Freyathlon – One Woman’s Own Olympic Challenge
By Freya Rodger
‘You’re doing what?’ is how most people react when I tell them about Freyathlon. And then: ‘Are you brave or mad?’
Freyathlon is me, trying my hand at every Olympic sport open to women at Rio2016. That’s 41 sports – from archery to weightlifting. The only sport I won’t be doing, because it’s not an Olympic sport for women, is Greco Roman wrestling. And I think we can all be grateful for that!
When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2012, my world grew small
I’ve set myself a deadline to complete Freyathlon before the Olympic closing ceremony in August and I’m currently heading down the home straight with only a handful of sports to hurdle over – or crash through.
I came up with the idea for Freyathlon during the UK’s Women’s Sport Week 2015. There was a lot of chat and a lot of writing about why women did or didn’t get involved in sport, and I realised how much my life had changed when I was, and wasn’t, able to be active.
Like many women, I didn’t really enjoy sport at school and I stopped doing any organised sport as soon as I left school. But, wherever I’ve lived (including three years in Sydney), I’ve always cycled and walked because nothing beats the freedom and independence of moving through the world by bike or by foot.
When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2012, my world grew small and travel was mainly between home and hospital for tests, procedures, and appointments. And when I began chemotherapy, delivered as a hospital inpatient in an isolation room, my world became even smaller. In less than a month I went from cycling to and from work every day to lying in a hospital bed for days on end, working my way through Breaking Bad, and relying on visitors for news of the outside world.
I had six months of gruelling and exhausting chemotherapy, which ended in 2013 and I moved into remission, which is where I still am. You might think that would be a time to celebrate but anyone who’s been through cancer treatment will tell you reaching that point is like falling off a cliff. The discovery I couldn’t walk upstairs without sitting down on the top step to catch my breath was brutal. I decided my priority had to be rebuilding my health and fitness. I started by walking to the end of the street, gradually increasing the distance until I could walk to my local café. After a few months I felt able to think about getting back on my bike and I joined a spin studio to make sure I had the strength and stamina to cycle back home once I did get my bike back out of the shed.
One year after diagnosis and six months after finishing treatment, I cycled 52 miles in London Bikeathon. One year later I joined WaveWalkers, London’s first dragon boat team for people affected by cancer, and in May 2015 (and again in May 2016) I paddled 35kms with Wavewalkers in Vogalonga, an annual event in Venice for non-motorised boats and crafts.
And then there’s Freyathlon.
I’m having a blast trying sports that didn’t exist when I was growing up, mountain biking, sports I’ve always wondered about, modern pentathlon, and sports that have really tested me, marathon swimming.
My favourite sport is usually the one I’ve just completed, but BMX cycling has a special place in my heart. I joined the beginners’ class on a Saturday morning at a local park – me and about 10 kids under the age of 15. I don’t think any of them realised I was old enough to be their mother, or grandmother. And it turns out BMX cycling gear is a great disguise – one boy even peered up at me through his helmet and asked: ‘are you a lady?’
As adults we sometimes over-analyse and assess risk way too much, but the big BMX lesson was to just do it. When the instructor told us to do something, I had questions while the kids just did what they were told. I quickly learned to stop asking questions and just get on with it – which is what I’ve done for each sport I’ve tried since then. And it’s an approach that hasn’t failed me!
Freyathlon is all about giving it a go and if one person like me – affected by cancer or carrying more weight than they need – joins me in giving an activity a go, I’ll be happy.