotten what it felt like to be really inspired by a race. For me it will be a bucket list adventure and something I have been dreaming about for a while. I have 9 months to prepare. I will be ready.
The ability of Michael to dream my dreams with me makes us strong
It will be my 3rd Christmas in Scotland, how time flies. I am endless in debt to a few people who have been by my side through some roller coaster times. Biggest thanks to Nicholson Cycles especially Colin Murray, for supporting me no matter how bad my results have been and making me feel like all my Christmases have come at once lately with my new Specialized full suspension MTB. Big Bobble Hats for always making the Scottish winters (and summers) a little warmer for me. Aloha racing for always inspiring me to be the best athlete I can possibly be. Nico and Alex from Organicoach for having an incredible believe in me. Jantiene from Altijd Sporten for keeping me honest when it is necessary but always being there to dream of the impossible. Finally, Michael and dog Fynn for completely accepting me for who I am and support me in whatever I would like to achieve, even if it is a little extreme. Here is to 2017! Never stop dreaming!!
"I'd rather lose myself in passion, than lose my passion"