Almonte-Roubaix 2019

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Thanks to Parham for taking this photo after Almonte-Roubaix

On Sunday May 5, 2019 I did something that in 1995 I vowed to never do again. I started and finished Almonte-Roubaix.

To write that May 5, 2019 in Almonte was a special day would be an understatement. This day and this ride has so much meaning and specialness wrapped up in its 80 kilometres that frankly I’m at a loss for words.

I was nervous to do this race/ride. I know that it can be fast, aggressive, hard on the spirit, and downright soul-sucking (that crazy uphill s-bend).

Since 1995 I’ve said that I don’t ride Almonte-Roubaix. I attempted it in 1995. Let’s just leave that ride experience like this: snow in April, no GPS navigation, got lost, chased by dogs, crying, and a roadside rescue by Ian Austen and Bob Simpson (for which I am forever grateful). So yeah, not a great experience and not one I wanted to repeat.

The only way I’ve come close to Almonte-Roubaix in recent years was riding to Almonte to  greet Marc at the finish and to hear the stories of epic riding, crazy mud, and exhilaration. Deep down, even though I had long promised never to do this ride, I kind of wanted to be part of it.

And this year I was. It was awesome. My legs hurt a lot. At one point I didn’t think I’d make it up that last climb on Darling Road. The forest sections got my blood pumping in a good way. The camaraderie was like nothing else.

What really made my day were the other riders. Before the event started, it felt like every 5 minutes someone was giving me a hug, asking about my health, or telling me how great it was I was out riding.

And then during the ride, so many people commented on how great it was to see me out riding and asked how I was feeling.

Just thinking about these interactions and conversations, makes my eyes rather blurry. I felt so welcomed by so many people.

This event has huge physical challenges. Gravel roads. Steep hills. Soft sand. Challenging forest sections. Wind that seems to come from every direction. But none of these mattered during that 80 kilometre ride.

Even though I was well into the red and my legs were shouting rather loudly at me, I couldn’t stop smiling. I was doing it. I was riding Almonte-Roubaix. Just a little over a year after my latest surgery, I was out there being a bike racer (sort of) again.

I was with people who get why it’s fun to ride bikes and push their bodies. I was with people who inspire me to get up and do things that scare and challenge me. If they (you) can do it – so can I.

A real treat of this 2019 edition was riding the last 20 kilometres or so with Marc. Unfortunately luck was not on his side and by the time we connected, Marc had fixed three flat tires.

This misfortune meant that Marc helped myself and bunch of other very happy cyclists finish the ride with a higher level of comfort than anticipated. (Marc did end up with one more flat tire after the final forest section – turns out I’m not always a good luck charm.)

This truly was a memorable day for me. I got to spend a large part of the ride with a good friend. I got to make new friends and talk to others who I haven’t seen in a long while.

I got to feel part of it all over again. It’s so valuable to me to be back.

Somehow this ride has made up for years of not being able to do what I wanted. For me, Almonte-Roubaix 2019 was more than just a ride.

(Many thanks to Peter for organizing the ride and for putting in many hours of time so we could all go out and ride bikes with friends.)

 

Happy Anniversary

Today, April 30, 2019 is a special day for me. It is the one-year anniversary of my barbie butt (panproctocolectomy completion) surgery.

It has been quite the year since April 30, 2018. A year that didn’t exactly turn out how I wanted. But even with the ups and downs – it was still a good  year.

The surgery I had on this day last year, set me on the path to finally getting my health and happiness back. Sure, it took longer than anyone expected to fully recover from the impacts of two big surgeries in less than 18 months. And yes there was an unexpected hospitalization and that niggling bout of shingles and uveitis.

But, as I said just one month ago at SWEET:

I’m here. I’m so proud of me for being here. 

11 months ago I would never ever believed that I would be physically and mentally strong enough to stand up here and talk to you. 

And now here I am. One year after the amazing team of colorectal surgeons at the Ottawa Hospital gave me my life back.

So what do I do with this gift?

I keep looking forward. I keep hitting the reset button. I keep setting big goals. I keep filling up my bucket list. I keep doing new things. I keep challenging myself.

I do not forget how lucky I am. I appreciate the value of perspective. I speak openly about how I’m feeling mentally and physically. I value every day. I remember what it felt like when I was too sick to live my life.

I remember that everyone has something. I offer to help whenever I can. I acknowledge that not every day is packed with rainbows and unicorns. I take time to live my days.

Learning To Say I Can’t

“I can’t do my workouts today.”

This is the text I just sent to my coach Steve Weller.

This is not a normal text for me to send. I’m that person who gets up at 4:45 to do a weight workout before going to physio at 6:45 and then comes home to ride for 90 minutes or so and then does a full day of writing work at home.

