Coaches Corner – 1600km Smiddy Challenge

Who Are Your Real Role Models?

It’s footy finals time. This means clichéd coaching comments, WAGS, and an overdose of media coverage on the players or “heroes” of the game where we’re told everything from what the rookies eat for breakfast to how much adversity the veterans have overcome.

I am the first one to cheer on these players and admire the skills of the best however I can’t bring myself to label them role models and resent so-called “experts” in the media for pumping them up to “hero” status. These are good athletes, good footballers and the majority are good people but the aforementioned doesn’t make them good role models. The best role models, in my opinion, are often the unrecognised who overcome enormous odds to stay alive before going on to make our world a better place.

I was recently part of the eight-day 1600km Smiddy Challenge from Brisbane to Townsville where, every night, two of the riders would stand up and share their reasons for doing the gruelling cycle. A couple of stories really resonated with me.

Smiling for SmiddyJason, a married father of four from Tasmania, is a self-employed builder and quickly puts everyone at ease with his selfless and easy-going nature. In 2011, he was diagnosed with Leukaemia.  He was lucky, had he gone to the doctor a week later than he did he would not be here today. Cancer had affected 85 percent of the cells in his body and he was immediately placed in isolation for five weeks.  Three months ago he stopped taking his chemotherapy drugs so for him to be on the Smiddy ride, let alone complete it, is a superhuman achievement. When we arrived in Townsville, Jason’s wife and children were there to greet him. They had caught two plane flights and needed an overnight stay to be there but it was obvious how much this meant to them and how much they love him. To his children and wife, Jason is a hero and now he’s also a hero of mine.

Melissa, an oncology nurse from Brisbane, spoke about losing both her parents to cancer within a very short space of time.  As a mother of two young children, the deaths of her mother and father made her appreciate the value of life and why we need to suck the most out of it while we’re here. Every time Melissa and I chatted in the peloton, I was struck by her extremely happy attitude. Despite the heat, wind, fatigue and saddle soreness there was no other place she’d rather be. Some people fake a happy disposition but Melissa is genuinely content with life and found joy in being in the middle of nowhere, ploughing into a headwind. I wondered how she managed to be so upbeat all the time.  She said to me, “What have I got to be unhappy about?  Where else would I rather be, this is what living is all about.” I later found out Melissa was in constant, extreme pain due to some nasty saddle sores. My admiration for Melissa grew to awe when she mixed it with the stronger men in a designated sprint into Biloela. Oncology nurse, mother and advocate for making the best of every situation in life.

Is there a better role model?