Walking like John Wayne

1.         In the Beginning


I searched my whole life to find something that I would be good at. When I ultimately found the thing I would excel in, it was a complete unplanned accident and took me completely by surprise.  My mother always had dreams of the orchestra as over the years I played the piano, violin, flute and guitar but the expression on my numerous teachers’ faces only bode ill for my mother’s symphonic hopes.  I’m sure my father had dreams for me to jet all over the world as a successful something or other as I did gymnastics, played tennis, netball, hockey and swam but after throwing up in the dustbin outside the school pool I seemed to loose my motivation for school sports.  After the dustbin incident my school sports career can pretty much be summed up in as many words as the fake sick notes I took to school to try and get out of PE!

Until I started cycling my sports ‘career’ was one pathetic incident after another, one of them that stick out in my mind was when everybody had to try out for the track teams in primary school and we were doing the long jump.  I can’t remember exactly what was going through my twelve year old brain but I don’t think it was anything good because as I jumped I never even make it to the sandpit, I landed short and fell flat on my ass on the grass.  This clear lack of talent, which later proved to be more a lack of motivation led to me always skulking and sneaking when there was sport involved to try and not be noticed and in turn not to have to take part.  I was frankly tired of getting hit in the face by softballs, tennis balls, squash balls, volley balls, foot balls, falling on my ass, knees and getting embarrassed on so many different levels that there was only so much one child could take.  I loved sport but seemed to suck at it no matter how hard I tried.

This is why, when in my twenties I became a Springbok Cyclist it took me completely by surprise! When I left school I was so happy to not have to do any PE ever again that I soon walked the road so many students do.  The road of beer, fast food, late nights and many, many hangovers, and we all know where that road leads to!  To strong arm muscles from lifting countless slices of pizza and pints of beer to your muscular and well trained mouth!!!  Plainly put, it leads to the ‘Land of Flab’ and I was the president!

I have always been pretty concerned with my weight, so as soon as the carb rush of countless pizzas wore off, the reality of my situation hit home!  I had turned into a FATTIE!!   Being fat is definitely not the worst thing that can happen to you but when I was small two very silly things happened that would cement my views on body image forever.

When I was young I think my mother realised that my lack of coordination and big feet did not bode well for ballet so we opted for gymnastics, I rather enjoyed it until my coach told me I had to slim down a bit. I couldn’t get in my gymnastics outfit ever again without looking at myself very critically in the mirror, I was ten.  The other incident was when we went shopping at Sunnypark Shopping Centre in Pretoria, it was school holidays and there were ponies, roller skates, ice creams and all kinds of fun things to do to give wary mothers a break from dealing with bored children.  Of course I wanted to go for a pony ride and to my great horror the lady taking the bookings told me I was a little bit big for the ponies, I’m not sure if she thought I was going to break the poor animals back but a huge big ice cream soon made me feel a whole lot better.  The pony rejection together with the Gymnastics dragon telling me to slim down was all a bit much for my ten year old brain to process.  It was the start of a lifelong battle with the often non existent bulge.

I have to admit that my mother was very good at teaching me good eating habits but I think there is an evil and very hungry beast in my stomach that torments me, and the only way to appease it is to feed it chocolate, cake and rusks.  When I was small my father always let me pick two Quality Street chocolates and then hid the box thinking I would not find them, big mistake!  I knew all his hiding places and would regularly help myself to a few extra toffees hiding the wrappers in the couch, until one day when my mom moved the couch to clean and saw the bulges where I had attempted to conceal all the evidence of my chocolate thievery.  My dad got a new hiding place, I found it, but at least this time I covered my trail by throwing the papers in the dustbin.

