Tuesday, 30 November 2021

The Saintelyon; impossible is nothing

I had it already written out in my head what this blog would be about. The journey called the Saintelyon Ultra Trail and the positive experience it would give me. May be because I dreamt about doing it so much and how incredible it would feel completing that ultra distance in an iconic race such as the Saintelyon that it set me up for disappointment. I cried at the finish line, actually I cried most of the distance. And they were not tears of happiness as I had imagined it in my head but it was sadness that creeped into my body. Sadness that I still was not able to control my pain issues, no matter how hard I worked, no matter what I did, the chronic pain bear would keep on screaming at me and during the Saintelyon he screamed louder than he had for a long long time.
The funny thing was the race itself was everything I had dreamt off, if not more. Standing on the start line just before midnight with thousands of other exited runners whilst large snow flakes tumbled endlessly out of the sky is an experience I will never forget. I do not like people, I do not like crowds or hypes, yet standing there with all those people felt like magic. United by a shared passion and slight madness wanting to run 78kms of hilly trails through a snow storm and bitter cold temperatures. 

I had read blogs about this race and I experienced everything my fellow runners had written about it. The thousands of little lights weaving through the dark country side, through the snow, through enchanted forests. It literally took my breath away at times which had nothing to do with the physical exertion. There were people dancing, people singing, volunteers supporting all along the course deep into the night and early morning hours. They must have been freezing cold, wet and tired but yet we were celebrated as the heroic ones running past them through the night. The camaraderie amongst the runners was incredible, I have loved the ultra trail running world from a distance for a long time but never experienced firsthand what it would feel like to be part of it. And it felt incredible. 

Before running the Saintelyon I watched “long shorts” a film about legendary runners Francois D’Haene and Courtney Dauwalter, in which they explained that focussing on a time you want to run or a placing you want to get has no meaning in running ultra’s as the uncertainty of making it to the finish line is simply to big. So the one goal in running ultra’s is the finish line, however long it might take you. And I held on to those words for dear life for the 11 hours it took me to complete my first Ultra. 

 So why the sadness? My whole year had been about dreams turning into reality, from skiing my first couloirs during the winter to climbing Mont Blanc, from standing on a European podium in a mountain bike marathon to completing 6x 4000+m peaks in one day, learning to rock climb and completing my first multi pitch route. I was living my dream life. I don’t think I have ever felt this happy, this accepted anywhere, this at home. But it came at a cost, and I was confronted with that when I lost someone mid summer who had meant the world to me. Who had loved me and cared for me in an unconditional way which I had taken for granted and when she needed me the most I could not be there for her (due to covid restrictions) in the same way she had always been there for me. I had not even taken the time to say goodbye to her when I left Scotland because I thought I would see her again shortly.
Erin coming over to visit

When I returned back to France from Scotland after the funeral I struggled letting go of her and the overwhelming confrontation I had felt when realising the amount of love she had for me and how I was appreciated also by other close friends I had left behind. My reaction to this feeling of sadness was the only way I knew how to, pushing my body. So I started running, cycling, and going on epic mountain adventures, turning every outing into a smash fest and the more I pushed myself the more my body started falling apart. Until it gave me no other choice and I had to stop and reset. What I have learned now though is to reach out, I learnt that if you open up a little to the right people, the support is there. And even though I still feel very new in France, I am so lucky to be surrounded by the loveliest of friends who understood and helped me cope by just being there for me.
Erin, Yann and Mac watching sunrise 

Running the Saintelyon was a last minute decision after one of my favourite adventure buddies Erin had come over from Scotland and we had run the Tour de `Dents Blanches in one day, a 30km mountainous technical route with 3000m ascend which is normally a 2-3 week trekking route. The tour had been on my bucket list since I had moved to the Haute Savoie and it was such an amazing day being able to show Erin my backyard and share such an epic experience with her. These type of outings always inspire me to dream bigger. The original plan was the 45km course, but then I knew I could run the 45kms already so I signed up for the 78kms after asking Yann if he thought I could do it since I had only 6 weeks left to get ready for it.

