5 of the Scariest Places I Have Ever Been. Hint* They Weren’t Racing Dirt Bikes…

Considering I spend a good chunk of my life either racing, or training for extreme enduro events, one could be excused for thinking this post would be full of stories about the many heart stopping situations I have been in, while chasing this sport around the world.

Perhaps you would expect anecdotes about the crazy downhills or cliff drop offs I rode in Romania, the ridge line trail along the edge of Mount Tahtali in Turkey, or the crazy top speeds my bike and I got to in the Finke Desert Race, in the Outback of Australia.

But instead,  I’m going to talk about 5 of the scariest places I have ever been, often without even leaving home.  That’s right, I’m talking about my mental health.

Mental health is such an important part of my life, and since spending a lot of time trying to work mine out, I have a lot of concern for those of us that struggle with handling what life throws at us.

As you read through my top 5 list, I hope somewhere along the line, you are reminded that no matter how tough life gets, there are plenty of people who’ve been where you are and not only survived, but thrived.  I strongly believe if we search hard enough, we can find the keys to help us get out of whatever dark place our head is trying to drag us.

The Land of ‘Crowds and People Make me Anxious’ 

In the immediate years after I first had my life changing head on accident with a drunk driver in 2005, I distinctly recall struggling with handling any kind of social event, crowded area, or shopping trip.

It was so strange, because the only way I could go anywhere was if I had my dog, a little Border Collie I absolutely adored, or my motorbike gear from my road bike.  I guess somehow I felt tougher with a dog or a bike helmet in tow.  Now, 12 years on, it’s funny how I can travel anywhere in the world alone, and I feel so happy and calm.

‘Work Makes me So Anxious’ Land. 

By all accounts, the work that I do as a canine behaviour specialist is pretty unique.  The cases I get to help my clients save from certain unhappy endings more often than not receive the highest reviews and accolades from both within the animal industry, and from the clients themselves.  However, I can specifically remember many times sitting on the floor in my room in tears because I had dealt with a client behaving rudely to me at work earlier.

The owner’s bad behaviour (not the dogs, usually the dogs are better behaved than the owners might I say…) usually pop up because even though I am helping them perform miracles with their dear fur child, they take a specific dislike to my business protocols that enforce strict but reasonable reschedule policies.

These days, my heart still jumps in anticipation of unwanted conflict when I get up on a Monday morning and see text messages and missed calls from my 9am client, but to be honest, the biggest thing that has helped me deal with work stress, has been to have a hobby I value almost as much, if not more than my job.

Instead of my job being the most important thing, I remind myself that it’s only a few day’s until I’ll be back riding, and the last thing I’ll be thinking about when I’m riding, will be work!

‘I’m Fat, Ugly, and Rubbish’ Land. 

This is a very tough one that I have been through many times, though lately I pretty much don’t care anymore because if I can do a wicked pivot turn, or hop up a rock ledge, that pretty much trumps being a supermodel any day in my books.

But in earlier years, I recall distinctly going on crazy diets trying to lose kgs just because I thought it’d make me more loveable.  I probably was either dating someone terrible, or wasn’t dating anyone and thought that the reason came back to the scales.

Plus I genuinely remember thinking if I was the skinniest, it would ‘make up’ for the scars from my accident.

Looking back, wow, I’ve learned a lot on this topic, and I’m pretty happy to say stressing about weight and obsessing over looks has been relegated down the list of things to stress about along side being concerned about the scratches on my swingarm from making my way up too many rocky creekbeds…

‘I’m so Lonely’ Land

I never used to understand what the big deal with loneliness was.  I mean, whether I was single or not, I never really felt those horrible, dark nights, where coming home to an empty house seemed like the worst idea in the world.

Until the last couple of years, when it hit me, and hard.

I have often happily lived alone, but during this part of my life, I found myself even putting up with unpleasant housemates simply because saying hi to someone at the end of the day seemed better than nothing.