To further illustrate the unlikelihood of the outcome of my life I have to go into further detail of my school sports career, or lack thereof!  I was the girl standing in the corner of the volley ball field that would get knocked unconscious whilst trying to look cool catching the ball.  I also remember taking a tennis ball to the eye and not being able to see properly the rest of the day, then of course I once sprained my finger playing softball, and got chased of a netball field for arguing with the referee during a C Team game we lost by about 90-3.  A lot of things have changed since then but I still can’t play volleyball and I still argue with officials and referees.  I always went to great lengths to miss out on PE and would tell elaborate stories of fake injuries or rather spend the time in the Sick room and later the toilets reading a book and smoking a cigarette.

After school I moved to Cape Town to further my search for what I would be good at only to find that I was very good at drinking lots of beer, eating pizza for breakfast and smoking twenty cigarettes a day, this led to me being very good at putting on weight.  It didn’t really bother me that much until one cloudy day, for reasons unknown I became very bored with my usual routine of lying around, eating, watching telly and surfing the internet, so I decided to walk rather than drive the 1.5km to our local video store to go and rent ‘Live and Let Die’ starring Roger Moore.  I can’t remember my reasons for wanting to do this but there I went down the road full of excitement not fearing what would happen to my unfit body!  Halfway to the video store sediment started to shake loose from my ‘pipes’ and I felt like a very old car puffing black fumes shuddering to a stop.  The next problem was when because of very bad blood circulation my body started itching like there was no tomorrow, it was obviously not used to having fresh, oxygen rich blood pumping through it’s lazy veins.  All the blood that was pooled in my ass and feet was finding its way back to the rest of my body and I didn’t like it.  It felt as if an army of angry Amazon fire ants was crawling over me consuming me alive.  So there I stood next to the road cursing, scratching and puffing black smoke, attracting quite a few worried looks, I am not sure if I looked more like a crazy person or somebody in serious need of medical attention, but at that stage I was a bit of both.  Contributing to my mounting state of unease was my thunder thighs that were getting so badly chaffed that not only was I itchy, sweaty, hot and very bothered but I was now also walking like John Wayne.  I must have been quite a sight swaggering into the Video store all sweaty and itchy…

The only other thing that I am as passionate about as sport is animals and during my time in Cape Town I became a volunteer at the SANCCOB sea bird rescue centre in Blouberg Strand.  When you start out as a volunteer they make you clean cages and prepare the penguins food, which entails defrosting boxes of sardines and distributing them until you yourself smell like a sardine that has rolled around in penguin crap!  More than once I had to apologise for the smell that clung to me as it kind of seeps into your skin, after a while you no longer notice it but believe me when you’re standing in line at Pick n Pay you realise why nobody really wants to stand that close to you.  So basically, the volunteers that are willing to put up with the smell of fish and bird poop evolve to more pleasant tasks like washing oiled birds and feeding.  I enjoyed being at the centre so much that I soon became furniture and went there as much as I could.  It was here where I decided to study BSc Zoology and started nurturing dreams of becoming a researcher on Marion Island.

Woolworths was one of the centres sponsors and they would deliver food for the volunteers’ everyday, I was in heaven!  I’m not sure if it is because they live in South Africa, as other penguins are actually very tranquil and easy to handle, but wild African penguins bite like hell!  Maybe they’re afraid of being eaten, but I still have scars on my hands from getting bitten by unruly penguins, seagulls and Gannets!  I was having a grand old time but I think my sister Hannelie who lives in Cape Town picked up that I was very close to jumping on a Green Peace boat and get arrested while vandalising a oil tanker.  Soon some motherly tug made my mom come and visit me and I’m sure when she saw me and heard my ambitions to move to Marion Island and be a research assistant, she summoned my father to come and fetch me and my things as soon as possible.  The search for that illusive thing that I would be good at would have to be restarted in Pretoria, hopefully it would not include doing something that involved a permanent smell of fish hovering over me like some strange halo, nor putting on weight and lying around.  By this time I weighed almost ninety kilograms and the hole in my heart was filled with pies, cigarette smoke and the smell of fish and it was poisoning my system.  The drive back to Pretoria with my father was the start of my journey to becoming the accidental athlete.


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