I’m currently researching a piece for Australian Cyclist magazine on women in cycling. It had always been my intent to profile ordinary women who are involved in cycling in everyday ways, from mechanics, to educators, commuters, track cyclists, and shop owners.
Listening to their individual stories has been inspiring, and at times, sobering. Cycling, for all it’s booming popularity, is still a marginalised activity in the minds of the majority of Australians, unfortunately. But, even more unfortunately, considering their demographic status as making up half Australia’s current population by sex, women are a marginalised subset of that group.
And then, one woman’s story left me lost for words.
Hillary is an older woman who lives with her husband in an outer suburb of Melbourne.
A couple of years ago she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer for women, after breast cancer and it is the most frequently occurring cancer in Australia. After surgery, and six months of chemotherapy – “six months of poison” – Hillary called it, she was confident from all the results that she was in the clear.
To celebrate a new lease of life, she decided to embark on a physical challenge, to prove to herself she was fit and sound, and not about to go early. So she enrolled in a cycle skill course at Bike Beyond with her sister.
And then to signify the milestone of achieving new-found confidence on her bike, she registered – again with her sister – for last year’s Around The Bay In A Day 100km challenge.
Now look again at the photo of her and her sister above: that’s Hillary on the right. Beaming with confidence, almost glowing with pride, the photo was taken by her Bike Beyond teacher, Louise Bricknall, at the last drink station before completing the full 100km. It’d be easy to think Hillary had climbed her mountains, and she could then rest easy with what she had achieved.
And yet, just 3 weeks before completing her 100km challenge she had been diagnosed again with cancer, this time in her liver. Before she even started treatment she decided to complete the event. “I thought oh well, what do you do?”, and with that, she did what she set out to do.
After a significant operation – “cutting me open from my sternum all the way down, and across to the right hand side of my abdomen” – she’s now back on her bike, and giggling about wearing her new cleated bike shoes.
This is what cycling does for Hillary: “Cycling gives me a child-like thrill being out on a bike…it’s a carefree feeling. From the age of fifty onwards does one really care what one looks like? The fitter you become, and the more you are in tune with your bike, you want to put on lycra, you feel almost good about it.”