But today, I just can’t do it all. A very good but busy weekend followed by two days of lots of writing work and life finally caught up with me today.

So today, I’m taking my own advice and forgetting about the training plan. To be honest this in itself is stressing me a bit. I sit here asking myself how I let this happen and wondering why I can’t just keep on plowing forward.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting to a new point in my bike riding life. I don’t consider myself a racer anymore. I’m a person who used to race bikes and now loves riding a bike. So on a day like today when there are so many balls in the air and a few on the floor – I have to say no.

It’s hard to not ride when I’ve conditioned myself to always be riding or getting ready to ride. It’s so hard to let go of the mindset that helped me achieve some big goals and reframe it to mesh with what I want now.

To accept that it’s okay not to ride some days. To let myself not worry about that Easter chocolate I ate. To remind myself that I’m not trying to qualify for anything or that race weight is something to think about anymore.

I still want to be fit and strong. But it’s for different reasons now. Now it’s so I can easily ride with my friends and enjoy being on the bike. It’s so I can go on a three-hour mountain bike ride and not be wrecked for two days. It’s so I can do a gravel race and the next day still have the desire and energy to go for a ride and to yoga.

So this is where I’m at right now today. I’m pretty confident that on Thursday I’ll be out riding. But today, the bike stays in the garage and the weights in the basement won’t be picked up and put down.

Instead I’ll do what my physio told me to do – to focus on breathing.

 

Hitting that Button

It’s amazing how easy it is to go from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows. This happened to me last week.

The middle of last week I was still riding the endorphins from SWEET night when I started to feel not-so-awesome. My pesky left eye was irritated and I was very low on energy.

Sure enough, the uveitis was back. I spent a few days laid out on the couch – super low on  energy, motivation, and courage. I was frustrated that this autoimmune condition was back and that it was interrupting all of my plans.

While everyone I knew was outside riding their bikes and having fun at the first Gravel Guys race, I was putting drops in my eye and trying to pretend that I was okay. I wasn’t okay, I managed to put myself in a deep hole of sadness.

Fortunately I have experience with this. On Sunday morning I woke up and resolved that the day would be better. I made plans, I went out, I walked in the fresh air, I did some retail therapy, I drank indulgent coffee shop drinks, I sketched, and I just enjoyed the day.

My eye is still a problem. But my mood and emotions are not. For this I have my support system and that trusty reset button to thank.

And now here I am. It’s Thursday, April 11. And it’s a good day.

I got to ride my bike outside. It was glorious. I can’t wear contacts right now so I rigged up a pair of sunglasses overtop of my old eyeglasses – not the most comfortable but it worked.

I’ve got an appointment next week with an ophthalmologist who specializes in uveitis. I really am looking forward to this appointment. Time to get some answers and find out if it’s time to take a different approach to this eye problem.

…..

And now, for some non-sick person stuff. Here’s a snapshot at everything else that makes up this life of mine:

  • Read: just finished reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. An excellent book – I think it’s even better than Little Fires Everywhere.
  • Reading: I just started reading Passion Paradox by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. These guys are terrific thinkers and writers. I recommend their first book Peak Performance to practically everyone. As well, their newsletter is a must-subscribe and read.
  • Listening: I work from home so I spend most of my day listening to CBC Radio. But when I can’t take anymore conversations about SNC-Lavelin or climate change, I listen to music. Right now, my go-to is Imogen Heap. Her soundtrack for the Harry Potter Cursed Child play is stunning. Marc and I saw the play in NYC – amazing. This is the kind of music you can put on and just enjoy. Highly recommend.
  • Creating: I’m currently doing #The100DayProject. This is the perfect project for me –  it gets me sketching daily and there is zero pressure. I decided to sketch flowers for this project. I’m very much a new sketcher so this is a great way for me to improve my skills.
  • Learning: I’m auditing a course offered by the University of Newcastle Australia. The course is titled: Drawing, Nature, Science, and Culture: Natural History Illustration 101. So far it’s been really good. I learned about it from a person in the Urban Sketchers Ottawa FB group. I’m very much a beginner so this course is ideal for me. We have one week to watch/read the materials and submit the assignments.
  • Riding: it looks like the spring weather is finally here. So now I’ve got my eyes set on doing a bunch of events that I’ve never done before. I plan to do all of the Gravel Guys events, Ride of the Damned, Almonte-Roubaix, and Rooted Vermont. I’ve never been much of a gravel rider but I’m easily convinced by the stories my friends tell me of quiet roads and epic adventures.