 I knew downhill running was my enemy so in the weeks leading up to the event I focussed on downhill running form and I felt I was getting stronger, faster and experienced less and less pain running downhill. My longest run was 46kms 4 weeks out from the race and I felt really comfortable running 20-30km long runs in training. It gave me a confidence in my body which I had not experienced for such a long time and it made me very happy.      

climbing during the summer 

 
The problem with the Saintelyon was that it is run at night so visibility on technical parts of the trail is difficult, conditions were very icy, snowy and cold, making the course even more unpredictable. And my brain, or central nervous system should I say, does not like unpredictability. And when I slipped and hit the ground hard in the first 10km’s I immediately experienced a pain flare up. Like tooth ache in my legs, I knew this feeling all too well, and as I ticked off the km’s, the pain spread to my ankles, knees, and wrists joints, it moved around my body like flickering Christmas lights. I was not even 18km’s in when I started to doubt if I could bare the pain for another 8 or so hours. And it made me feel incredibly sad. I knew there was nothing structurally wrong, I knew I could run 30-40kms without this amount of pain in training, I knew I had not gone to fast and blown up, I knew I had stuck strictly to my nutrition plan and that my heart and lungs felt strong. And yet the pain I could not control. The climbs would give me the least amount of pain when the downhills and flats were agonisingly painful. So I made a pact with myself, I would push on the climbs and survive on the downhills. It did not matter how long it would take me or how much pain I would have to endure. I was there to finish. This is what I wanted.

Without sounding airy fairy, I believe there are certain people who have come into my life who I share a certain energy with and somehow they seem to show up either in a message, a phone call or in person when I need them the most. One of those people for me is Yann which makes sharing my life and adventures with him so easy. Another one of those people is Edwina who I found on the internet when I was searching people to run with when I first moved to Montriond. A mother of 3, a professional runner, a running coach with a smile so big it can light up the darkest room in seconds. I met Edwina the first time when I tried to ski as many meters ascend in one day and she was the only one crazy enough to join me on parts of it. Edwina was running the Saintelyon double 156kms! With over 6000 people on course it would be unlikely I would find her in the dark of the night. Yet on the highest part of the course, climbing up in the snow, I slipped and reached out for a hand, and the hand which grabbed mine was Edwina’s.  A magic moment. Eddie was in 2nd placed female and 16th overall absolutely smashing this course. Her energy and positivity inspired me to stay strong and motivated me to keep running. 

Eddie 


I saw Eddie again with 11-12kms to go and I was in a world of pain, not being able to contain my tears as she tried to cheer me up “its only 11kms" she said, "break it up in your head, 6kms mainly flat and then 5km up and down which will be mainly walking and swirly, you can do this.” I wanted to be positive because I knew she must have been so tired herself but all I could mumble was “ok” whilst trying to smile.

 I kept on saying in my head “I am safe, I am ok, I am safe, I am ok” to shut up the chronic pain bear something I was told to do when experiencing a flare up. I calculated the time in my head, 8kms, if I keep running at this pace its less than 50min, 5kms to go, the ups and downs will start, river crossings, steps, more steps, steps up, steps down, swirling, over the bridge, 3kms to go, I was catching other runners. 1.5kms to go. I saw Yann, I tried to smile, 1kms to go. Yann run with me, I tried to pick up the pace, volunteers applauding, I was going to make it. With the finishing hall in site the pain became less. I run into the hall, people applauding, so many people applauding, I finished. Everything became a blur, more tears, finishers medal, finishers t-shirt, 78kms, 2200m ascend, 11 hours, I searched a place to sit down and waited for Yann.
and yes it did feel good in the end


A couple of days on from the race and I have had time to reflect and stopped feeling sorry for myself and my sadness has been replaced by pride, happiness and that satisfying feeling I thought I would feel at the finish line. I am not sure how I run 78kms that night whilst having a pain flare up, but I did it.  When normally pushing through the pain would cause a flare up which would take me months to settle, and although I could not stand on my feet for 24 hours after the race, I could ski the next day (albeit like an 80yo woman) and I bounced back surprisingly quickly. It felt like I kicked the chronic pain bear's ass well and truly and he was a bit subdued by it.
Ultra trail recovery


When I started my road of recovery with James and the team at Meta, physio’s Morgan, and Rob in 2018, I remember asking Morgan “do you think I will run again” he answered me without a doubt in his voice “yes you will” I am not sure if even he thought I would run an ultra trail through the middle of the night in a snow storm 3 years later.

