Internal conflict, broken baggage and Rachel’s Runners

“The more broken baggage we carry, the larger the load” – Hilltop Hoods


Mum has a photo wall that has photos of us as kids and now the grandkids. It spans the whole wall. I look at the photos of me as young as 8, up to pre-teens and teens and I remember thinking I thought I was fat then, people were telling me I was fat then. I was not fat for the record. My grandmother wore a girdle right up until the clothes were falling off her as she neared death. My mother, not a large woman at all, still weighs herself all the time. I remember my grandmother telling me as I moved into the prepubescent years that “you won’t get a boyfriend and no one will want to marry you if you keep putting on weight”. Skip a generation and I could have replied “don’t worry Nan, there’s IVF” – I’m sure that would have worked out better for me!! Apart from the harsh message and lifelong impact on my self-esteem, I believe those messages were a misguided attempt to force a bookworm out of her room. I would read the days away and daydream about life as a writer. I liked the non-competitive atmosphere of my room. From then, I played just about every sport and was not brilliant but more the “best and fairest” kind of player. Netball was where I learned that I could run. I played in a team with a full-on coach and all we did was run.   The coach and her psycho competitiveness made me miserable but I was fit. I won the school cross country that year. I have the same conflict with exercise as an adult – apart from rowing, I do not love exercise or competition, I only do it out of guilt and not wanting a chronic illness into old age. I feel like “been there, done that” with most exercise/sporting pursuits.

As a grown-up I came back to the room that I grew up at the end of 2004 with a 5, 3 and 2 year old. An eight year old relationship over and starting life again back in Sydney, the place that I took off from as soon as I had a job lined up on the Sunshine Coast. I was never coming back (except for Christmas every year). I lived my dream of living simply by the beach while my babies grew frolicking naked on the sand. I was in the surf club, I was rowing and my only worry was how to keep the bush turkeys off my thriving organic vegie garden. That year of my return to Sydney, I lost about ten kilos running twice a day with my brother and boxing a couple of times a week. We started a rowing club on the Georges River and I still felt close to Queensland.

I had my first breakdown in 2007, I can’t remember if there was a specific trigger or just the realisation that I was stuck in Sydney and there was no way I could afford to live out of my parents’ home. It was eating me alive. At this stage, I sought medical treatment and received some counselling which helped A LOT. It got me up and going again. I changed universities to JCU and planned over the course of a year the next breakaway to the Gulf of Carpentaria to do a teaching prac and pursue the next challenge of having a teaching career in remote Australia and giving my kids the taste of freedom that comes with a non-city life. I again lost a lot of weight due to wanting to be fit for the adventure and on arrival walking everywhere in 35 degree heat and playing a lot of touch footy with the kids. We stayed for 18 months and as life got tougher the weight came back on. I was helping to train the new kids’ footy team after school, running the church op-shop after school, trying to study and work five days as a teacher aide which also involved picking up kids for school. I was exhausted and I would wake up with my heart thumping in my chest, worrying over what the day at school would bring. We could not secure housing in the Gulf and we had to keep shifting in and out of the caravan park, so I decided to give up that dream and come back again with my tail between my legs. Some people describe working in remote communities with Indigenous kids as “an experience” but I saw things that have scarred me and at times felt like I was raising more than my own three kids. I had another breakdown whilst up there and spent one school holidays in bed. The community was all-consuming, violent and emotionally draining and I lost the pride that I had in this country. I became politically aware and deeply ashamed that the powers that be allow parts of the country to endure third-world conditions, while we in Sydney live an oblivious life. Robert DeCastella is doing his bit to turn around the communities through running and he should be applauded and supported .

I didn’t want to come back to Sydney, I wanted to head to Grafton, where we holiday every year and there is a rowing club – I did not have the energy to set-up in a new town.


Back at UWS in 2010, sulking and seething and not seeing clearly my next life or career move. I was goalless. I didn’t want to teach in Sydney – I knew that. I ran into my tutor at the time who is a Rachel’s Runner and she mentioned it to me as I was walking off to the uni gym (that I use every six months or so). I still remember the conversation, so perhaps this was the first seed planted. I had my third breakdown with two assessments due and I spent another week on the lounge. My life was study, driving the kids to sport, mowing lawns, doing daycare shifts, meetings with the student council, tutoring students and I was doing it all to find the next goal – the next task, the next career. I met my partner (he says stalked!!) in 2012 and things started to improve. We had a lot in common but mostly he just loves me and the kids and still does no matter my size.

When we took the leap and moved in together last Christmas, I ran into a friend and now close neighbour who mentioned Rachel’s Runners. I remembered the previous conversation from a few years ago. I was desperate to start the next phase of my life and the weight was starting to get to me. She said to me, I go to this running group,IT’S FREE and you turn up when you want and you walk and run and build up to a fun run. It was exactly what I wanted! Nobody wanted anything from me, I could be involved as little or as much as I wanted and as the weeks rolled on, I started to bounce out of bed again on a Saturday morning.

I graduated from uni on the Thursday before the 5km fun run. It was to be a big week. I had not done any “running homework” as my upper calf had been sore since the previous Saturday. At the start of the run, I said to myself, just finish. My leg was hurting a lot after I rounded the turn home. I kept saying to myself “you’ve given birth to three children, you have to do this, there’s no way out, it has to be done”. I felt so relieved when I saw the finish line and I heard my daughter cheering me and then Rachel gave me my time. Something clicked in my head then. I had a time. I had a challenge, if I was ready to accept it J

It would be a lie to say that I haven’t thought about half marathons and marathons but I flat-out refuse to push this goal to a six week, twelve week or twelve month ambition. It will sit quietly with me until it is time. I’m still enjoying the beautiful food my partner cooks and the wine!!! I’m enjoying growing vegies again. For me, the biggest goal at the moment is to stop competing and glorifying busyness and stick to the simple life I had planned for my little family.

The message I hope I have conveyed here by sharing my life is that Rachel’s Runners is a return to good community living by just being there and sharing the love. A group that does not make demands of people who are overstretched trying to compete in their work, look after kids or people just trying to keep their heads above water in this crazy city. This group has immeasurable worth in a fractured, time-poor community. It helped get me back out there in the land of the living and gave me faith in humanity and people in the city.

As a postscript, I heard this morning on Macca in the Morning a Masters rowing group with a combined age of 790 years competing in Adelaide. My brother used to say to me, rowers are runners and runners are rowers. I have my new goal. To get fit with Rachel’s Runners so I can row with Drummoyne, once my fitness returns.

I wish you a lifetime of peace and health, Rachel. Thank you.


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