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Windows of Escapism

Tristania's picture

By Tristania - Posted on 04 January 2014

A little reflective piece on the year gone past, thought I‘d put it up for anyone who's interested.

Those who have ridden with me (or even seen my posts/results on the database) know what type of rider I am. This year has pulled me up from the body of cycling enthusiasts to a mich higher level bringing me to win the open category of the Highland Fling, a result I was pretty pleased with to say the least. After completing two years of my very difficult Electrical Engineering degree, I found it was worth reflecting my achievements thus far. After my third semester of full time study (one semester was a work placement), I find myself bordering between a credit and distinction average, not the top of the ladder, but better than a most of my peers who philosophize that “Ps get you a degree“ - enough to get a job that will give me a financially and otherwise rewarding career.

Then comes sporting achievements. I have placed 6th in the “Rogainer of the year challenge“ for the NSW rogaining* association, and 1st in my age category in the Oaks Trail Run. And then comes cycling. The triumph of the year was, of course, despite many challenges I faced such as a potential clash with another event, bad weather and an exam the subsequent day, winning my category in the Highland Fling.

Due to this, I am in the process of writing my application to get sponsorship from uni for the Elite/Emerging Athlete Program which helps students competing in high level sporting pursuits financially and otherwise, and made me question WHY I was spending so much effort putting into the sport. I mean, sure, I'm good at it, but I'm also good at other things; that doesn't completely satisfy why I do it keenly - I don't pursue everything I'm good at.

I remember about 6 years ago, it was during my year 8 exams, which (back then) felt like a massive burden. Although I was privileged enough to be taught how to cycle at life's first cry (literally - my mother rode till the day before I was born!), I had not done it much in the past year. I was under a rule that I‘d do 4 30 minute study sessions separated by 15 minute breaks, and I got the idea that I‘d time myself riding to the end of my street before getting back work. All I remember feeling was pain as I smashed along the road at what would now be a casual Sunday stroll pace (Heck I could probably run that fast now!) But despite that, having the pain and the goal to work for helped me stop thinking and worrying about the magnitude of study I had to do.

Fast forward four years, I was in year 12, one of the most difficult times of my life with exams, assignments and school duties galore. Yet I still found a whole weekend to spare to go to Thredbo, a week before Half Yearly Exams, to compete in the Interschools MTB championships and getting a relatively good result, which I had done very serious training for, doing regular rides of the infamous Quarry Road Track. So why did I inflict this ADDITIONAL pain on myself on top of all the study I was crawling through?

I've never been a big movie watcher, but one that always grips me is the Shawshank Redemption. One of my favourite scenes is when Andy Dufresne, the main character puts a record over the prison loudspeaker. Although he gets two weeks in the solitary for “that little stunt“ he explains how the time was bearable due to having the music in his head - “they can't take it away from you.“ We all need something to help us MENTALLY escape an otherwise grim situation to remain functional human beings.

Which brings me back to my year in passing. Now both the level of my academic pursuits and of course my level of riding has gone up significantly in the past few years, yet I still look back on the times when I was just hammering myself on an extended training ride, run or race and see them as highlights. Is this crazy? No, because I worked out why. Like Andy, I need something that will help me mentally clear myself of what is a demanding and at times torturous degree. Sure, it's torturous in its own way, but it helps me escape it, even if only mentally. It's like a window of hope - a window of escapism that can stay in my head, even when doing something as painful as a 40 page engineering report for assessment or 3 hour exam. It gives me something else to live for in my weeks that gets me out of the circle of study many students call their lives. It gives me something to strive for and appreciate my success in.

I cannot speak for others, but I have a feeling that it's this reason why many people get involved in sports such as these - not just because we enjoy the sport itself, but as an opportunity to get away from it all - whether it be school, uni, a job, a family, yes, even a relationship - indeed we see in the fellow prisoners in Shawshank being MENTALLY held prisoner - institutionalized - such that the cannot handle life on the outside because they do not look to their own window of hope of escapism.

We all know workaholics and study-holics. Yes, they may do a good job at their task, get good marks and may get paid well, but are they interesting people. And what's more, are they happy?

As I get back to finishing my sport scholarship application, I can now answer with confidence WHY I have such a drive to pursue mountain biking, which is indeed at times physically painful - it's a way to mentally get out of my bubble of study and do something completely different that will make study bearable. I think we all need such a window to get out of such bubbles, whether it be a sport (indeed running, rogaining* and hiking give me the same mentality), music, a religion or a voluntary organization.

So is MTB. _your_ window of escapism?

* Google rogaining if you don't know what it is. Kills more slowly but surely than a MTB marathon!

Flynny's picture

You think too much. When I'm on a bike I'm 10yo again. With all the freedom, happiness and possibilities that come with that

Simon's picture

If I'm thinking to much about other things in life I'm going to hit a tree. One of the reasons why DH completely chills me out.

I hear you on the engineering stuff, wasn't quite at the top of the class but kayaked 6 hours a week, rock climbed, snowboarded and rode bikes very occasionally. Then laughed when the top graduate got the 'top' job, was given injections and sent down sewers.

I instead got offered a paid for engineering doctorate in applied research for being practical and rode fresh powder whenever it snowed and made the most out of not being stuck in a 9-5. I also made more cash than those in graduate jobs by doing consulting work on the side plus the scholarship. I only took on the hard jobs established firms hadn't solved and was initially the last resort but soon got a solid reputation.

I then skipped the whole grad program thing and went straight into a senior role on the strength of the consulting work backed by a PhD.

I have never stopped playing with my toys. I swapped between contract roles and employee. Went employee when wanting training and mortgages and contract to make cash to pay them down and have more pay for less hours worked to go play with my toys.

At some time I started TrailCare and mountain bike advocacy which taught me the workings of government and managing stakeholder groups and sticky situations. This helped land me my current role in Policy Development for a government department which pays ok and gives me more time to play with my toys than consulting.

I think you have a healthy outlook on life and it's what you do outside of study and work that will set you apart physically, mentally and professionally along with solid engineering.

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