Bravo Les Filles: Take the Reins on your Life

17th August 2017

“Bravo les Filles”

Recently, I’ve come to ask myself: “What’s my story?” There are chapters that I know are coming but feel the need to edit before they go live. With a little soul-searching and some refreshingly brutal WhatsApp conversations later with two of my besties, I’ve now discovered that it’s amazing where life’s journey takes you if you allow yourself to take the reins every now and then.

Enter my good friend Rochelle Gilmore, ex professional cyclist, and an email from her that simply read “Are we doing this?” referring to a chain of correspondence in which she had organised entry for the both of us to an already sold-out prestigious cycling race in the French Alps, which would take place in only 5 weeks time. “I’m in!” was my immediate response.  I didn’t give it a second thought.

What followed was 5 weeks of intense training and preparation, capped off by a 12-day adventure of a lifetime. No, make that several adventures. Throughout the entire ride, I was buzzing. Even on those steep ascents, I was marvelling at the beauty around me, metaphorically pinching myself as to where I was and what I was doing.  I lost count of how many times the spectators would yell “Allez Allez Allez” or “Bravo les filles” (Go Girls!). These are sights and sounds that are tattooed on my memory forever. The experience was a dream come true. Several bucket-list ticks in one sweet, croissant-filled trip!

Say Yes.

Am I lucky? In a way, yes. They say luck is when opportunity meets preparation, so I prefer to say I was totally prepared. And I opened myself up for this adventure by saying yes from the start. Not maybe, not I don't know. But hells yes, with bells. I’ve worked my arse off for most of my life so I believe I deserve it.

As one fellow runner put it best, it’s these experiences, these adventures as individuals that make us better as a whole -  a better partner, a better mother, a better friend - breaking from the routine of everyday to challenge and educate ourselves. Amen to that, sister.

Yes, I have young kids. Yes, they need their mum and they have needs. But so do I. I needed to get my sorry ass to France to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. And I know one day when they’re old enough to understand, they will appreciate how bad-ass this was and that I’ll be their total hero. So I’m being a good role-model. I think more than anything, I want to show my kids, my daughter especially, that they can do anything they set their minds to.

Not only was this trip outrageously good for my soul, but what fell out of it was a journey on a path of self-discovery which has enable me to redirect my sails towards a more purposeful future, both personally and professionally.

Be you. Define you.

I can distinctly recall certain stages in life feeling like I had it all together, with each subsequent stage bringing even more surety. My story fit nicely within the cultural and social norms of society. At 26, I had a job, great boyfriend, great friends, and that sense of arrogance that I knew so much more now than I did at 18. Same again at 30, then at 35, sans the ego.

At 41, I am more confident than ever that I have all the tools I need to write the story I want to live. I will not define myself through my work, my relationship status, or by how many kids I have. My social media profile will never say “Wife to Jock, mother to 3 wonderful children”. I’ve always maintained a clear separation from that definition because being married or having 3 kids does not define me. They totally own my heart and I’m as protective AF of them, but I control my soul.

I define me. I’m strong and I’m confident, yet sometimes vulnerable.  I make mistakes, but I’m always learning. I’m adventurous and I love spontaneity when it happens, which is not often with a young family. I’m compassionate and passionate, I fight for what I believe in, and right or wrong, age and wisdom have taught me to give way less f*cks than I used to. The ‘naughty 40s’ have delivered a sense of empowerment about who I am and what I believe in. I’m fitter, happier and emotionally stronger than I’ve ever been.                         

So, don’t wait for life to shape you. Get busy doing that for yourself.

Take those reins.

Write your story.

You’re stronger than you think. And if you surround yourself with those who believe that too, then start a WhatsApp group with them and bash the hell out of each other daily with ideas, love, criticism and encouragement. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Bravo les Filles!

ABOUT THE RIDE - L'etape du Tour

L'etape du Tour is a cycling sportive held on one of the mountain stages of the Tour de France (TDF) each year. Organised by ASO (the organisers of the TDF), the ride goes through the same stage towns, the same routes, the same mythical climbs but also, and above all, the same race conditions as on the TDF. 

The 2017 edition of L’etape du Tour was one of the most excruciating yet exhilarating things I’ve ever done. Held on Stage 18 of the official Tour De France course, it was 181kmsof every emotion on the spectrum: 15,000 riders, 3500m of climbing, at altitudes above 2400m, a top speed of 80kph (which for me is insane), a 20km descent AFTER the finish and the most magical scenery that can no words can describe – think the opening scenes of the Sound of Music on steroids.

My senses were in overdrive – the sights of the rivers so blue, the smell of brake pads on the downhills, the taste of those salty cheesy snacks at the feed stations, the sound of those highly tuned machines working in unison, humming along at either break-neck speed on the descents, or inch by inch on the climb. The altitude would play havoc with my mind and concentration, but it was Jens Voight’s famous mantra #shutuplegs that would scream loudest when I wanted it to be over. Don’t get off the bike. No matter what. 

And no one does it quite like the French. At the feed stations your choices included the standard fruit, nuts, salty snacks, sports drink, energy bars and gels. But the French go one step further - slices of French cheese, including soft cheese basking in the midday sun, piles of sweet bread and bottles of Perrier to fill your bidons. Vive le France!

Now I don’t proclaim to be an avid cyclist. In fact, I’m more runner than cyclist. Nor do I know every technical aspect about bikes or gear ratios, and I’m sure on most occasions I’m in breach of several of The Velominati Rules. But one thing for sure - I love it. The freedom of it, the comaraderie, the hum of those well-oiled machines marching in unison, the matching kit, the post-ride coffee.

Which is why I’ll be encouraging all my cycling friends, male and female, to make their way to the NSW Snowy Mountains on 2 December this year and take part in the awesome spectacle that is L’etape Australia – a taste of the Tour De France in our own back yard!

My advice to any woman thinking about tackling this challenge – just do it.

  • Join a supportive squad or club in your local area
  • Find a babysitter, get training and leave your mother’s guilt at the door.
  • Register now. Make the commitment. You won’t regret it. 

Melissa Campbell is the General Manager and 'Head of All Other Important Things' at Jock Athletic, is a Level 2 Running Coach and the current 2km Beach Run World Champion. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @_melcampbell