I was more stressed about housemates moving out and leaving me alone, than I was about not getting paid rent!  I almost would have put someone in rent free just to have company.  At one point, the highlight of my day was getting a coffee from my favourite coffee shop simply because the ladies would smile and have a little chat with me each morning.

It’s hard to tell exactly why this happened.  Perhaps it was a combination of all my spare time being spent on a solitary sport stuck in a helmet and riding hours at a time alone, combined with a long distance relationship with someone who spent far more time away, than home.

Or perhaps it was just a stage people go through in life and it really is that simple.

Regardless, I really do feel for a lot of older people now whose children have all grown up, and they might live alone or with their dogs.  Understanding this now, I make sure to make an extra effort to be kind to people who are lonely, rather than hurry on with my busy life, oblivious to anyone else’s worries.

‘My Life Is Impossible’ Land. 

And this, is the scariest place I have ever been in my entire life.

To get here, is fairly simple, though rare.  I just need to feel trapped somehow.  Trapped in a dark place in my head.  Trapped in a job I can’t handle.  Trapped in a relationship that makes me miserable.  Trapped in never ending sadness that I don’t understand.

Any of those things could be the reason, but the solution is never ever the easy way out.

I have always been a fighter, it’s probably part learned and part in my DNA.  So early on, I made a pact with myself that I’d always run rather than try any thing more…serious.  I always have an escape plan in my head, so if things get crazy out of control, I start making plans to move overseas, or travel non stop for 6 months, or change my career.

Funnily enough, giving myself the freedom to start planning my plan B, gives me enough time to work out whatever is making me feel this way, and eventually the storm calms down, I find the right people to talk to, and I’m back chasing my dreams again.

Through all these scary places that I’ve visited, and may well visit again, nothing quite helps the same as finding a friend to talk to.  Sure, I’ll definitely go down the road of medications if I need to, and psychologist have played their part over time as well.  But finding someone who understands me and is prepared to take that phone call to hash out whatever is driving me up the wall, really does beat every other type of therapy I’ve ever come across.

Personally, I’ve become quite adept at finding people to talk to about these things, but not everyone is.  A lot of people feel that they will be intruding or judged badly if they admit to struggling with life, so lets check up on our mates, ask them how they’re travelling, be open about our own struggles, and help the world be a happier place.

So, RUOK?

Left For Dead. Celebrating 12 Years of Life.

I have never forgotten the night I found myself lying in a grassy roadside ditch out in the middle of no where, looking up at a perfectly clear, beautiful night sky, and looking down at my bare knee joint.

I watched the white bones move as I tried to bend my leg.

At the time, I didn’t understand how this had happened, but a few hours later I was informed I’d come out on the bad end of a head on collision with a repeat drunk driver

Over the years, this date, the 1st of September, has held various meanings. Mostly it has been a tough day with many traumatic memories.  But today, I look back over 12 years of triumphs, beating the odds, and living dreams no one, even me, thought possible.

When I was in hospital, so many doctors and medical staff would ask me what happened.  I’d say, “well, I had a head on collision with a drunk driver”  to which they’d reply, “were you driving?”

“No, I was riding my motorbike”.  And to this day, the common answer to that is still “Ah, you’ll never ride again now then will you!”

Not one thing could infuriate me more, than the implied blame of my accident being on the big bad ol motorbike.  No mention of the drunk driver!

At first I accepted this ‘fact’ that I wouldn’t ride again.  Playing music has never been my forte, but I even spent all my savings on buying a couple of guitars, to stop me getting back on another bike.

But of course 6 months after I got out of hospital, I sold the guitars, and bought my second road bike.  

It wasn’t all happy riding off into the sunset from here though.  I mean, I was zooming about the place, but I had to practically lift my leg over the seat to get on, and I couldn’t use the back brake. Hell, I could barely get my heel to perch on the peg, because my knee wouldn’t bend!

