Twenty and thwarted: Why a world champion left pro cycling after just one season
Macey Stewart is a 20-year-old road cyclist from Australia who, after an amazing junior career, joined Orica-AIS in 2015. By the end of the season however, Stewart decided to step away from life as a professional cyclist. In her own words, here’s why she’s taking a break from competitive cycling.
I have been pushing pedals for over 10 years now, I started when I was 8 years old and I’m now 20. I have had some amazing experiences travelling the world, achieving goals and meeting wonderful people along the way, all of which I wouldn’t change for the world. I decided to take a step back from professional cycling in November last year for a simple reason; I needed to take a mental break. Female cyclists peak mid to late 20’s, some even early 30’s, therefore I felt now was the best time for me, coming into the end of an Olympic cycle, to have a mental break from professional cycling while still so young.
2015 was a crazy year for me as I travelled the world as a professional cyclist. It was an unreal thing to live the ‘pro lifestyle’ and to be able to say I was actually a professional athlete (and didn’t buy my kit off eBay…even though sometimes I felt like I did). Living in Italy, enjoying the sun, amazing scenery and food, the company of my teammates, while also learning and experiencing things most 19-year-olds could only dream of, were things that contributed to some of the best memories of my life so far.
But living that lifestyle isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I found it really challenging at times. I felt pressure to eat certain things and not others, most of the time comparing myself to my mature, fit, muscular teammates and hating myself. I caught nearly 100 plane flights and lived out of a suitcase for most of the year. It was the longest I had been away from home and I missed my family and friends terribly (although my amazing teammates were like mums to me sometimes).
At the end of the European road cycling season I was selected to compete in the team time trial at the World Championships in Virginia, USA. Looking back, it was an unbelievable experience to be exposed to that level of racing at only 19 years old, but it was also a lot of pressure, playing an important part in the success of my teammates, who were all older and really wanted and needed to perform.
After Worlds my teammates were able to fly home and have a break from cycling in their off season, spending time with family, going on holidays, socialising, etc. I flew home for three days before flying to Adelaide to track camp, then onto New Zealand for the Oceania Track Championships, then back to camp in Adelaide, joining the top Aussie track team in training for the Rio Olympics. At this point I was tired. Physically tired. Mentally tired. Emotionally tired. And it all became too much. My mother came to visit me in Adelaide and the decision was made that I needed to return home and have a break from cycling. And that was that.
My favourite motto is ‘Everything happens for a reason’. Not even a week after returning home from Adelaide we found out that my dad had Metastasis Lymphoma. He had seven cancer tumours in his neck and throat and was soon smashed with severe chemotherapy and radiotherapy. How’s that for timing. I found my reason for coming home from Adelaide a lot sooner than I expected and ran into my next hurdle, much higher than any hurdle I’ve ever jumped.
Last week I found out that dad now has terminal cancer. Obviously this has been a heartbreaking time for me and my family, but as they say, positivity is everything in times like these, and even though I am finding it hard to be strong at times, I know that the adversity in my life will give me the strength to conquer the world in the future. My dad is such a strong man, I think it’s in our ‘Stewart’ blood to be bloody tough nuts, so I know he will fight with everything until the very end.
Over the past seven months, my life has been an interesting game of trial and error, searching for what makes me happy and getting to know Macey Stewart the person, not just the cyclist. I started a Bachelor of Engineering at University, but soon found it wasn’t something I was passionate about. I went to a dance class on a Wednesday night and remembered how much happiness it brings. After many knockbacks I have landed myself a job at one of the best sports physiotherapists on the Gold Coast where I have learned so much and made some great friends.
I have taken up mountain biking for a change and love the refreshing atmosphere. It’s exciting, adrenaline pumping and new, and I would love to give it a real crack in the future to see where it takes me.
I have returned to the road and am beginning to realise why I rode my bike in the first place. It’s been a great escape for me and immediately makes me feel more optimistic about the day ahead. I’ve been enjoying it more than I ever have, no pressure, just pedalling my bike, when I like, where I like, for as long as I like.
I definitely think its important for young people to gain perspective in life by experiencing the ‘real world’ and all the adversity it brings. I feel like getting a job or starting to study, stepping out of your comfort zone and working towards something stable for the future, is so vital to being a top sports person and being able to adjust when that is no longer an option.
I believe that this period away from the professional cycling stage will boost my motivation and make me realise how special it is to represent your country as a professional athlete, while also teaching me life skills that will help me down the track. I will continue to ride my bike as much as I can while I enjoy it, and hope that I can make dad proud by achieving what I know I’m capable of one day in the future.
This blog first appeared on maap.cc and was reposted with permission of the brand and the author.