By Stephen Bourdeau on 08/09/09 at 11:35 am
At school sport was never really a favourite of mine. I didn’t really take any interest. I never did any exercise at all, and the thought that the naturally slim figure I had would stay there forever. When I went to university, however, it was to a city with a strong Rugby heritage. I was hooked. It was not for another 4 years that I plucked up the courage to try it myself. At that time, women’s rugby was not very big at all. I completed my first season as a second row for the local team, and thought I was doing ok.
In the first game of my second season, disaster struck. The scrum collapsed, I went one way, my leg the other. I heard a loud crack and thought I had broken a bone. When I got up, nothing seemed to be wrong. So I carried on, but every time I tried to scrum down or change direction, I simply fell on the floor. Very frustrated, I came off. I never played rugby again. Four months later it was discovered that I had torn my cruciate ligament that day. It was 1997. No such thing as key-hole surgery, so 34 staples and a leg brace later, it took me four months to learn how to walk again after the reconstruction operation. The weight piled on. I felt miserable.
A nurse in the hospital that week had suggested refereeing rugby. I was not sure, there were no such things as women referees then. I did the course anyway, while still in a leg brace. I did in fact then start refereeing a few months later, very low level, third teams with old men in them mostly, but I enjoyed it and so did they. I still got criticised though, for being a woman, for being too slow, too this, too that. I battled on. I decided to try and lose the weight I had not really shifted after the op (with the help of weight watchers) and get better at refereeing. I lost 4 stone (54 pounds) in weight, over 4 months and improved my fitness. The day I got to my goal I felt like my life had begun, and my love for sport really was born. I eventually managed to elevate myself to a Level 8 referee and was awarded an international game for my efforts, England versus Canada U19 women. I was very, very proud. It was a memorable day. However I was also getting on in age and sexism was still a battle. The RFU were now recruiting women, but they wanted younger ones. I decided to depart while I was at the top, and look for another sport, and a new challenge.
After reading Jane Tomlinson’s autobiography (UK breast cancer sufferer, massive fund raiser, ran the London marathon while on Chemotherapy, died last year) I learned that she had managed to complete a full ironman triathlon while on cancer drugs. I had heard of triathlon but thought it was only for REALLY fit people. I thought you had to be able to swim front crawl, and although I could manage a few lengths of breast stroke, I was not really a swimmer, and had never tried crawl in my life! I thought well, if she can do it, then I blooming well can! So I bought a cheap mountain bike and did my first triathlon in June 2007, far away from home where no-one would know me, in case I was rubbish! At this time, I still couldn’t do front crawl, and was still having swimming lessons at my local Bannatynes health club. So I did breast stroke.
My love for the sport was born. I completed a season competing in local races and joined a local triathlon club (Northants Tri) and bought a better bike, which my local bike shop Pitsford cycles now service for free as sponsorship. After my first complete season of Triathlon, it was no longer good enough for me to just finish. I needed a bigger challenge now. I enlisted the help of a coach (Steve Casson – www.cassonz.com) to help me improve myself and get off the last page of the results sheets! He said he thought that with some work, I could make the GBR squad. I laughed at him. But, I embraced fully all his suggestions and training programmes and have followed a strict training program, training 10-14 hours a week and doing everything I am told. Through hard work I have seen massive improvements and my efforts were rewarded when I found out recently that I was selected to represent Great Britain at the ITU Triathlon World Championships in Australia!
I am so proud that ordinary, hard working little old me, who never really was anything special at sport, (definitely not harbouring a hidden talent!) has managed to gain this recognition, purely through hard work and a love for sport (all be it about 20 years later in life than most people!)
I have gone from not being at all athletic, and having to work hard to fight weight trouble, to representing my country in sport in little more than two years. I only learned front crawl about 18 months ago. Bear this in mind when I tell you that I competed in the Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU Triathlon World Championship sprint race in London’s Hyde Park a few weeks ago. The intention was for it to be a practice run for Australia. I exited the water third woman in my wave. I went on to achieve a personal best by almost four minutes and earn myself a qualification place for the European championships in Ireland in 2010.
I am so excited to have done so well, so quickly, and have proved that with grit, determination, hard work and the right support, anything is possible.
I hope I can make myself and my country proud when I compete in the Gold Coast. I have come a long way and I am not finished yet. With another solid winter of hard work, and a recently purchased new Time trial bike with a lot of help from Corley cycles in Milton Keynes, I hope to do even better still next year. The sky’s the limit, who knows what will happen next!
Melanie Ryding (GBR) #286
Age Group Competitor – Sprint W35-39
Find more details about this event - 2009 Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU World Championship Grand Final Gold Coast