I had to learn to walk again.  I’d get to stages of repair, then more operations would set me back. The doctors said I never walk unassisted again.

At one stage, a super intelligent plastic surgeon decided to do a particular operation on my leg.  I went in walking, and came out with even more damage to my leg, and in a wheelchair to boot.

Later on, I found out that this bright spark was a plastic surgeon that specialised in breast augmentation, and somehow he’d tripped upon the pot of gold which was my leg, and been referred to do the surgery.

By pot of gold, I literally have a million dollar leg.  The cost that went into trying to get it right again was over a million dollars.

Moving past all that, I struggled with life pretty hard for years.  The pain in my leg drove me nuts, and as if that wasn’t enough, the Morphine based painkillers the doctors had to keep prescribing drove me even more nuts.

In the middle of this, I had terrible self esteem, and a couple of damaging relationships, with one fantastic piece of work making this gem of a statement before I left him “With my earning what I do, and you having your scars all over your leg, you’ll never find anyone else as good as me you know…”

On top of that, my family was completely out of the picture. To put this into perspective, the last time I saw my mum, she tried to extort insurance money out of me while I was just out of ICU after an operation.  

She stuck around long enough to determine she couldn’t get money off me, and I wouldn’t help her get my little sister out of foster care back into their welfare grabbing hands, so she walked out on me the day before my 18th birthday, and I’ve never seen her since.

Right now, this is merely an amusing story for me to tell.  But at the time it absolutely broke me. I couldn’t stop crying for so many days.  Looking back, there was a before that moment, and an after.  They say those moments are the biggest turning points in your life.

For me, it’s taken such a long time, but along with all of the crazy that’s happened, I’ve had so much good happen.

I learned to walk again.  Then I learned how to walk without a limp.  Then I signed myself up for a Triathlon, and learned how to run, and cycle, and swim long distances.

I learned a lot about mental health; dealing with anxiety problems, depression, and PTSD.  I learned about how many people in the world are so much worse off than me, and how much I have to be grateful for.

And now, I’ve learned how amazing travelling can be, how much I can challenge myself, and how little power the past has to control my future. All I wanted to do when I was a little girl, was race motorbikes. And now, well, I get to do that too.

All these years on, it is still far too common for me to be walking around in shorts, and have absolute strangers very rudely ask “oh my goodness, what happened to your leg!?” 

But the strangest thing is, if you offered me a magical operation that made it look perfect again, you couldn’t pay me to ‘fix it.  

It’s taken such a long time to get to this point in how I feel, but I love my scars now.  They’re proof of a long, challenging road I’ve travelled, and will continue to travel.  Sure, I don’t look like a supermodel, but I strut down the catwalk of life every day, full well knowing that beauty really isn’t all about what’s on the outside…

-Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girls Can’t Ride. The Self Fulfilling Prophecy.

I saw no topic more fitting to launch my new blog, than one discussing an issue that I notice significantly holding many women in my sport back, including myself.

How much of the divide between male and female performance in dirt-bike motorsports is physical ability, and how much is  psychological advantage?

One day, it would be amazing to see girls and boys turn up to any motorsport they choose, be it Enduro, MX, Road Racing, or Go Karts, and not feel their results are depicted by their gender.  If a boy is having a rough day, he doesn’t get told to ‘grow a pair and man up’, and if a girl doesn’t win (or does win), her gender doesn’t come into the conversation of why.

But in the mean time, before we get to that point, we need to have a lot of serious conversations with both ourselves, and our fellow racers.

I came from a pretty different background to motorsports.  Having always dreamed of racing, but not physically being medically fit to do so until lining up at the Finke Desert Race in 2013, I have found my journey over the last 4 years to be nothing short of very informative.

One of the biggest things I have had to constantly deal with, has been reconciling my place in the racing world.  The hardest person to settle this particular issue with, has been myself.

