Updated: Feb 12
Just over a year ago, almost a year following encephalitis “e”, I was presented with an opportunity to be part of an all women’s adventure race called Spirited Women. This event has rapidly been increasing in popularity in New Zealand and you have to be pretty quick to become a participating team. Just over 400 teams of 4 women navigate their choice of a secret course (short, medium or long) on foot, bike and kayak and use their orienteering skills to find their way through the check points and to ultimately cross the finish line. Now, to me, that type of race sounds pretty amazing and is definitely up my aisle.
A friend of mine who is as fervent of a runner as I am had participated the year before and I was actually secretly envious. To now be presented with the opportunity to be part of a team...I mean I felt very flattered. I don’t want to sound or come across as pretentious when I say that the Véro before “e” and acquired brain injury "ABI” could have gone through the 10km run, 25km bike and 2km kayak with her eyes wide shut. However, the physical abilities of the Véro post “e” were quite different at the time that the offer to join the team was presented. At that stage, I could barely run 5km without feeling completely wiped out for the rest of the day, so managing those kind of distances in rugged conditions sounded completely unachievable. So the lovely ladies gave me some time to think about it, putting no pressure what-so-ever on me.
Looking back, I think I have never thought something through so long and hard. My main concern was not the payback that participating in an event like that would induce on my brain and overall health (that was a given), my main concern was to potentially let the team down and rob them of completing their own challenge and experience.
See when the bruised brain has no energy left, it tends to start shutting itself down, one thing at a time. For me, my speech usually goes first, then the foggy brain kicks in, the funny vision stuff starts to creep in, the coordination goes out the window, the body can slow down to the point where putting one foot in front of the other requires extreme effort and concentration and by then, well my thinking abilities are long gone. Me joining the team meant that if the brain stopped operating, my body would most likely follow. Now, if i was the only person affected by this, I could find the courage to deal with it as I've been in that position several times post “e”, but I didn’t want to impose my limitations on the rest of the team.
I can’t acknowledge enough how supportive the rest of the team members were for me to give it a go. To help me make my mind up, we started doing mini training sessions, pushing the distances a bit further every time. I eventually got to managing not great but ok 1-1 1/2 hour of continuous exercise and I knew then that no matter how much I’d train between now and the event that I’d have to make up my mind based on a lot of unknowns. This race was likely to take 4-5 hours to complete on much harder terrain than the one we were training on so the possibilities of failure were REAL and HUGE.
I checked in with A LOT of people about participating to Spirited Women. My GP, my psychologist, my partner, friends, family, the Spirited Women team members (again and again) and along the way someone said something that stuck with me even as I write today. Véro don’t let “e” rule all your decisions. Stop giving “e” so much power over what you can and cannot do and give yourself more credit. That’s exactly what I needed to hear at the time and that’s when I realised that I actually had to start believing in myself more. Both the old and new Véro sets out to try her best and to not give up so I might as well make the most of this personality trait. So I finally said yes! I officially joined the team and did not regret it for one second...not even when payback time knocked on my door.
Participation to the event "D-Day"
The Spirited Women Adventure Race lived up to my expectations and more. It is such a well organised event, I couldn’t recommend it more! It also served a greater purpose for me. Not only did it give me something to aim for but it allowed me to strengthen some really cool friendships at a time of my life where I felt pretty isolated due to the residual effects of the brain injury. On race day, we combined each of our strengths and we came together like a perfectly oiled machine. We were so proud of ourselves and that feeling of achievement took new proportions when we realised that not only had we managed to complete the event but to complete it finishing in 11th place out of a whopping 186 team participating in the short course. Cherry...on the icing...on the cake right!
Have we registered a team for 2020?
Absolutely. The 2020 Spirited Women Adventure Race edition is going national with 2 events (Central Hawke's Bay and Alexandra). Seeking a new challenge and scenery, our team adventure will take us to Alexandra in the South Island of beautiful New Zealand. We can’t wait!
The most important learning that I took from this is that sometimes having people believing in yourself is just as important as us believing in ourselves. Colette, Kirstie and Emma, words will never express how grateful I have been for you taking a chance on me, for believing I could achieve what was on paper unachievable and for the blast of an adventure we’ve had! 2020 here we come!
Find out more about Spirited Women Adventure Race: https://spiritedwomen.co.nz
View my other blogs linked to “Exercise” and “Brain Injury Recovery”
We all have our own challenges, view one of my team mates recollection of the 2019 event and what participating represented for her: https://www.outdoorsy.co.nz/inspiration-series-the-spirited-women-adventure-race-with-colette-baker/