Building a Life of Impact or An Ordinary Journey?
My story isn’t amazing. It’s pretty ordinary, but perhaps that’s why it’s so important. It’s not about long journeys, overcoming distances in extreme temperatures, or with limited food and water.
There’s no doubt the human body is amazing and capable of phenomenal things and childbirth is perhaps the assumed greatest of them all!
Around 14 years ago I used to race. I wasn’t amazing at it, but I loved it and at one stage scored a state medal (3rd place.. but I’ll take it!).
My dad was a massive inspiration and still is. He taught me to draft which was perhaps the most important skill I ever learned, as I needed to use it often just to keep up!
I’ve been cycling since 2007 and had the pleasure to travel internationally to cycle in Italy, and Qatar and traveled with a major men’s pro team through Spain as a photography assistant.
I loved everything about the sport and everyone involved in it. It was quite simply, my passion.
At 35 I got married to my now husband and we tried for a family for 3.5 years until I finally said I couldn’t do it anymore.
The pain of experiencing a period every month wasn’t just physical, but emotionally exhausting as it was yet another failed “try”.
I stacked on weight with stress and hormones and was generally miserable. I stopped riding my bike and stopped being me.
Every ounce of energy went into creating the future of a family. Seeing friends and family grow their own so easily, hurt more than you can imagine. Wasn’t this what my body was supposed to do?
I’d climbed mountains, I’d ridden through a desert, a sand storm, horrendous hail, rain, and winds. I’d done all this whilst juggling a highly stressful occupation too.
I’d started working as a dentist at 22 years old, often working remotely, rising for a 5 am flight and returning at 9 pm three days later, off limited sleep and no one at the airport or home to greet me.
Much work was done under general anesthetic at the local island hospital as I was literally the only person on the that could do it.
I was diagnosed with Hashimotos, an autoimmune thyroid condition where the body attacks the butterfly gland in the neck (thyroid).
The consequences of this are metabolic and referred to as hypothyroidism where not enough thyroid hormone is produced.
This results in weight gain and fatigue, depression, muscle aches, joint pain, and a puffy face. I experienced all of these symptoms and more.
After seeing an endocrinologist for three months, we finally balanced my thyroxine intake. I’d been through numerous blood tests, ultrasounds, and scans by now but a new symptom became apparent.
I couldn’t twist my torso to get out of a car without a painful pulling sensation. I saw yet another specialist who simply asked “What are you doing Thursday”. I replied, “Whatever you think is best.”
I was booked into the hospital thinking I was having a simple laparoscopy (a procedure where they look inside you with a camera).
24hrs later I tried to get up out of bed only to faint alongside it. When I could get home, I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks, couldn’t drive and I’ve never hated stairs more.
The pain was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I was then told, while things had gone well, I’d likely need a bowel resection in my early 40s.
We realized the dream of a family was simply not going to happen for us without major ongoing surgery and even then we’d need to be ‘lottery-level lucky’.
After months of stress, hospital visits, and tests, I decided to change the workplace. I wanted to operate alongside like-minded people who cared about the things that I did.
The environment, sustainability, and I wanted to balance my work/life better and align other values I believed could make a difference in the community.
I wanted to shift my focus from myself and a future family as I’d pictured it, to making a positive difference in the greater community.
My timing for this though was horrific. I’d just had time off for operations, some six weeks, and then we had bushfires come way too close, resulting in us evacuating our home 3 times.
I worked only 5 weeks at the new practice before Covid hit and was then out of work for months… more stress and no pay.
Many private dentists in Australia work on a commission base. So if you’re not treating patients, you aren’t earning money and we’d already spent most of our savings on years of fertility and health care.
Covid though, did give me time to stop and re-evaluate what was important to me. Health always had been, but I realized despite seeing so many doctors and specialists, I’d neglected mine.
I needed my bike again, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been on it or done something for me.
I’d been living in an imaginary future involving children and the “family fairytale” for so long, I’d forgotten I was still here. I’d been so focused on the future, I’d forgotten the now.
It had been 13 years since I raced or ridden even at a basic level for fitness. Those first few months were brutal!
The one thing I did though, was be continually kind to myself. If I got off the bike and walked it up a hill, I still got up that hill.
I didn’t care who saw me, I didn’t care what I looked like. Just this one hill. Then the next. Slowly. Then the next.
I bought a new full carbon road bike and clocked some 2000km fairly quickly over the summer. Then I purchased a gravel E-bike to commute through winter so the fitness gained in summer wouldn’t be completely lost.
I’m starting to fall in love with the sport all over again and this is exactly why they call it “the beautiful sport”.
I’ve ridden a few fund-raisers now for World Bicycle Relief which is an amazing foundation that gifts Buffalo Bicycles to people in remote communities so that they can access health care, education, and other vital services in an eco-friendly, inexpensive manner.
It’s seen that one bicycle doesn’t just change the life of the person that receives it, but on average five people close to them, and in time, can change a community.
I guess that’s what I’m hoping comes from my story too. I’m a woman that couldn’t do what the stereotypical function of my body should be able to do.
I can ride a bike though and show others that can’t have families, life isn’t actually about that. It’s not whether you have a big house, fancy car, children, money, a dog, or a cat.
It’s about the connections you make with ordinary people, your community, and your environment.
So keep climbing those mountains, rug up for the descents. Be kind and motivate each other to be the best you can be.
We all have a place here for a reason and often we work out what that is as we go along.
I’m still working it out, but I feel like me again now, and after being lost for so long, it’s nice to be home.
Dr. Michelle Spiel, a distinguished Australian dentist and a devoted cyclist, has seamlessly integrated her passion for healthcare and cycling into a remarkable journey of achievement and dedication.