It all started with an exceptionally violent childhood steeped in non stop indoctrination around the topic of females being destined to subservience, and males automatically assuming a role of control and superiority over everyone of the opposite sex.

To come from that, and enter a sport where the competitors and celebrated experts are, by vast majority, male, has taught me a lot about the capability of the mind to either help, or hinder my progress in racing.

I have proven to myself over and over again that my gender has far less to do with my race results than my belief in myself, my technique training, and my fitness.  However, those feelings of inferiority and intimidation still pop up as I continue to serve myself up challenges which are typically seen as being ‘too hard’ for a girl.

A very vivid example of a situation where I learned a lot about this issue comes from last months attempt at Silver (Expert Class) at the 2017 Red Bull Romaniacs.

 

Unfortunately, I know that my gender had a lot to play in the expectation of failure I felt on my head as I lined up to try and achieve something very, very difficult.

You will notice I did not say my gender had a lot to play in my subsequent DNF…

Like a nasty smell that lingers in a room long after the trash has been taken out, the regular gender based comments that I hear on a day to day basis have had a way of hanging around for extended periods of time, with the stench setting the foundation for failure.

“What are you doing in that class

“Why would you want to do that

“I can’t believe you beat me in that race”

“I thought to myself wow, if even a girl can ride that section, what is wrong with me!”

“Wow, you really ride well for a girl

“Your problem is, you need to just stop riding like a girl

In many situations last month, rather than feeling as entitled to be there as I should have felt, I was constantly fighting everything in my head; to get ahead.

I’d come to a section and see guys winching each other up nasty hills, and I had to force myself over and over again to remember just because guys are doing that, doesn’t mean I have to.  They are not automatically better than me because they are a guy, or because they are a guy in the Silver class.

Yes, anyone can feel like that, but when the biggest chunk of confidence missing from my toolkit is because of me being a girl, we have to look around at how we are running sports, how we are talking to women, and what can be done different.  Oh, and lets not let our children grow up in messed up homes like I did…

A few weeks ago, I got into an argument with a track marker after I heard a proposed track change that would see women being put on an easier track than the experts and pro riders.

The track marker is entitled to run his race how he wants, except that he is not.

Equality in racing is what racing is all about.  What kind of message does that send to our women riders, daughters, little sisters, nieces, boys, men?  It says women are not capable of competing in the same environment as men.  And as long as we keep that up, they won’t be able to either.

 

In enduro, it is quite common to see races shortened for the girls, made easier, less laps required; breeding a weak skill set and a weaker mindset.

To top this off, our classes consist of rarely ever more than 5% of the whole race field, which means while we are sent off in our women’s corner to race, the competitiveness that keeps the guys pushing forward is seriously lacking due to the often huge gaps between rider capabilities.

We aren’t even able to compete for an outright result if we aren’t racing on the same tracks.

The outright is so important.  I don’t want to see how I stack up against the other girls, I want to see how I stack up against the other racers.  Yes, science says the average female athlete is not as athletically privileged as the average male athlete, but there is a lot more that goes into racing than mere fitness. The reality is, we can compete.

Or we (not me) can sit around arguing about how we can’t.  I’ll be too busy riding my dirt bike to be involved in those discussions.

In one race, I’ll lap second place in ladies class multiple times.  In the next, I’ll be lapped multiple times.  We often ride no where near each other because there isn’t enough of us making up the classes, filling in the gaps, and keeping the carrot close enough to produce the drive to push harder.

Then, when we are put in an ‘all in’ race, and fail to come up with the results we are surely capable of, the self fulfilling prophesy comes into play.

For me, I’m tackling my next levels of training before I head to Turkey to race the Red Bull Sea to Sky with not just hard enduro training and trials work.

I’ve recognised my weakness and have started doing MX.  I need to desensitise my head more to this whole rancid notion of inferiority in the sport, so you bet I’ll be racing more than the ladies class now.

-Melissa