 Yann mentioned to me during the summer that I am someone who always looks ahead, one adventure or challenge has been done and I am already looking at the next one, not often realising or appreciating the magnitude of what I have achieved. I suppose part of that had to do with not wanting to use my childhood experiences as an excuse, never wanting to be a victim, so I never wanted to look back, my survival mechanism was looking forward, the best is yet to come. It had to be. 

But Win’s passing this summer did confront me with how that might come across, as if I continuously left things behind good an bad. I had the chance to let Win know what she meant to me before she passed and as always with people who understand you, she already knew without me having to explain it. And when I look around in my little apartment she is everywhere in little gifts she has given me over the years, not because I have taken them with me because they had sentimental value, but simply because she knew the things I loved. 

 Winter has returned to the Alps and it is starting to look rather Christmassy. Utterly happy I have had already two days of epic skiing in my empty legs and I still have to pinch myself that this is my life. This is the life I have dreamt of living. And I am doing it with my bucket list ever growing. This winter I will be racing my first season of ski alpinism!! 

Yann and Mac


As always I have so many people to thank for helping me chase my dreams; James, Morgan, Rob, who clued the broken pieces back together. All the people at my work Joii especially the founders Robert, Sarah and Paul for having a vision, for listening to staff and really wanting to make a difference improving mental health for veterinary professionals whilst wanting to help people with their pets.Without the ability to change my job to working remotely, I would not be living this life right now. My beautiful talented sister who I will be hoping to run the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc with in 2023. All my friends who have reached out over the years when things were tough and applauded me when things were easy, I really never leave anyone behind, with every step I take, I take all of them with me. And Win, I will do my utter best to make her proud.

                                                                                      

                                                                          For Win

 I have put on a flowery dress because you requested colours
My hair left our the way you loved my curls 
I am wearing the jewellery you have given me, 
Refusing to buy me any more sports gear 
I will try and look at this sad day through your sparkling eyes 
Finding humour in the littlest of things 
I will try not to cry, I know that would only break your heart 
And I will remember you, 
I will always remember you
                                                                         

Saturday, 3 July 2021

12 months in France; Conquering the magical Summit of Mont Blanc






For many years when on holiday I have stared up into the sky in awe of the beauty of Mont Blanc. It was one of the reasons I wanted to make Haute Savoie my home. There is something so magical almost mysterious about the highest summit in Europe. I have always felt that mountains run through my veins, they warm up my heart, and inspire my soul. They make me dream.


Mac also in awe of Mont Blanc


Moving to Montriond in the French Alps meant I had close access to a world I was so inspired by. I started exploring through the mountains with my little adventure pup Mac and tried to learn as much as possible about weather patterns, snow conditions and avalanche risk assessments. With Covid and my slightly anti social personality I found it difficult to meet people who could help me enter the world of alpinism. And I often wondered how I could get into climbing mountains without having the money to spend on a guide or mountaineering courses.


Instant adventure buddies 


Until one afternoon I rushed out of my little apartment after work to get a ski tour in before dark. I wanted to see if I could climb 800m in less than an hour on ski’s, something which I had seen on instagram. With my heavy freestyle ski’s and boots and Mac to chase I headed up the mountain at full speed. In the far distance I could see a figure which I used to push myself harder and try to catch up with. When I finally passed him, still going at full speed, I realised it was my neighbour and one of my landlord Gerard best friends, about whom I had heard an awful lot but never officially met. “You know who I am?” he asked whilst following me up the mountain “I am Yann” he said “Gerard’s friend” 


