Picture it. It’s 2018. A dusky evening in our nation’s capital. A group of public servants are unwinding at the end of a hard week. Our heroine, Narelle Powers a 47-year-old Canberrian, holds a glass of full-bodied red in her hand. She takes a sip and simply says, “Yes”.
The question uttered by Nicole, a work colleague was whether Narelle would be game to cycle Fitz’s Challenge, Australia’s toughest cycling event that would see her ride 50 kilometres including 880 metres of climbing in under four hours around the Brindabella range. And that’s the ‘beginners’ circuit.
It wasn’t just the Tyrrell’s talking. Narelle is no stranger to taking on what others would perceive to be insurmountable challenges.
“I was 30 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Narelle. “I was serving in the army at the time and I was physically fit, but I never thought it would happen to me.”
“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t feel ill, but the treatment made me feel like death warmed up.”
“I ended up having to have two rounds of surgery as well as chemo, radiotherapy, hormone therapy… I called it a hamburger with the lot,” Narelle said with a laugh.
Pedalling with a purpose
Narelle’s own experience with cancer led her not only to help get a team together and coordinate regular training sessions, but also to ensure the group signed up to ride for a reason and raise money for Fitz’s charity partner, The Kids’ Cancer Project.
Back row from left: Narelle, Nicole and Julie with other members of the team during one of their training sessions.
“Having had cancer as an adult I can’t imagine a child going through that,” said Narelle. “It’s often said, and I believe it, that children are resilient, but it must be so difficult for the entire family unit.”
“Our team ended up raising over $7,000 for childhood cancer research. There were 15 of us including my partner Julie along with a few other co-workers’ spouses and partners. We put posters up around our workplaces with the website so people could donate,” said Narelle.
“It started off with a few donations from friends and family. Then my boss Helen pledged $100 to me and others in her group. That prompted a bit of a healthy competition between the managers. Our tally kept growing and growing.”
“Then we heard about a colleague Emma whose friend was diagnosed with cancer at the same time as her child was diagnosed with the disease. That story prompted many more donations – it gave a face to what we were doing,” said Narelle.
Narelle’s personal training tips:
Join a cycling club. I joined a women’s cycling group in Canberra and it is a great way to stay motivated and keep training.
Have a bike that suits you. My heavy commuter bicycle became a problem when I started preparing for Fitz’s. When I found the right one it made a huge difference and surprisingly helped me get into training a lot more. Most cycling stores do bike fittings and you don’t have to spend a lot of money.
Train for distance. You need to feel comfortable sitting on a bike for the distance you’ve signed up for. I registered for the 50-kilometre route so did a few 60-kilometre rides, mainly on flat, to get used to siting in the saddle for that length of time.
Train for hills. Find some hills and ride up and down them, they don’t have to be steep or even that long to begin with – gradually build up so you know how your body feels.
Fun on the day
After a couple of months of regular mid-week training sessions with some long rides on weekends, Narelle, who admitted to not being bike-fit before, was ready by the time the last Sunday in October rolled around.
“When we were lining up to head off in our group, the organisers kept reinforcing that Fitz’s is not about who finishes first, it’s about participation and completion - getting through a personal challenge that is actually quite difficult,” said Narelle.
And finish it she did, in fact the whole team crossed the line together.
“At the end it was like a party with bands, music, even a local brewery was there,” said Narelle. “We all had sore legs, so it was great to take a load off and have a beer. We had great fun on the day.”
The team enjoy the post-challenge celebrations.
Twelve months on, while many of her colleagues have left the workplace, Narelle is planning on doing Fitz’s again with Julie and is thinking about getting a smaller team together.
One thing for certain is that she’s definitely going to fundraise again as part of her ride.
“I do a lot of advocacy work through the National Breast Cancer Foundation and I can see how research really makes a difference,” said Narelle. “Knowing that The Kids’ Cancer Project also funds scientific research is really important – it’s about ensuring we have enough funds to get the best outcomes for children diagnosed with cancer.”