Well, that’s about it. Life is good. The eye is pesky but I’m confident it will be resolved. The sun is shining.

In a few weeks I’ll hit the one-year anniversary of my Barbie Butt surgery – I haven’t quite figured out how to celebrate this day. I think it will likely involve a bike ride, peanut butter, chocolate, and baked goods.

Bushtukah S.W.E.E.T Night

Last night it happened. I gave my talk at Bushtukah S.W.E.E.T night.

S.W.E.E.T night is a pretty big night in the Ottawa sporty women domain. The event sold out in less than one week – this was with zero promotion. Over 500 tickets – with no advertisements or super intense social media campaigning.

You know you’re onto something good when this happens. Right up until the event started last night there were ladies posting on the SWEET Facebook page looking for tickets.

This is fantastic. It also made me a bit nervous.

  1. I was giving a talk.
  2. I was giving it to over 500 women.
  3. This event has a long history of outstanding speakers.
  4. I function best behind a computer screen.
  5. I had never done this before. (Junior Toastmasters does not count.)

The last few weeks have really been all about March 31st and speaking at SWEET.

Thanks to my brother Gregory who put in so much time helping me refine my talk and giving me truly professional public speaking coaching, I was well-prepared.

Marc, my husband had to sit through many rehearsals of my speech and hear me stress about the night and even answer questions about which pants I should wear.

I could not have gotten up there last night without Gregory and Marc believing in me. As well, a huge thanks to my mother-in-law, Annette, for coming over and listening to a rehearsal. Her feedback really helped me feel more settled about the evening.

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This green binder has been my security blanket for the last 4 weeks or so. Each version of the speech (at last count I revised my speech 6 times) was carefully hole-punched and placed in this binder.

And last night, this trusty green binder helped me stand up and speak to over 500 women about resetting.

To give you an idea of how big last night was, here are a few photos from the night. The place was packed and the energy was contagious.

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The night was very special. I was super lucky to have some very good friends there last night to support me, help me calm my nerves, and to be ready to give me cues if I was speaking too fast.

It’s kind of hard to explain the energy of the evening.

Imagine over 500 women out on a Sunday night and add in amazing door prizes (including 2 bikes and I don’t know how many pairs of running shoes and high-end pieces of clothing), a fashion show, free food, shopping, and a sense of community.

Stir this up with a big spoon and add in a bunch of amazing clubs and groups who came out to encourage all these ladies to sign up for cycling, trail running, nordic walking, triathlon, roller derby, and any other activity you can think of.

This resulted in a festive, supportive, encouraging, empathetic, and contagious atmosphere.

I’m super honoured to have been able to be part of the night and to share my story.

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A big thank you to all the ladies who contacted me and posted comments on the SWEET Facebook page. Your messages and feedback really have put a boost in my spirits and confidence.

I know there were a lot of people who weren’t able to get tickets or attend last night. There isn’t a video of my talk but I did put my speaking notes and slide images into a document.

It’s a long read but my hope is that at the by the end of it you will: find your reset button and have learned the power of a support system, focussing on controlling the controllables, and in believing in yourself.

A big thank you to Charlotte, Judy, Natasha, and the rest of the Bushtukah team who I met last night. You put on a great night. Thank you for letting me be part of it.

……

On another note, I’ve decided to take part in the #The100dayproject. My plan is to sketch 100 flowers – one per day. The #The100dayproject is about creativity but this can be anything – sketching, writing, singing, photography, communicating, movement – really whatever you want it to be.

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I’ll be sharing my flower sketches on my Instagram account. If you sign up, tag me so I know and I’ll follow you.

The last time I posted, I wrote about turning a corner. And I have to say that I really feel like this has happened.

Last night would never have happened 3 months ago or this time last year.

I count myself as one of the lucky ones.

 

 

 

Turning a Corner

A few weekends ago, I felt like I had turned a corner with my health. But, I didn’t want to jinx my good fortune with being overly optimistic. So I held back.

I really tried not to cram too much into my days. To not get over zealous with my happily reawakened energy and spirit.

Good news – it wasn’t a fluke. I truly am feeling so much more like my regular self. I don’t have the same super high energy levels I had in 2017 and before the year that was 2018 – but I’m much closer than I’ve been in a long while.

I’m riding my bike regularly. I’m getting out on my fat bike on the good winter days. I’m back to yoga. I’m back to lifting weights. I’m back to my drawing. I’m getting out and seeing friends. I have the attention span to focus on reading again.

I’m no longer spending hours just sitting. I’m behind on my Netflix watch list. I’ve got lots of unread articles open in my multiple browser windows.

