Mitochondrial Disease & Mountain Biking

Mito and my passion.

Untitled design (2)As a single mum in my late 20’s I found myself sitting nervously in a doctors reception waiting for a debrief from the numerous specialists & tests I’d just undertaken….What is he going to say to me? It must be bad as the specialists all sent me home for him to speak to me. It’s always bad news when a doctor calls you in for an appointment. What could possibly be wrong? I’ve always been so healthy. What about my son – he’s only 5 yrs old?? How am I going to care for him? Am I going to be able to continue working? How am I going to pay for all of this?

Eventually I was summoned into the doctors office, he sat across the desk like they do when it’s a formal conversation… Melinda, firstly, why are you living out here in Mt Isa? Ummmm I’m here working ...Do you have any family, support here? Noooo??… Well then, my advise to you is to quit your job and move to the city, somewhere like Brisbane where there is more support for people like you. Buy an interactive computer & learn to read Braille. Prepare to live your life as a blind person…. Me, blind?? I don’t understand….I had an appointment with a specialist asking him to fix my eyelid- something like an operation so I would just look normal like everyone else, and now you’re telling me that I’m going to be blind? How can you say this to me?

And so my meltdown started…..Now, lets be honest – there’s nothing wrong with a massive meltdown – right? Just don’t unpack & live there!! Cry it out, refocus and move on!!

What I have since discovered is that I have a condition called Mitochondrial Disease. Mitochondria are the powerhouse of every cell in your body it’s a debilitating disease which has long term effects on the whole body, it’s organs and systems.

When I look back now that day was a gift – it was the turning point for my future. To me, I had been handed the choice of two cards – an ultimate challenge. I could choose to become a victim and accept my fate as the doctor saw it, or I could choose to live a life worth living, accomplishing all my hearts desires and be the person I wanted to be DESPITE what may happen. So I began to change the way I looked at things, and the things I looked at changed.

I believe each of us need to find something challenging and positive to do, something that’s just for you, something that’s going to continually push you outside of your comfort zone and keep reminding you of who you are & what you stand for. And that’s what mountain biking does for me.

Endurance Mountain biking gave me the external challenge that I needed to help me focus whilst I was struggling with how to come to terms with ‘my future’ as the doctor foretold.

Although mountain biking with only one eye has it’s own set of challenges….for instance I don’t have any depth perception & I can’t see around a tight left hand corner or switchback – I ride every one of them blind, & my eye muscles don’t respond quickly to counteract the rough off road terrain, so the faster I ride the more blurry the track is. What I’ve found is that going flat out down a hill with just enough vision to see the risks involved, but not clearly see the track could become an obstacle – or it can be the most amazing & freeing experience. Once again, if you change the way you look at things….then the things you look at change. It’s moments like these that you just appreciate everything you have in your life!

Now let me tell you that I am not a naturally skilled rider, every day I spent time researching and breaking down each component and skill needed. I trained on the bike, off the bike, I looked after my body, stretching, recovery, correct nutrition. You don’t just wish for things, you work tirelessly every day towards your goals. And then it happened….my biggest challenge to a that date a 12hr dusk till dawn. Yes, all night 6pm – 6am. I rode it for the challenge, just to see if I could and as I rode over the finish line I was greeted by a camera crew…I had just won my first race! I was already hooked, and that just sealed the deal….but what next??

Spurred on I looked for my next challenge – the National 24hr mtb race. But only two weeks into my preparation the rollercoaster of life tumbled me down again. This time I was diagnosed with a heart condition, another part of Mitochondrial Disease and the cardiologist recommended I gave away racing & take life easy – it was too dangerous.

So once again, change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.

Rather than give up, we had to become smarter – how can I race the 24hr nationals? More research, strict nutrition & supplementation, exercise regime, recovery & sleep. Once again it all comes down to the things you do each day, the small details which frequently become overlooked. But within 12 months I raced my first National 24hr and rode home with a silver medal. Which qualified me for the 24hr World Championships in Canada.

My favourite moment at the worlds was when I rode over the finish line drenched in sweat, covered in dirt where Dave, my then 10yr old son was waiting & he threw his arms around my muddy, sweaty, smelly, exhausted body & with tears in his eyes & his voice breaking with emotion said – ‘Mum we made it.’ This was far bigger than me, this wasn’t just my journey, this was giving my son important life skills & showing him that no matter what you don’t quit!

I’ve now represented Australia at the World 24hr Champs 3 times, twice placing 4th in the World. I’ve raced the Australian 24hr Champs 3 times, twice placing 2nd in Australia.  And I reckon there’s another race or two left in me yet….

But I’m not telling you all of this so you can be amazed at how many obstacles I’ve overcome, so you can tell me how great I am. Today we tend to put people with disabilities who have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles on pedestals, openly congratulate them and their achievements and secretly thankful that we lead ‘normal’ live and haven’t had those challenges to face.

I have a physical disability, it makes it easy to see, I stand out in a crowd easily, easy to remember, and easy to define what may hold me back. But what are your disabilities in life? What beliefs do you have that are holding you back? How often do you say I wish, If only, Maybe, one day, next time….OR even I couldn’t do… Is the life you are living right now fulfilling, are you growing and becoming a better person, or are you waiting and hoping for something better to come along?

Hal Elrod said – The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you can change anything in your life. So maybe it’s time to change the way look at things so the things you look at will change?


Mel xx

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