Yann and I became instant adventure buddies that day. There was an immediate understanding for each others passions, drive and a mutual desire to chase dreams.  I found my kindred spirit in the mountains and Yann opened to me the world of mountaineering. 


learning to use ice axes and crampons


During the winter months I learned about using crampons, ice axes and climbing ropes. I got used to being comfortable in the most dramatic mountainous settings. Yann taught me about the mountains, its inhabitants, its weather, its dangers and its attractions. And the more I learned the more I got hooked. As soon as the weather warmed up Yann took me rock climbing, the fundamentals for alpinism he said. From an absolute scaredy cat at the start, I learned to have trust in equipment, I learned about different type of knots, about assessing rock faces and where to place my hand and feet, I learned about what my body could and could not do. And I learned to trust my increasing strength, skills and ability.

always with an eye on Mont Blanc



Every adventure presented to me I would say yes


I had met someone who continuously inspired me to try harder, to progress, to push forward but at the same time who also made me accept my inexperience and made me take a step back when I needed it. 


Getting used to heights 

Every adventure presented to me by Yann I would say yes to. Yes.Yes.Yes. I can, I want, I will, let’s go. And from Yann in return I heard a lot of “no, no, no” when I asked him to take me on his ski mountaineering adventures, often beyond my skill sets. Or when I had planned my own adventure which proved too dangerous he would lecture me. “It is difficult for me sometimes” said Yann to me “to keep you safe” “you are atypical” “you will never give up and never say no and fear does not stop you from doing things you don’t have the skills for” “You have the mental and physical strength to follow me but you will need to gain more experience, it is a simple as that” Sometimes it would be difficult not be able to go with him but I learned to listen and respect Yann’s opinion. 



learning all about rock climbing


I had put our upcoming Mont Blanc trip in the back of my mind as an earlier trip planned to ski Mont Blanc was cancelled due to bad weather and I was left feeling very disappointed when that happened. When it was time to go Yann made sure I knew that climbing Mont Blanc was not some walk in the park like many people suggested it was. "You are at altitude, it is the highest mountain in Europe, it might not be the most technical one but it still is a very dangerous one” he said. We studied the weather forecast and my excitement grew. Although conditions were far from perfect it was good enough to jump in the van, pick up Yann’s friends Yannick and Clement who we were teaming up with and drive to the foot of the Mont Blanc where another adventure was about to begin. 

The first hut; Refuge de tete Rousse at 3100m was situated just below Le Couloir de la mort, the name given to the steep technical ascend of about 750m to get to the refuge the Gouter. Due to dangerous rock falls many people had lost their lives on this part of the ascend. We decided to stay here the first and night and reach for the Summit the next day so we had a couple of different opportunities to get up Mont Blanc with the second night planned at 3800m in the Refuge the Gouter.


calm before the storm at Tete Rousse

Wind had picked up and the weather did not look great. Yann was pessimistic (which he never really is) “if we make it to Dome the Gouter, that is already an achievement” he said. My heart sank. A discussion started. “I understand if we have to turn around because it is too dangerous” I said, “but if it is because it is too difficult or too uncomfortable I want to keep going” “I am not scared of suffering” “I am ready to suffer” I laughed  “Let’s stay optimistic” I insisted. “Even if I have to crawl over the ridge on my hand and feet to the summit, I want to at least know I have tried”



Clement and Yannick


In only a few hours a bond had already formed in our little group, funny how with people who share the same passion this happens so quickly. We all just clicked. With a simple look, a smile, a familiar gesture things were understood quickly which made communication in these extreme circumstances so much easier. 


