Grief can be a sensitive topic, and for many it can be difficult to find resources available to help deal with such an overwhelming process.
The Australian cycling community has lost many well renowned cyclists over the years, which has had ricocheting effects across many local clubs and riders.
On top of this many of us have experienced personal grief, something which impacts not only your mental wellbeing, but also day-to-day tasks and the motivation to do things such as ride bikes. In uncertain times like this, loss is not only a more frequent occurrence, but also something more difficult to deal with due to increased isolation and fear.
In this article I will briefly break down the components of grief, talk about how it affects our training and racing. I will use my personal experience to share tips on staying motivated, and overcoming that ‘when to go back to riding’ question.
Five Stages Of Grief
There are typically five stages of grief you may experience after losing someone close.
Denial is the first of the five stages, and it sometimes helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless, overwhelming and we are in a state of shock and denial.
Anger is the next stage, you may be angry at the person who passed, simply for leaving you. You may also be angry with your family, friends or even with yourself.
Guilt is experienced by almost everyone dealing with some sort of grief. Usually you feel guilty for not spending enough time with your loved one, for those small fights you had with them and sometimes you begin to blame yourself.
Sadness is a simply understood stage of grief. You generally just feel sad all the time. You feel lifeless and not motivated to do anything except lay in bed and cry.
The final phase of grief is acceptance. There is a well known saying that goes with the acceptance stage, it states ‘you never get over the loss, just learn to live with it’. This stage consists of accepting that the passing was not your fault, nor can you do anything to change it.
Sport, specifically cycling, provides us with some of the best experiences of our lives.
Sharing victories, feeling camaraderie and forming relationships in sport are all important parts of growing up. They are milestones we will always remember. The importance of these relationships, and love of the sport, is what makes it so difficult when tragedy strikes an individual, team or entire community.
During the process of grief, an athlete’s physical, cognitive and emotional states can all be affected. Performances may be sluggish, mental and physical mistakes may occur more frequently, and a huge lack of motivation may be present. One of the biggest challenges that people facing grief may encounter, is figuring out how to “get back to normal”, or in this case “getting back on the bike”.
Those who haven’t experienced grief before usually think it is a fast process, and may communicate grief should be avoided rather than embraced. Or even something to be overcome rather than experienced. In reality, when people are allowed to move toward their grief and to mourn openly, their grief becomes less intense and more manageable over time.
Ultimately, the goal of an athlete or coach who is dealing with grief, similarly to an athlete recovering from an injury, is to be able to return them to their previous “selves” in that sporting discipline.
Something tough about dealing with grief as a cyclist, is that the loss of your loved one may have actually been caused by a cycling accident. Cycling is considered a significantly dangerous sport.
The person you are grieving may have been a huge influence and / or part of your cycling career. This could make it immensely difficult to return to the sport, whereas others may find returning to sport as a coping mechanism.
In one of the situations mentioned above, where the loved one who passed was involved in a cycling accident and / or a huge influence on your cycling career, individuals have to take into account that dreaded comment of “Do it for them” or “They would want you to be happy”.
Ultimately, the thought of returning to training and or racing is far down the list of priorities when processing grief.
Being only 16 years old, grief is something I didn’t expect to experience for a very long time. Unfortunately this was not the case, and the year of 2020 was particularly tough on my family. My dad, who was a mad keen MTB and road cyclist, unexpectedly passed away in late May last year.
Not only did this have an extreme effect on myself and my family, but also the local community, cycling club, friends and colleagues from around the nation – the wider mountain biking and cycling family.
Similarly to most events experienced in 2020, it was one of those ‘everything was totally fine and then 60 seconds later the world was flipped upside down’ cases. I finally got back on the bike in November. This is an example of the varying time it may take.
Honestly, the first two weeks after my father’s premature passing were a complete blur. Family were constantly coming and going, social media messages flooding in, making funeral plans – all while lying in bed and doing absolutely nothing.
The Added Pressure Of Covid
Covid-19 placed extra pressure on grieving for us. This meant extreme gathering restrictions and border closures that placed extra stress on the need for livestreaming and video servicing.
The next few weeks was kind of like walking on a fence between the ‘staying home and crying’ phase and the ‘getting back to normal’ phase. My dad was my number one supporter towards my cycling career, as well as an accomplished MTB rider himself. During the 2-3 months following his passing I felt a lack of motivation, especially to get back on the bike.
I recommend to those grieving the loss of someone who was so greatly involved in their cycling and / or sporting career to take a break, focus on family for the first month or two and then take some time, months if needed, to focus on yourself. Do things that make you happy and take time off from stressful activities, no matter what others say.
It’s important to focus on yourself, listen to your body and don’t feel forced or pressured to do things that make you uncomfortable or unhappy.
Harshly when grieving, not many people understand what its like nor know what the right thing to say is. I found this was one of the most difficult components of getting back to normal, especially being a teenager and senior student at high school.
Never feel guilty for missing months of training and never feel as though you are behind your opponents. Ultimately you are experiencing something they may never have felt before.