It’s with great sadness that Sharon Laws’ fight with cancer has come to an end. She passed away peacefully on December 16, 2017 at the young age of 43.
Only four months earlier Sharon had been mixing it up with the lead group at the Taiwan KOM and seemed so healthy, but over the past few weeks she had succumbed to her illness at the same unforgiving pace.
I don’t claim to be one of Sharon’s closest friends and don’t feel authorised to be giving an eulogy of sorts, but I’m fortunate to have battled up many a climb with her, shared laughs afterwards, and proud to have called her a friend.
I remember meeting Sharon just after I first moved to Australia as I was just finding my feet in the cycling community. Another smily newcomer began joining our Saturday morning ride up to the hills and it was obvious that she had ridden a bike before, but it wasn’t what you’d call elegant (that would come later). She rode this unkept bike with dirt and grease everywhere, a ratty jersey, and enormous saddle bag that swung about under her seat. Her riding was sporadic as she worked as an Environmental Consultant for Rio Tinto and was constantly travelling to the jungles of Brazil, Peru, and South Africa. But every week she would turn herself inside out to make it to the top of the hill with the ‘fast bunch’ and we were always surprised how close behind she was.
As we got to know Sharon better it became apparent that she had done exceptionally well in many adventure and mountain bike races in her past. But this wasn’t something Sharon talked up. We had to pry it out of her.
During the winter of 2007 we hadn’t seen Sharon around much on our weekend rides and she showed up to a training camp in the Victorian Alps that spring looking like a shadow of herself having lost about 10-15kg, which was a lot for her tiny frame. I remember us giving it our all up Mount Hotham (a 30km climb at over 1800m) and just behind us came Sharon joyfully tapping along. I barely even recognised her as she had transformed herself from a weekend warrior to the physique of an almost pro cyclist. At this point, we had no idea how close she actually was.
Two weeks later Sharon won the Tour of Bright and shortly after that had a breakthrough result at the Australian National Championships coming second in a stacked women’s field. Our Saturday morning group was absolutely shocked and thrilled for her. We always knew there was a spark of talent somewhere deep inside , but this beast had well and truly been unleashed!
Only a few months later we were again pinching ourselves watching Sharon on TV at the Beijing Olympics support Great Britain’s Nicole Cooke to a gold medal in a torrential downpour. Even watching Sharon on TV at the Olympics she still carried that ragged style of a baggy jersey with stuff hanging out her back pockets. It made us smile knowing that she hadn’t changed a bit, and even more proud of what she had achieved.
However, the impressive part of this wasn’t even than Sharon had made the Olympic team and carried them to a gold medal, but it was her recovery from a crash only two months before the Olympics whilst filming for a BBC Olympic special where she broke her fibula. Were her Olympic dreams over? Absolutely not. She got on the trainer as soon as she physically could and was still selected for the Olympic team based on her incredible form that she was able to maintain despite a broken leg.
This perhaps exemplified Sharon’s unique ability to overcome adversity, and seemingly always encountering adversity. Whether it be a mechanical, a crash, or a broken bone right at the worst moment, she always found a way to make it back. Failure was not an option.
After a couple years into Sharon’s new career in Europe I had lost regular touch with her but followed her in the news, the odd email, and rode with her when she was back in Melbourne. I no longer waited for her at the tops of those hills. She waited for me.
There were countless other hurdles she had to overcome and she could never seem to catch a break. You can read a wonderful summary of most of this here written by Sharon herself to see what I’m talking about.
Backing up for a moment before I knew Sharon, an anecdote of Sharon’s first ever race went like this:
My first race was the 94.7 Cycle Challenge in South Africa when I was 27. I drove the route with a friend the day before the race. It was a different course then than the one used now. When we were driving this hill near the end, my friend told me: “If you get to this hill, and you’re in the front, you need to attack.”
I was so nervous the day of race, but things went quite smoothly actually. When we got to the hill, I thought: “This is it. I’m in the group, so I have to attack.” I attacked, and I got a gap straight away.
The race ended in a stadium, and I entered the stadium alone. I remember thinking: “I might win this.” And then just after I entered the stadium, a huge rush of people came past me.
To add insult to injury, I got told off at the finish for wearing a sleeveless jersey. I had no idea it was a rule that you needed to race with sleeves.
That story tells the a endearing quality of Sharon that I’ll always remember. She didn’t take notice nor care about conventions or what others thought, but still always got the job done.
And she didn’t give a hoot about telling everyone about what she did on social media. She couldn’t understand why anyone would care.
Had Sharon not seen her quick upwards trajectory, we probably would have thought she was crazy for perusing a pro cycling career, the Olympics or the World Championships at her age. But it goes to show that nothing is impossible, follow your own road, and live your own life as you want to.
Sharon was extremely humble. I’ve asked her multiple times if we could do an interview to tell her life story and perspectives. I understood the gravity of her illness and wanted her story to inspire others. She would say to me, “I’ve never done anything remarkable. I’m nobody. Maybe if I won a World Championships or something then I’d feel worthy…” I could never seem to convince her that she was remarkable.
What made her even more remarkable was her outlook on life and the balance she kept. She seemed to want to experience the world rather than look at it through the rear wheel in a bike race. In-between races she would take the unconventional path of going travelling or hiking instead of resting her legs. A single-minded focus of cycling was not her style. Exercise, eating healthy and a love for nature was her addiction, and it’s incredibly unfair that she was taken from us far too soon at the age of 43.
What I’ll remember about Sharon is a incredibly caring, humble, determined and inspirational woman who lived life to its fullest on her own terms. I’ve never met anyone like her, and I’m a better person for having known her.
Rest in peace Sharon. We will miss you dearly.