We decided to push for the Summit at 4am the next morning. The wind was blowing a gale, we could hear the rock fall while heading into the couloir. Yann set a fast pace wanting to be ahead of other groups and spend as little time as possible on this dangerous part of the ascend. In less than two hours we made it to Gouter and it was here that it turned tough, I could barely stand up right let alone push through the wind. Visibility would come and go so quickly which made navigating just that little harder. We crossed groups which had turned around making their way down. The altitude got to me and I did not feel that great. One foot in front of the other, I knew this feeling all too well. I looked back at Clement and Yannick, body language revealed we were all suffering. The wind was so loud I could barely hear my own thoughts which was probably not a bad thing! Yann turned and looked at us, “we will turn around at Dome du Gouter” he said. It was simply too tough. There was no visibility and the wind was relentless. I felt a little sense of relieve. 


le couloir du mort 

 

But as we climbed over the Dome the clouds cleared and we could see Vallot Hut in the far distance at nearly 4400m. “Lets try” Yann said “we are going to the summit” 

I was struggling. My lungs screaming for oxygen, my head about to explode, everything I was wearing felt tight, especially my climbing helmet. My stomach turning every step I took. My whole body was hurting. The feeling of altitude sickness. Acclimatisation like Yannick and Clement had done before hand was probably not a bad thing I thought to myself. “All you have to do is keep moving forward” I heard Yann behind me. And so I did.




heading for the summit 

More groups turning around and the mountain ahead of us started to look deserted, we kept progressing at a desent pace. A guide who was a friend of Yann’s was ahead of us “if he turns around so we will” that was the plan. It got steeper and more technical in places, the ridges turned narrower, the snow deeper and the wind even stronger. At one point I dropped to my hand and knees holding on for dear life to my ice ax and my crampons pinned into the snow whilst 100km/hr winds tried to blow us off the Bosses ridge line. ‘Well I asked for this” I laughed to myself. We were not far from the summit when we crossed Guillome making his way down. “The summit is not far now" he said "go get it" This is very much the limit in terms of weather” he yelled into the wind to Yann whilst shaking his head. 


100km/hr winds going over the Bosses ridge on the way down


Making it to the summit was a surreal feeling, I could not stand because of the wind, my climbing rope flying circles around my face. My goggles filling up with tears. I looked at Yann, Clement, Yannick. We had made it. An intense feeling of gratitude. 5 years ago I could barely walk up a hill without experiencing a lot of pain. And now I stood on top of Mont Blanc. I thought of my friends, some of which who are going through a very tough time, some of which who’s pain won’t be able to be taken away like mine. Life is so fickle, so fragile. I felt so lucky I was able to do this and the difficult conditions made it that much more special. “Le Mont Blanc est toujours la” I had heard guides tell their clients. 

This might be true for Mont Blanc but not for people who do not get to see out their lives. Who are simply not that fortunate. I believe the moment is now (within safety margins), grab it, embrace it, love it and live it. 


Making our way down Mont Blanc sledging!


Although luck did play in our hands with the skies clearing as we went up higher, I was proud that our little group had the fitness levels, the mountain skills, and the mental ability to push hard to create a window of opportunity for ourselves so we we were able to reach for the stars. 


clear views heading to Vallot 

Mont Blanc for me was not some goal I had to tick off. I felt it was only a start. An experience gained. Coming home I was even more inspired to learn, to improve my skills and to go again and again, to become smoother, better, and faster. Yann said to me on our return “ Mont Blanc a fait de toi un Alpiniste, maintenant il faut faire de toi un montagnarde”


Yann has opened the world of mountaineering to me

Life has changed so much for me in the last 12 months. And it is not that I do not have difficult days or that my body is pain free. But I have never felt more inspired, felt more positive to keep fighting for what I believe is worth fighting for. And with that believe I feel stronger than ever. 


A huge thanks to Yann, Yannick and Clement for an experience which is engraved in my heart.


“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit” EE Cummings. 

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

6 Months in France; La vie en rose

 






A few weeks before my father passed away last summer I wrote him a message. We had had no contact for over a decade and I had been notified by his legal representative that he was dying  which he wanted my sister and I to know. I wrote to him that I hoped that he was not in  any pain, that I hoped he was not scared and was at peace. I wrote to him that my sister and I would take all his good qualities with us and we would try to let go of all the abuse, sadness and grieve. I wrote to him that we were the only living proof of his success despite his harrowing failures. I let him know we would come and see him if he wished us so. A few missed calls from him followed and a message thanking my sister and me for the offer to come and say goodbye but that that was not necessary. He said he was walking again and getting some fresh air. He said that he could see from my social media account that I was doing well. It was the last time I heard from him.

