As a young person, I was never very goal orientated. I was pretty happy to cruise along, never trying massively hard to achieve much. I found I really struggled to make proper friends at school, and I was bad at sports. I was rubbish to be honest, and extremely rotund, which gave me very little social currency. In short, I was that kid drifting from group to group trying to fit in, sucking as the goalie in hockey practice and daydreaming in class.
It wasn’t until I found rock climbing when I entered high school that I really understood wanting something desperately. Rock climbing was a school sport, and I tried it out as a roly-poly red faced 13 year old, and got laughed at for my fat rolls spudding out around the harness. I was devastated by the experience, but despite the taunting I wanted to climb and it became my number one topic to daydream about, spending lunch times in the library reading “Climbing” magazine.
A year of focussed weight loss later, I went back to the climbing wall and no one laughed at me. I got on with climbing, I got better, I did training programmes at gym, I became the KZN Champ in my age group a couple of years down the line, and then second in U17 in the country in 1999. That focus and drive switched into my academic life too, I could concentrate better, engage with subjects better and found what I enjoyed learning about. Climbing (something that was a goal even when I didn’t know it was a goal) changed my life. It literally 360 flipped my life path on its head and let me develop the quality of confidence.
For me, goals are a vehicle to get you somewhere. They aren’t always as clear-cut as “I want to podium in all my races” and they aren’t as tangible as writing a checklist of stuff to achieve. Goals are daydreams, visions of the future to guide you and to show you how hard you need to work to meet them.
Recently a person I know from school was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She is 33, and just gave birth to her daughter 3 months ago. It’s a devastating thing to deal with, painful and hard on the body. She will have to go through hard-core, hair-loss inducing chemo, and a major hysterectomy. This is someone who I am used to picturing on trails, running and mountain biking, fly-fishing, hiking. She is someone who belongs in the outside world and deserves to be able to take her daughter out adventuring with her; as I am sure she had pictured in her dreams of becoming a parent.
Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she has chosen to focus on the future. I had to smile when I saw on Facebook that mountain biking is what’s pulling her strongly forwards (along with her family of course). “Keeping my eyes on the goal to get through the current shittyness and dreaming of monstrous climbs and flowing beautiful single track. As soon as I’m better! Missing mountain biking like you can’t believe”.
Really, the goal for her is not to ride and smash trails, the goal is to be healthy, live a normal life, to be a parent and to continue happily in her marriage. Like climbing was the vehicle for me to grow as a teenager into an adult with a better outlook on life and the confidence to interact with people and the world, mountain biking is the vehicle for my friend to get to the life she wants to lead, and yes, bikes are a big part of that life.
Liv uses the phrase “Actually I Can”, which can mean many things to many people. It resonates deeply with me, because that’s what setting a goal and moving towards it means. “Actually I can do this, despite it being hard, and I’m going to do it like this”. Achieving goals are not just medals to boast about, good results and pats on the back; they’re about developing yourself, pushing through life’s obstacles and changing who you are as you move forward. Sometimes moving forward happens to be on a mountain bike.