Best of 2016: Riding away from my heavy past

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It’s the time of the year when everyone is heading off for the holidays, spending time with family and taking advantage of the opportunity to explore some new locations on the bike. It’s also a great time to unwind by catching up on your reading, so we are revisiting some of our best articles of the year.

The bike can lead to some pretty amazing life changes and this story from Sheyleigh about her journey to cycling is a perfect example of that. We received so much feedback from readers who were inspired and touched by this article when we published it in May, as not only is it an incredibly moving tale but it is told in such a disarmingly frank way. We are now fortunate to have Sheyleigh as a regular contributor, with her Ask Ella columns, but read on for the story that started it all.

-Simone Giuliani

When I was a kid it was so much easier to be healthy. You ate what your parents laid out in front of you and you just had more energy and time in the schedule to be active. Plus, let’s face it, walking was often the only way to get around. But after high school all that changed. For years I struggled, my weight fluctuated and the excuses to not stick to plans for a healthier life kept coming. I just kept digging myself an early grave and I couldn’t find a way out, at least not until my lifestyle took a completely different spin. Cycling was my saviour.

After highschool I moved from Australia to New Zealand and let’s just say I gained a hefty amount of carry-on body luggage during my stay. I went from a size ten to a twelve, then eventually to a size twenty-two. I had lost the routine I had back home and when I was finally the person in control of my own diet, things went south. I didn’t want to face my weight reality, attempting to stay in the old sized numbers and then wondering why my tights were falling apart on the in-seam.

I didn’t really realise how much my body had changed until my parents sat me down for an intervention-like conversation. They said if I was happy, that’s fine, but they asked me, “are you happy?” It was a question I hadn’t really faced myself and the answer was no. I was not comfortable in my own skin.

I pushed really hard at the gym for a few months, just running on the treadmill and cross trainer, eating what I thought was healthy and restrictive. I shed twenty kilograms off the one hundred plus kilos that I had been carrying, both physically and emotionally.

But that wasn’t the end of my battle. Over the years my weight would yo-yo up and down. I always had the best excuses for it creeping back up, like no time, bad break-ups and loss of routine. I allowed the excuses to win and put off making decisions until tomorrow – the day that never comes.

Heavy past

Then I got an excuse that made the others pale into insignificance. My mum was battling cancer. I distracted myself from facing that reality by drinking, going out for dinner with friends and not really looking after myself. I can’t explain to anyone who hasn’t been through losing a family member to cancer how it feels at first, but I must admit, originally her diagnosis didn’t seem quite real. It felt more like I had read it as part of a script in a movie.

It wasn’t until chemo began to tear apart my mum’s health that it became a little too real. When someone you love and adore who is usually so full of life and colour begins to whittle away into nothing, your perspective on everything begins to change. My mother’s life, and even mine, felt like it was a ticking time bomb that could explode at any second, with a big cancerous kaboom taking everything away. At this time I was provided with some advice on how to cope – find a project for myself to continue on with that would provide some normality.

Mum and me

I thought a lot about that advice, about creating a project. It really got me thinking about what I wanted my life to be. After the roller coaster effect my bathroom scales had suffered for so long, I again faced the question my family had asked me all that time ago. Was I really happy? I again realised that I wasn’t. It wasn’t just with who I saw in the mirror, it was with who I had become. I had become someone who didn’t practice control or appreciate life. Here my mum was fighting for hers, she didn’t have a choice about her health and it wasn’t fair. But you know what? I did have a choice and shamefully I had been squandering mine with booze and quarter-pounders.

I had my biological age tested and discovered it was 15 years older than my actual age. I had robbed myself of 15 years because of my bad choices. When it was put like this – rather than as a vanity issue – I was shocked, I was scared and I felt really ashamed. What if I couldn’t get that time back? I decided my project would be to take life by the reigns and head in a new direction.

Then in 2012 my mum passed away from bowel cancer. I knew, as hard as life was at that point, I had to get out of bed and keep on going. What a slap in my mum’s face it would be to give up when I still had a choice, even if it was hard. I had the ability to leave that bed and do something with myself. I didn’t find it easy and kept battling to stick to my ambition of holding onto a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately it was a battle I too often lost. But, then luckily late in 2013 I found a way to finally win the war.

It all started when my Dad dragged me into a Specialized concept store to buy a bike. The conversation went like this:

Him: “Which bike would you like, Sheyleigh?”

Me: “I don’t know Dad, that one?” (pointing to the prettiest colour bike to my liking)

Him: “Sheyleigh! That is going to get you nowhere! It doesn’t have anywhere near enough gears and it’s much heavier than these bikes, you’ll have to lug that around with you as you ride!”

Me: “But, Dad, I like the colour of that one and it’s cheaper. I’m never going to be a full-on cyclist – it’s a waste of money on me!”

Yup, there’s some famous last words right there.

My life has changed in so many amazing ways since the day I rode that bike out of the store. Now I’m not just helping myself live a sustainably healthy lifestyle, but as a women’s cycling ambassador for Specialized, I’m helping other women too.

bike washing
I wasn’t so blasé about choosing this new bike!

I now weigh around 68-70kg and I don’t have to fight stupidly hard to stay that way – if anything it generally continues to drop. That’s because the passion and the drive I have for riding means it never feels like a chore, even if sometimes it’s anything but easy. The adrenaline is addictive and the beautiful sights I previously didn’t know I could see all provide an escape. Plus, this is all happening while pushing my body to limits I didn’t know were achievable.

For a girl who said “I’m never going to be a full-on cyclist” my body has done amazing things. It has pushed a bike over 80 kilometres an hour when descending and over half that when riding in a bunch on the flat. It has survived thirty-nine-and-a-half hours in the saddle with no sleep as I Everested – which is climbing 8,848m in one continuous effort – and completed a distance of 471km in one ride for Tour De Cure in the fight against cancer. Without even thinking too much about it, I find I don’t usually eat too badly either as carrying any extra weight on the bike can get pretty exhausting.

Today, if anyone asks me that question my parents asked me all that time ago – am I really happy – the answer is yes. A healthy lifestyle on the bike has changed everything for me in the best way. I am ecstatic to have discovered a community of like-minded people who I am lucky enough to share this journey with. They push me to my limits or, when I’m lucky, let me draft them. I’ve only been cycling for just over a year and a half now and I think the most exciting part of it all is that I’m just at the beginning. I’m sure there are so many more amazing things cycling is going to allow me to achieve.

Climbing Sheyleigh

I know if my mum could see what I was doing, she’d be proud of how I stopped sitting on the sidelines and found a way to grab life by the horns … or perhaps that should be by the handlebars.

Sheyleigh has a love for adventure on two wheels, cycling with friends and taking on the odd punishing challenge, like Everesting. She is a Specialized Women’s Ambassador and Cycliq brand ambassador, with a passion for helping beginner cyclists find their pedals. You can follow Sheyleigh’s expeditions and more on her website.

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