I am not sure if seeing him or talking to him before his passing would have made any difference to us, the apology we so longed for would have never been spoken. And as a proud man he did not want us to see him so weak. For him to say it was not necessary for us to come was not meant to be hurtful or distressing. There was simply nothing left to say. This ending was typical for the person my father was and for us it felt fitting. He did not want a funeral, no cards to let people know he had passed. He wanted to disappear without any bells or whistles because for different reasons than ours, his life had been a failure to him also. My sister and I wanted to let go of him this way, without any celebrations of his dark, painful and complicated life.



I have a strong belief that in life you always have a choice. A choice to pursue happiness, a choice to not become a victim of circumstances you can not control. A choice to move on. My sister shares that same belief and we have lived our lives (albeit on different hemispheres at times) with the same passion and determination to surpass our childhood demons and become better, kinder, and a hell of a lot more inspiring people than the ones who put us into this world. I look at my sister and I think she is the most wonderful human I know and without her in my life, I would not have had the strength and believe to achieve the things I have achieved. That feeling makes me very proud of her, that despite it all we managed to rise above.


I also believe that there is some beauty in all things ugly, and my father was no exception. I feel that because we really knew who he was and have seen all of his darkness, we are also the ones who can decide to hold on to his beauty and his strengths. The good experiences we had with him as our father also influenced us on who we have become as adults and some of the strong positive Oostra traits were very present in our lives on a daily basis. After his passing it was our choice to hold on to this beauty.




My recent move to France has felt a bit like coming home to me, reconnecting with my European roots and remembering my childhood in a more accepting, loving way. Especially with the winter and snow arriving, I fondly remembered our ski holidays when we were children and I let myself cherish those happy moments without it being overshadowed by all the sadness which came with it.


Moving to a new country during a global pandemic and a second lockdown meant I spent an awful lot of time solely in the company of my little adventure pup Mac. I used that time to focus on being comfortable again in my own company. `To let go of all the white noise in my head. Through this solitude I regained my confidence, my happiness, and my self worth. Just like the mountains in Nepal had a healing effect on me, so did the mountains in the French Alps. I felt my energy returning, my optimism, and enthusiasm for all the things I loved so much.

It is funny how you attract the right people in your life when you are in a position to be completely yourself. Slowly but surely I started to get surrounded with like minded people from French neighbours to Dutch landlords and English adventure gurus who made me feel accepted and would applaud my restless feet and thirst for adventures. I started to live the life I wanted to live, surrounded by mountains and outdoor pursuits and people who inspired and challenged me to always look forward and progress. 


Learning French from Lucille during a ski tour


I have fallen on my feet with my landlord Gerard who takes me skiing and introduced me to Yann who is equally as mad as me in adventure pursuits 



For many years in Scotland I felt that there was something wrong with me, that the way I looked at life or what I wanted from it was simply a fairytale and that I had to change my views and face reality. For years I really struggled coming to terms with that and yearned for a different life than the one I was living. It felt like a continuous battle to stay true to myself in a world where I did not feel accepted. My journey with chronic pain did not really help that situation and I am aware that my negative feelings towards the UK also stemmed from getting injured and having to give up on my dream of basing my life around a world of outdoor sports and adventures. 




My best friend Jantiene coming over was a week of big smiles

I am not someone who is easily proud of things I have done, being the eternal self critic,  but when I look at myself today and how happy I wake up in the mornings living a life I have always dreamt of, I feel pride that I simply never gave up and kept on working hard at achieving it.


I am grateful for the people who have come into my life since I have moved to France.  People I now call my friends who have immediately accepted me, made me feel welcome and have given me the confidence to just simply be me.

I feel grateful for the company I work for, Joii Pet Care, through which I can work remotely to make this lifestyle happen and who have given me enough working hours to be able to piece my dream together financially. I feel grateful for my friends spread all over the world who have been there for me through the good, the bad and the ugly and inspired me to keep chasing my dreams. And I feel very grateful for the strong bond I have with my sister, who always knows what to say when I fall silent. I believe that with gratitude, happiness has a chance to flow.


