Cycling is a (r)evolution. The simple action of wheels, cranks and legs turning over and over is metaphor for life. We navigate through the ups, downs and obstacles life throws at us and we use those experiences on the bike to do the very same with the climbs, descents and technical sections of a mountain bike race. Wildside 2016 was the race and event that would realistically (for me) combine the challenges of the past, the present, the future and make you use all of that, and more, to push your body to its limits in order to ride a bike along the west coast of Tasmania.
The idea was simple. A team of Australian Veterans: ten days in Tasmania and a four day stage race; renowned for its beautiful scenery and decidedly difficult course. The basic premise of lead up and event has been explored and undertaken by various ESO’s in the past and an idea/strategy I had helped to establish and participated in previously with Soldier On Cycling and during the Trois Etapes in France 2014.
Many lessons had been learnt from these various events and sadly, across many ESO’s, not a lot had been done to mitigate the issues that ultimately arise when people physically, emotionally and psychologically wounded undertake a challenging and sometimes life altering event. Akin to riding up a mountain you are faced with the arduous climb, the elation of summiting and then the relative ease of descending. But what happens when the riding stops? This is where the adventure ends and the routine of life starts up again. Combine this sudden stop with the fragile mental state of a vulnerable person and not only do new issues arise; but older, more dangerous issues can be compounded.
Surely this is something that is taken into account when ESO’s conduct big marquee events? Well yes, yes they are but… Service affected Veterans do not act or react like the general populous. And this is why when the cameras and lights are packed away, when the celebrities disappear and when daily routine becomes the norm again, comprehensive and sustained follow up is a must.
The majority of Veteran ESO’s are established on three pillars: Empower, Encourage and Enable. Each pillar is strong on its own, but by adding another to a Veteran’s recovery you are laying a stronger foundation to building a better quality of life upon. While the three E’s are a great foundation for a Veteran’s road to recovery, a three pillar system isn’t the most stable for an organisation looking to provide a robust, tailored and reliable support system for an extremely complex and varied group of people needing support. A fourth pillar is needed for an ESO to function effectively and achieve the results it sets for itself. That pillar is Collaboration.
Collaboration has many forms in the ESO environment. In the Veteran community several ESO’s are providing similar, if not identical, programs and services, whilst some specialise in one area. Collaboration between these organisations may be the simple act of recommending and establishing contact with another ESO on behalf of a Veteran that would be of better assistance. Be it due to geographic constraints or the fact that they either don’t provide the service or the other ESO is simply better at it.
Collaboration between ESO’s also requires the absence of Ego. These organisations are all competing for funding from commercial, industry and Mum and Dad benefactors. Sometimes this search for critical funds from finite sources leads to a loss of focus on what is effectively a life and death issue; improving Veteran Support Services. A recent increase in new ESO’s and smaller initiatives targeting single areas highlights the areas in support services that aren’t being addressed or have been put on hiatus by the bigger organisations. Some of these areas are integral to Veteran’s recovery and just as importantly, establishing connection with and maintaining a high level of awareness with the wider community.
One such area is cycling as a facet for both recovery and raising awareness. Soldier On Cycling was one such initiative that quickly built a very strong foundation of Veteran and community support. I’m very proud to say I helped to found and establish this initiative; but like all things that should be kept simple, complications soon arose. The aforementioned presence of lack of Collaboration and excess of Ego have ensured that the wider Soldier On Cycling community is experiencing an indefinite hiatus whilst a small South Australian contingent experiences a high profile resurgence. Whilst the original premise and aim of Soldier On Cycling is long gone, it is encouraging to see the aim to support, encourage and educate is still alive with other ESO’s; in particular Mates 4 Mates and Ride 2 Recovery.
Because of the no frills/KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach, I applied for and was accepted as member of the Ride 2 Recovery Wildside 16 #VeteranTeam. The team was comprised of current and ex-serving contemporary Veterans who were all members/active supporters of either ADFCC (Australian Defence Force Cycling Club), Mates 4 Mates Cycling or Soldier On Cycling. Each of us would bring the very different perspectives of our service and cycling experiences to the team. The intra-team collaboration between Officers and Enlisted persons, racers and weekend warriors would ensure a fluid and adaptive experience that could become the benchmark for all ESO cycling events in the future.
Post featured image courtesy of Matthew Connors Photography