I worked with Mark and Tracy, my first Kiwis I met, back in Weymouth when we slaved away at Superchoice outdoor centre for £40 a week in what was to be a job that changed my future path in life.
I had always promised to come see them in New Zealand, and
19 years later I did. Now, though, they’re parents to 6 kids and have 10 sheep, 3 cows, a rabbit, a parrot and a hilarious chocolate Labrador. They are warm and loving family, full of traditional family values that I envy and enjoyed. Dinner at the table, chores doled out and lots of laughter.
Permit me to tell you a little story about Grace, their eldest kid. Never has a name fitted a soul so well. She has just one leg, which is currently in plaster after recent surgery to continue to correct her malformed foot,and on top of all that she has spinal problems which surgery has failed to help, so far, and I wonder how is it that those who have lost limbs, mobility, aspects of ‘normal’* life continue to have way more then those who have none of the challenges that Grace faces everyday.
Her Uncle Bob raced at the infamous Godzone race last month, his team Best Foot Forward coming in 2nd place. Bob has crowd-funded for Grace to buy her first pedal assisted bike. They raised over £3500 through charitable donations. He wrote this on the donation page: “Grace was born with twisted limbs and has endured numerous surgeries since she was three months old. In May 2015, Grace had her lower right leg amputated above the knee to relieve her constant pain. Following her spinal surgery in May this year her mobility has been reduced as she has endured several complications and cannot wear her artificial limb for now.”
I was fortunate to spend time with Grace and Tracy whilst they toured bike shops in Christchurch, trying to find a frame which would fit her. She’s so determined to ride a ‘normal bike’ despite the adaptive issues and I don’t doubt for a second she will make it happen. I asked her if she had thought about which colour she’d like? “I don’t really care, I just really want a bike”, was her reply.
We spent the day sharing opinions and frustrations of Pain Scores in hospitals, swapping stories of the effects of drugs, Ilizarov frames, swimming and pets! (She has a cool Love Bird) and how I say things funny in my English accent. I tried to argue that it was them that sound funny.
On asking if her prosthetic leg had a name, she told me:
“No it doesn’t. Why would I give a part of my body a different name to me. It’s my leg.”
That reply absolutely floored me. So wise and so right.
I left the Johnstons feeling like my heartstrings were strummed so hard they’d vibrate for some time to come. They have inspired me. Shifted my mindset and I’m so thankful that we could meet again. 19 years is no time at all in the company of choice people.
If you have the time, please do watch this little news story about Grace and her swimming. You don’t need to give anything, just sit back and enjoy this girl’s tenacity with awe
I hope that she continues to swim. I can see some big things for her.
Personality gets you through life. It has helped me get on and get things done. I only have a small portion compared to this girl.
You see bikepacking is not about getting from point A to point B. It’s the gaps in between that make all the difference.
Sometimes it’s physically hard. The weather is occasionally set out to make you work harder but all the while those gaps in between are the most fulfilling and life affirming times you can get in this modern life. Opportunity surrounds me all the time. It’s only way you remove those shackles of modernity. The stresses that aren’t really all that real **life happens
*whatever ‘normal’ is
** for a limited time only