The best adventure pup in the world 


During lockdown we got very fit in our vertical km radius



Joii who helped me chase my dreams


Managing my pain levels will always be a bit of a balancing act, but I have found a great physio who understands the complexity of it all and with whom I will continue on from what I have been doing in the UK with the Meta team. My body feels stronger than ever with energy levels I have not felt for many years. 

This made me want to challenge myself and I started started 2021 with a ski challenge where I wanted to ascend the height of Mont Blanc (4809m) in one day and I surprised myself by climbing 5500m in 10 and a half hours. 


On my way to my final ascent during my skimo challenge with my cheer club Gerard and Yann joining me for the last climb




I have been able to do solo ski tours high in the mountains which I never thought I could do in my first season here because of my lack of experience and skill set but skiing with Yann and learning from him has progressed my skiing to another level. I have a few more ski adventures on the bucket list before the snow disappears making me feel anxious and excited at the same time!

This summer I have a few bike challenges on the radar and running an ultra trail through the mountains is also something I would love to do. Other than that I simply love exploring the incredible nature which I can call my backyard. I might do the same loop day in day out but somehow it never looks the same and it always literally and physically takes my breath away! 




living the dream


Yann challenges me on a daily basis to progress in every possible way 





Through a Skype call my sister told me “I am so happy I have Nienke back” Which is exactly what it feels like, I am truly, utterly, honestly, and happily, me again. 


My North, My South, My East, My West


My father always used to say that life should be one big party but that you have to decorate it yourself. Ironic coming from a man who suffered from depression and endured several suicide attempts. It is however something which I often think of when I am standing in front of difficult decisions. Both my sister and I inherited a never ending optimism from him, as sense of humour for when things go horribly wrong, a stubbornness in our pursuit of happiness and an ability to see beauty and experience joy even in the most difficult of circumstances. And we can find it in the littlest of things like a beautiful view, a great song, or simply a funny situation. It is something which has helped me battle through in life whilst keeping my head held high and it has made me resilient. It got me to where I am today and I want to hold on to that as something good he did. 



I had given myself to May this year to financially make it work and it was also the time frame I was offered the little apartment I am living in. Recently I have been asked to stay on for another year in my apartment and at the moment I have enough work through Joii to be able to pay my bills, which has been a huge relief. I am here to stay.



A room with a view 


I am looking out of my bedroom window at the beautiful mountains in front me and my normally itchy feet feel tired but calm and my normally wired brain feels inspired but settled. I never thought I would say this but my gypsy lifestyle might have come to an end because I have finally found a place which is home to me. 


 


"To be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight. Never stop fighting" EE Cummings 









Tuesday, 3 November 2020

A life of choices ; always choose courage over comfort





When I was asked to write a blog for the active vet movement to try and inspire more veterinarians to become active, I immediately said yes. And then it took a while to actually get words down on a page. These days there are so many books out by people doing extraordinary things and there are thousands of blogs available online of people sharing their experiences. I had the pleasure of meeting someone recently who made me question the need to share a story. Whether the words written were interesting enough to read and truly inspiring or whether they were instead a self fulfilling prophecy of being liked and accepted. I love stories, hence I love reading blogs, but with social media so present in our lives I have often questioned the originality of a written piece. I am always searching for the real story, the honesty of the person behind  the words they have written and ultimately what makes them truly tick. I have found however that those stories don’t often get told or don’t get the exposure they deserve, because it is not what people like to read.

lucky to have worked with the best of the best


I read a book recently in which there was a beautiful paragraph about people not liking messy. Society asks for the happy endings, the feel goods, the affirming and uplifting reports. “Come back when you have something positive to say” But my life has been nothing but messy. Most of it related to a childhood I could not control. I am still working it all out. Personally I have found comfort in other people’s messiness so to speak, those are the stories I have always been interested in. 




