I came up with the idea of Freyathlon during Women’s Sport Week 2015. There was a lot of chat and a lot of writing about why women did or didn’t get involved in sport, and I realised how much my life had changed when I was, and wasn’t, able to be active.
Like many people, particularly women, I didn’t really enjoy sport at school and I stopped doing any organised sport as soon as I left school. But the two things I’ve always enjoyed have been cycling and walking – and I’ve cycled and walked wherever I’ve lived because nothing beats the freedom and independence of moving through the world by bike or by foot.
When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, my world grew small and travel was mainly between home and hospital for tests, procedures, and appointments. And when I began chemotherapy, delivered as a hospital inpatient in an isolation room, my world became even smaller. In less than a month I went from cycling to and from work every day to lying in a hospital bed for days on end, working my way through Breaking Bad, and relying on visitors for news of the outside world.
I had six months of gruelling and exhausting chemotherapy and moved into remission, which is where I still am. You might think that would be a time to celebrate but anyone who’s been through treatment will tell you reaching that point is like falling off a cliff. You finish treatment and it’s up to you to put your life back together – when your motivation and energy levels are low, your place in the world has changed, and the dark thoughts you’ve managed to contain for months burst through with a vengeance.
The discovery I couldn’t walk upstairs without sitting down on the top step to catch my breath was brutal. I decided my priority had to be rebuilding my health and fitness. I started by walking to the end of the street, gradually increasing the distance until I could walk to my local café then take a trip around the park. After a few months I felt able to think about getting back on my bike but my confidence had been shaken and I joined a spin studio to make sure I had the strength and stamina to cycle back home once I did get my bike back out of the shed.
One year after diagnosis and six months after finishing treatment I cycled 52 miles in LondonBikeathon. One year later I joined WaveWalkers, London’s first dragon boat team for people affected by cancer, and in May 2015 I paddled 35kms with Wavewalkers in Vogalonga, an annual event in Venice for non-motorised boats and crafts. Two years after finishing treatment I took part in my first 10k at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
And then there was Freyathlon.
In Freyathlon I’ll be trying my hand at every sport open to women at the Olympics in Rio. That’s 41 sporting categories (some sports eg athletics, cycling, swimming have multiple disciplines) and more than 100 events, individual and team, to complete before the Olympics Closing Ceremony in August 2016.
I want to complete as many events as possible in and around SE London – because I live there and want to find out what activities are available on my doorstep. And I want each event to be no or low cost – because I don’t think being active has to be expensive.
I’m looking forward to some of the sports and I’m a little anxious about others but I’ll be giving every one of them a go. And I hope some of you will join me in finding out what’s on your doorstep, trying a new sport, getting more active. Go on, give it a go!