8 Years: annual musings

IT has now been 8 years since I landed on NZ shores, with just a suitcase, a bike, and big hopes for the future. Here are my stand out moments in the last 12 months, and the 7 years before that.

If you were to ask me what the landmark moments were in the last 7 years, here is what pops out in my mind most prominently without thinking too hard.

Key moments in the last 8 years:

  • Lost my mother to cancer, June 2013 just weeks after arriving in New Zealand
  • Quit teaching
  • Back to school – to retrain as a personal trainer and a massage therapist
  • Dad visited New Zealand
  • Back to England – to celebrate my Dad re-marrying. Sadly I have not been back since.
  • Completely missed my sisters twin daughters growing up, last saw then when they were babies. They are now 7 years old
  • Knee injury – stopped racing triathlon all together – eventual total knee replacement in 2018
  • Got my mum’s handwriting tattooed on my foot 2016- ‘walking with angels.’
  • Then lost that foot (and the leg below the knee) in 2020

How life has changed

My memories of living in England have not faded, but my associations with these, have. For the first few years of living here, all my living comparisons were England dominant. Lifestyle was ‘different’ to how I knew it. How much things cost, I compared to what I would have expected and English item to cost. I don’t know when this swapped around, I didn’t even notice it had, until recently someone asked me how much a pint of beer would cost in England. I honestly could not remember at all. When I talk to relatives about the cost of things, it seems so far removed from what I once knew. Because all I know now, is New Zealand life.

How I used to live my life, has also completely changed. Slowed. Is that age, or is that New Zealand? I don’t think I can decide.

In my thirties, things were high paced. I was career driven. Sport driven. I wanted to reach the highest echelons within my career as a teacher and that is how I personally judged and measured my own success. Anything less than this, I considered a failure on my part. In sport (when I finally reached that lightbulb moment around the age of 35) I applied the same principles. Team GB age group. nothing less would do.

I worked HARD at both of these goals. probably far too hard and at times to the detriment of my mental and physical health. I was able to put myself right on the wire (and sometimes beyond – like the finish line of Eilat European champs when I collapsed over the finish line after making sure I secured a team GB top 3 finish).

So, when the knee injury I sustained years ago (and had run through for over a decade) finally caught up with me and started to slow me down, I quit triathlon all together when I knew I was no longer fast enough for team GB.

Then along came an out of the blue below the knee amputation. That single event has made me re-evaluate my entire way of viewing life, and my own measures of what success actually might be.

Work is no longer the centre of my life. Don’t get me wrong, it is important, and being self employed is never easy, but it is not the only reason I get up in the morning.

I used to say that I was a teacher. teaching became who I was, rather than what I did for a job. If you asked me today, who I was, my first line would not be ‘self employed’. I might now say: recreational athlete, swimmer, disabled sport / disability advocate, and a multitude of other things. subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.

Master of Education Degree

Learning to be different

When I came out the other side of that amputation, my first thing was to find myself a new sporting goal. The sad lack of structured sporting opportunities (outside of school disability sports or the Paralympics) means a major reconstruction of my motivation systems.

I now KNOW I cannot race on the international stage as an age group athlete any more. I do not see the Paralympics as a realistic goal either (I don’t even want to anyway!). I am no longer in a place physically or emotionally where I want to spend my entire time measuring nutrition, pushing myself through tens of hours a week of training, to reach lofty goals. I want to sit back and enjoy the fact that I CAN. It is perfectly ok that this is enough. Its tough, its completely new, but its also ok.

What is rather sad, is that my para-athlete opportunities would be much greater if I still lived in England. That is simply something I have to accept.

What I now need to learn, is now to be happy in my own skin. To get used to the fact that I might go for a swim.. just because, not for any other reason at all. That is a completely new concept for me for sure. Training had always been 100% structured around how to bag that next GB spot.

Communities getting used to me being different

I went to Dunedin’s Moana pool this week for the first time since my amputation. Its a pool I have been to many may times before as an able bodied swimmer. There was a GIANT difference to how I am received at my local pool.

None of the pool staff made a drama out of it. I was left alone, except the ‘occasional do you need any help’ and when I said no thanks, they would just carry on past. None of the swimmers (neither adults or children) batted an eyelid. No stares comments, nothing. everything was completely and perfectly normal. I am wondering if this is because not only do they have an amputee staff member (a cleaner that I passed in reception, who was wearing shorts with his prosthetic fully on show) and/or perhaps its because it is Dunedin, the limb centre is here, so perhaps they see it more often. Who knows. It was much the same when I was at St Clair pool.

At my local pool, it is such a drama. I know that the staff are just wanting to make sure I have everything I need etc, but the help is sometimes a little bit over the top and makes me feel more self conscious than I already do. Without fail, every time I go there, someone stares or points, comments are made, the looks, the sideways glances. You know what I mean…? I am considering contacting a local school who was at the pool last week because their students all stared so much I felt like I was in a freak show. Is it just that they simply don’t get enough exposure to disability in the community?

Reflections on life: my 50th year

As I approach the dreaded big FIVE ‘O’ I am very aware that my outlook on life is very different to how it was in my thirties, or even compared to earlier in my forties, before my TKR (age 46) and amputation a few years after that.

Money is not my focus. I do not need the biggest house, the flashiest car, or that latest gadget like I used to. I need to be able to live the lifestyle I choose with a bot of cash spare for treats. Nice and simple.

Pace of life is not my focus. I like the slower, more chilled, easier paced life. I have less to squash into each 24 hours, I don’t feel as pressured to perform as I used to. I can just be me. I can do what I want, when I want.

I don’t know if New Zealand has done this to me, or if it was age, or perhaps it is both.

All I need now is for Covid to ‘do one’ so I can travel as I please too. Not wanting to is one thing, not being allowed to is quite another!

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Author: Melanie Magowan

I am a massage therapist and part time athlete

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