I’m not sure when I stopped looking in the mirror but in 1999 being back in Pretoria under my parents roof I heard the pony lady’s voice saying “My girl, you don’t want to hurt the pony do you?”. My best friend Janine was also back from a year’s au pairing in Holland where she became very good at eating Nutela and drinking beer and she aptly described our mutual condition by saying “Altie, my boob roll and stomach roll is the same size. This is not good”. In retrospect it sounds hysterical but that was indeed the case and I see now that I actually had a chin roll as well at least that wasn’t the size of my boob roll as I would then officially have turned into the Michelin man’s girlfriend… I was back to some semblance of reality in Pretoria but still had the crazy plan in my head of moving to Marion Island to study sea birds. I was studying BSc Zoology to try and achieve this rather unrealistic goal, not knowing what was hidden in the ice of Marion Island that would fill the hole in my chest, at least there my layer of blubber would have been put to good use. The Jane Goodal plan was ill thought out as I never had Biology or Science in School and obviously BSc is a very science orientated field, needless to say the studying did not go without incident and again I realised this was not it for me. After attending the Zoology practical at Potch university where I was more interested in eating chip rolls at the cafeteria than dissecting crabs in the lab, I gave up on the studies panicking a bit because what was I going to do with my life? The answer to this vexing question would only become clear a good while later.
I cannot remember the exact moment I got tired of being out of breath and wearing a size 38 pants but the first thing I tried doing about it was aerobics. This was never a very good idea as I do not have very good coordination and always ended up going left when everybody else was going right, or up when they were going down. The aerobics stage ended after an ill fated attempt to take part in a Hip Hop class and being so hopeless at pulling off the moves that the fellow HipHoppers looked at me with shock and pity in their eyes, so after flailing around for about ten minutes like a spastic monkey I left the studio as it was clear my shocking dance moves was distracting the serious Hipsters, attracting an unwanted crowd outside the class! After serious thought I decided that not much can go wrong whilst running or swimming, except for drowning, so I started my fitness quest by pounding it out on the tarmac and splashing away in the swimming pool.
In the beginning the running was really more of a shuffle and the swimming was more panicked splashing, I soon added spinning to the mix and immediately realised this was something I really enjoyed. A problem soon presented itself, my extreme competitive nature would prove to be both my driving force and my downfall, In every spin class I would try and spin faster than everybody there until I had blisters on my toes, and run faster and further every day often to the detriment of my bowels. I realised I had to get rid of my competitive need before I scared everybody away from the spinning class or go through the studio wall crashing into a innocent gym bunny doing the bench press. The need to get rid of this competitive beast in my chest was what drove me to entering my first running race. The only problem with running was that I was never really good at it, after a few races and more than a few blisters on my feet I realised running on its own wasn’t going to satisfy the beast in my belly!
My first bike was a Yellow and White Giant I bought from Bruce Reyneke cycles that I paid R3000 for. Now ten years later a pair of cycling shoes costs the same but it was the best R3000 my dad ever spent. Before venturing into the addictive world of road riding I first tried out triathlon, this was however a period of time filled with yet more embarrassing lessons! The excitement of entering my first triathlon obviously did something to my brain as I did about twenty things wrong during that first race. Except for the fact that I almost drowned and swallowed around ten litres of green dam water the swim was not a total disaster, after swimming like a water snake zigzagging across the dam and probably doing double the distance than everybody else, I exited Rodeplaat dam tripping over clumps of grass approaching my bike with more than a little bit of trepidation. I jumped on my bike still very motivated, not really knowing what was waiting for me, the bike ride was only 20km long and about 5km from the finish I started really suffering, not knowing that I actually had a puncture on my back wheel.
The scary thing is that I knew so little I actually finished the bike leg with that flat wheel. Later that year after I learnt how to fix a puncture, or at least identify one I entered the Afriman Duathlon which was a ten kilometre run, sixty kilometre cycle followed by another ten kilometre run. It was here that I got my first glimpse of the lean mean racing machines having their sport as their jobs. The first run went relatively well and the cycle wasn’t that bad but I realised I was out of my depth when I started the second run and passed the winners of the race in their tracksuits looking like they’ve already gone for a shower and taken a long nice nap. It has become clear to me over the years that I don’t embarrass easily and despite being a backmarker struggling along I went back time and time again for more punishment and I didn’t realise it then but I was very good at suffering. People often have a bit of a misconception about suffering, they think when they look at the leaders of the Tour d France or the winner of the London marathon that it’s easier for them than it is for the poor unfit and overweight backmarkers. This is not true, suffering is suffering and the only thing that makes it a little bit easier, well for me personally is where you’re suffering. For some reason when you’re struggling to breathe, you feel like your heart is going to jump out your chest and you’re trying your best not to throw up it’s bearable if you’re in the front of the pack and you’re the one dishing out the pain to the strong and respectable riders or runners around you. It’s however very different when you’re experiencing the same type of misery and you’re in the back of the bunch surrounded by guys with hairy legs breathing like bull dogs and you’re the one wanting to lose your breakfast while bull dog man leaves you in his wake. Across the board, if you’re in the front middle or back, with champions or hairy legged fun riders, suffering is part of sport and who ever can suffer the most and deal with it best will probably win the race at the end of the day…