The most common reactions to telling people that I’m doing a leg of the Clipper Round The World Yacht Race is a mixture of shock, then awe, followed by “why?”. I don’t think people like me are supposed to do things like that.
This in itself has always surprised me, have you not seen the videos and the pictures? Why would anyone not want to do it?
Get a group of Clipperati together and the stories tend to be quite varied yet strangely similar. We’re people taking on a huge challenge, and let’s make no bones about it – it is an enormous challenge and that shouldn’t ever be underestimated. Everything from deciding to sign on the dotted line of the contract, to raising the money, to training – none of it is easy. For each of us, the challenge is different and we laugh together saying that we’re doing it simply because we can. Yet that is really only a half truth. Mixed in with that are stories of personal discovery, amazing courage, illness, tragedy and triumph over adversity.
Some say we’re crazy and maybe they’re right. What makes ordinary people suddenly decide to leave their lives and families and take on the raw power of the oceans? I’ll let you in on a little secret – I don’t think even we know. Not really.
Someone said to me recently they thought I was really brave and tough to be doing it – that is especially not true. I don’t think we’re brave at all as most of us are actually really afraid too. We’re afraid we won’t pass the training, we’re afraid we’ll get hurt and above all we’re afraid we won’t be able to do it!
I read an article recently that made out we were all rich city bankers trying to find ourselves! Oh how this made me laugh. I’ve met quite a few Clipperati now and I don’t think I’ve met one city banker.
I have however met school teachers, finance directors, architects, publishers, lawyers, doctors, engineers and flight crew. Some who sail, some who don’t, all brought together as part of the big Clipper family. I’ve met so many people from wide and varied backgrounds, and have made so many friends from all over the world, it would be churlish to try and stereotype us all.
So what are my reasons for signing up?
Well there are several really, most going back many years. From tragically losing my cousin at age 21 and from watching family members and friends die of cancer way, way too young, I’ve developed a belief that life is oh so short and precious. You have to make every day count and hold on to those dreams, tomorrow is not guaranteed. There’s a huge part of me that believes you only ever really regret the things you didn’t do, not those that you did and you never really know what you’re capable of, unless you try.
Maybe that’s where it all stems from – not really knowing what I’m really capable of. I have an enormously varied career path – I think I get bored easily. There’s always been something else I could be trying, so many things to be doing and so little time to do them in. Do I have limits? I’m not sure. But there’s one way to find out!
Breaking my back became a turning point in my life, I could trace many changes back to that point. I think a lot of my inner strength comes from that. The knowledge that I got through that so in theory, I could get through anything.
But in the back of my mind there’s always the thought that I haven’t done anything really that special. Something that in 25 years time I can be really proud of. Something just a little bit different. The type of thing that you read about in the Sunday papers and idly think “I could do that”, then laugh and think “yes, right”. Well why don’t we do that? Because adventure is for other people? Special people? Fitter people? Who then?
A lot of women, especially stay at home mums, lose a little bit of themselves when they have children. For the Mums of children with Special Needs, it’s especially apparent. Believe me when I say that you won’t meet anyone tougher than the Mum of a child with Special Needs, she’ll go into battle for her child in an instant, she’ll take on the health service, schools and the education department without so much of a blink of an eye. But ask her who she is, and what she enjoys, you might find her stumped for an answer. Her life is a constant round of internet research, coffee mornings, support groups and meetings with schools or specialists. Not that she begrudges it in any way, she will do whatever is required to help her child, but there is a cost to herself. One that is barely perceptible, even to herself and that is, that outside of being that Mum, the one the other parents stare at in the playground and gossip about – she doesn’t remember who she used to be before.
I am that Mum. At this moment, the boys are 6 & 9, the eldest was 18 months old when we started this journey into being parents of children with Autism. In that time I’ve heard negative comment after negative comment. Never, ever has the focus been on their talents, on what they find easy, or the possibilities for the future. It’s always been on the difficult – the things they find hard, the things they might never be able to do.
It. Drives. Me. Mad.
So here we are, the nitty gritty of what drives the 40-something overweight Mum of two children with Autism to sign up for one of the biggest challenges possible.
Because I bloody well can. Because if I can show my boys that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Maybe, just maybe, when people tell them they can’t do something, they will have inherited just enough of my sheer bloody mindedness to go prove them wrong. So they know that whatever their dream, no matter how improbable, or insanely difficult, if they want it badly enough and have the balls to go after it – anything is possible.
And if along the way, I can prove that to myself, then all well and good. Believe me, there is no better feeling in the world than when your son tells his teacher that his Mum is amazing. Maybe if he says it enough, I might even start to believe it.
Yes, leaving the kids behind has been hard and it will be hard during the race. But they’ve been tracking our AIS while training, following where we’ve been and I know they’ll be doing the same on the race tracker during the race. We will be able to keep in touch through email and boat blogs so they’ll know where we are, what we’re up to and hopefully will come meet us in port. The families and supporters are also part of the Clipper family and support each other while we’re away, so I know they’ll be in good hands. Hopefully my journey will inspire them to take on challenges of their own in the future.
So what if I have a spinal injury and that sometimes my shoulder hurts so much I want to rip my arm off, life is for the living and opportunities are for grabbing.
Weight can be lost, fitness can be improved and oceans can be crossed.