once I found the mountains I was hooked 




I have never really belonged anywhere, I moved around a lot as a child which did not help that matter. But I also believe it is partly me, because I love to be free. To try a thousand things and become a jack of all trades rather than a master at one. And although I chose horses as a specialty in my veterinary career, I did not choose one particular interest in that field and ended up working in all most every aspect of equine practice. The same counted for my athletic career, so often I was asked to choose. “choose the bike and you will excel, keep doing multi sports and you will never reach your full potential on the bike” But I wanted to run, ski, kayak, get lost in the mountains, I wanted it all. The same counted for combining my job as a veterinarian and pursuing my sporting career. Other than the financial reasons for finding it difficult to leave my profession, I loved being a vet, it was challenging, it was exciting and I was lucky to have learned from some of the best veterinarians in the world. When I was asked to choose, I did not want to do that. It often was perceived as being uncommitted or never being happy, but it was neither, I just loved progress and progressing often meant jumping at opportunities given. But my chase in wanting it all came at a huge cost. It has taken me years to climb out of the hole I dug for myself. I get frustrated when I read quotes like “hard work always pays off” “you will achieve it if you want it bad enough” “just follow your heart and it will all work out” because that is simply not true. If it was then all the hard workers would be world champions and anyone with a big dream would be able to achieve it. And believe me at the pointy end of the field everyone works their asses off to try and succeed at living their dreams. 

Before I discovered fast bikes, there were fast horses


Turned out I was good at suffering giving everything I got during a race getting me into the elite within 12 months of discovering the sport




I am not someone who easily lacks motivation or is scared of big dreams. I am weirdly wired where I will suffer massively from the imposter syndrome, I felt this especially during my short stint of racing at elite level, but at the same time I have an attitude where I would never settle for mediocre when there is an opportunity to strive for excellence. I have never needed motivation to train around my working hours, it is what I loved doing. Sure the temptation to stay in bed on the cold and wet winter mornings instead of going out training was there, I am only human after all. but I always looked at the bigger picture and improvement is my addiction. Staying in bed would not get me any better, faster or stronger. 


My drive and the idea which has been preached around the world on social media that if you want something bad enough all you need to do is work for it, took a physical and mental toll on me. When it did not work out, I felt like a failure. But during the last few years whilst trying to get back on track I have had a lot of time to reflect and work out what ultimately is most important to me. And it comes down to my freedom. The freedom to be myself,  in my work, my friendships and my relationships. I left veterinary practice because I did not feel I could feel do that. I felt that I was continuously pulled in different directions and I was never good enough. For a long time I felt stuck, not knowing what direction to head in.  When you look at my profile you could say I have done it all, I worked at some of the best equine hospitals in the world, I became a lecturer at one of the best veterinary universities in the world and I raced at elite level with the best athletes of the world in multiple disciplines (al be it at the back of the pack) And I have not regretted anything I have done, but I would not recommend doing all of this unless you have an incredible support network! 


Racing at the world championships in the Dutch national kit was quite something


Last year I made a choice, it came with the dream of challenging my physical and mental limits traversing the Himalayas in Nepal from West to East on the mountain bike. When I researched it, I discovered it had never been attempted let alone done before. I planned everything from choosing a route studying a million maps endlessly, to all the logistics needed for something this big. I paid for the expedition and everything that came with it out of my savings. The project was completely mine, It was my idea, it was my dream and although nothing went according to plan, it was the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life because I was in control of what was controllable from beginning to end and I tried to execute that to the best of my ability. The icing on the cake was achieving a world first. 


As vets we are born high achievers, heck just getting into University means you have to stand out, we are also generally people who want to fix things, save animals, help out where we can, which often results in working around the clock. The expedition in Nepal taught me that I am the one in control of my life, that it is up to me to dictate my own boundaries. Unfortunately I had to leave equine practice to realise that but I am keen to find a balance. Search for a (part time) job where I can dictate my own freedom with people who respect that so I can chase my so many numerous goals on my ever growing bucket list!


“Freedom in any case, is only possible by constantly struggling for it” Einstein