So yeah, a corner has been turned. Thank goodness. It’s a relief really. As a chronically ill person, I sometimes doubt my ability to get out of the malaise and lingering sensations of feeling unwell.

I know well enough now to be tread lightly and to not go bonkers with doing stuff.

On another note, in a few weeks I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I’m going to be speaking at Bushtukah’s SWEET night on March 31st.

This means I’ve been spending lots of time writing my speech, practicing my speech, and rewriting my speech. I’m super honoured and a little freaked out about speaking to 500 women. But, I know it’s a super beneficial experience – for me and the naked women sitting in the audience.

Learn more about Sporty Women Encouraging and Empowering Together (SWEET) and buy your tickets. If you come out, definitely grab me before or after my talk to say hi and chat.

Well, that’s about all I’ve got. I hope things are going as well with you as they are for me right now. Fingers crossed we can all be so fortunate.

Okay, 2019, So Far You’re Good

So we’re a month and a bit into 2019 and I have to say that things are turning a corner.

The shingles appears to finally behind me. My left eye did not come out of the ordeal completely unscathed but the damage is not too critical.

The uveitis also appears to be in the rearview mirror. I finished the Prednisone on Sunday and so far so lucky – no rebound flare.

So yeah, the health problems that dragged me down and put in me in a not great place at the end of 2018 and start of 2019 are now just a memory.

The thing with memories though is that they often leave a scar. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’ve got a few extra scars. The emotional scars that come with a roller coaster of being chronically ill are ones that I don’t think ever go away.

For me, the biggest scar is the fear of the unknown. What will happen next? Does the pain in my chest mean something serious or is it just indigestion? Is the pain in my stomach that wakes me up a blockage or something worse? What about these constant cramps in my calf muscles – is this just fatigue or a sign of something more? What is going to happen as I begin to increase my riding and get back to yoga? Will my body rebel and put me back in bed?

Trust is huge. And this is what I don’t have. I don’t trust my body. This body that I’ve tried to treat with the best care I can give it. A decent diet, no smoking, no drinking, regular sleep, steady exercise habits, and a generous amount of chocolate. It seems like I’m doing it all right – but for some reason my body feels otherwise.

So what do I do to overcome this fear of the unknown so I can rebuild my trust? Good question. I don’t know. All I can do, I suppose is just keep on keeping on. I’m getting pretty good at picking myself up. So this is what I’ll do the next time. And yes, I do believe there will be a next time.

What I can do is remember that today is a good day. That yesterday was a good day. And that there is a high likelihood tomorrow will be a good day. This way I can keep up the hope and slowly rebuild myself.

Admittedly, I feel this is all a bit self-centred. I am, after all not dealing with a diagnosis that sees me counting my days and months.

Last week Paul Dewar died. I did not know Mr. Dewar. However, the words posted on his Facebook page after his death from Grade 4 glioblastoma, have imprinted on me:

“…

It is easy sometimes to feel overwhelmed by the gravity of the challenges we face. Issues like climate change, forced migration and the threat posed by nuclear weapons. It’s hard to know how to make a difference.

The secret is not to focus on how to solve the problem, but concentrate on what you can contribute – to your country, your community and neighbours.

…”

I urge you to read Mr. Dewar’s full post and think about how you are making a difference.

I think it’s important to remember that the difference Mr. Dewar speaks of doesn’t need to be earth-changing. The small acts that you do each day when you interact with your family, friends, colleagues, and strangers are the ones that really make a difference.

Talking to a stranger as you stand waiting for the bus. Asking someone who looks sad if they’re okay. Picking up the phone and calling your friends just to chat. Remembering that everyone is dealing with something. Know that the little things do add up.

Not to leave this post on a sad note, I want you to think of these words left to us by two young women who recently died:

“…

I decided not to spend whatever time I had left (whether it’s a year, a month, another ten years—you don’t know until you’re gone) lamenting all the things that weren’t right. Instead, I’d make the most of it. I’m using cancer as the excuse I needed to actually go and get things done, and the more people I share those thoughts with, the more I hold myself to them. If I write this intention down, if I have it printed somewhere like I do here, I have to hold myself responsible, because I have people counting on me.

What is my intention? To live my life. To fulfill all those genuine dreams I have.

…” Fatima Ali,  who died in January at the age of 29 from cancer

“…

Live while you’re living, friends.

We control the effort we put into living.

…” From The Unwinding of the Miracle, A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

So now what? What do I do next? What do you do next?

For me – I talk to the strangers, I pick up the phone, I eat the cake and don’t worry about the calories, I plan for the future, I offer help, I listen, I keep on setting goals and doing all the things I long to do.

I owe this to myself. I owe this to you. I owe this to the people who can’t do what I can.