Felicity wardlaw

Personally I am stoked to be able to introduce you to one of my ‘peers’ in cycling.

Felicity Wardlaw, ‘Flick’ as she is known, has been someone that I have admired from afar and enjoyed watching her journey.  For me personally as Jess Douglas the older athlete, the endurance rider entering the sport later in life, I have been inspired by Flick many times over.

She is one of the people in my life that I look to and say, “If she can do it, so can I.”  I suspect there may have been a bit of that coming from Flick as well, since she decided to have a crack at a 24hr race too!

I hope you enjoy reading about what makes a champion, she is one dedicated person with a talent and a hard working ethic.  

Flick, you are currently in 'rehab' actually enjoying some forced time off the bike.  Can you elaborate on what happened to you, why is your bike locked up? 

Yes I am currently in forced rehab which includes complete lockdown of the bike and any form of vigorous activity.  I recently had vascular surgery for a kink and thickening inside my left Common Iliac Artery.  The Common Iliac artery bifurcates from the aorta and feeds oxygenated blood to the glute, leg and foot. You could say it’s a rather important artery to have!!

PREPARING FOR SURGERY first time for everything 1

To fix the problem, my whizz of a surgeon stole part of my saphenous vein from my lower leg, filleted open my Common Iliac Artery (via a large incisions through the abdomen) and grafted and patched the damaged artery with the stolen vein. Pretty straightforward really!

Basically my artery is now bigger to allow for more blood to pass through the thickened area. There’s a 70% chance the surgery will fix the reduced blood flow problem and prevent my bum, leg and foot going dead, painful, cold and powerless. Whether or not I can ride and produce the same power……we will have to wait and see. But at least I should have more options and flexibility with my cycling than what I had pre surgery.  

Prior to the surgery, I had been having problems with my left leg for over 18 months, but never considered the problem to be vascular. So for me it’s been a mentally exhausting and challenging 18 months trying to work out why my performance was so rapidly declining.  

Most of my injuries in the past  I have been able to ‘fix’, but this ‘thing’ was so persistent and not going away. There were many times I would cry during races as I could not work out why I was being spat out the back of races and I was having this intense pain, a dead leg and bum and no leg power. I was not one for DNF’ing races but it was happening every race.  I went for tests and scans but everything was showing up ‘normal’.  

I miserably started to accept it was all in my head and I was becoming old and unfit, but I wasn’t ready to accept this, so I kept searching and pushing.

 Thankfully an email from the AIS physio suggested that it was worth investigating vascular and a blood flow problem. I was then sent to a vascular surgeon in Melbourne . We eventually found the problem (after a bit of poking and prodding) and things were put in place to have it fixed.

Flick, you have had to slow down, there really is only one way to manage this by embracing recovery as part of the process to become even more awesome.  Can you share this process with our readers?

Many that know me, know that it takes a lot to ‘knock me off my perch’ I’m rarely injured and rarely sick. Being healthy and active is my life.  Many suggested the surgeon should have broken my big toe...to really slow me down.  
I knew slowing down and doing literally nothing was a non-negotiable part of the recovery process. I had to take this seriously. Do something silly and I could end up dead or back in hospital with far worse conditions than what I went in with.

 So, rather than dwell and bury myself in self-pity with the thought of  no exercise, I embraced the forced time away from the daily rigours of full times work, training and cycling. I had to make the most of this valuable time.

 I realised I could GAIN so much during this ‘unique’ time off, so there was no point worrying or stressing about what I was going to LOSE or what was out of my control or a non-negotiable. Worrying about this would take energy away from what my body needed to do, and that was to heal and repair. I blogged aboutfuelling my road to recovery’  
Meditation for better recovery

 I also had my mum come and stay with us for 2 weeks post-surgery. Mum kept me grounded and earthed, but  I had the most memorable two weeks with my Mum.  It was a pretty special time, that I hope every daughter and mother gets to experience this.

Ok, so we know you are recovering..you have turned this into a positive, but now let’s get back to the start.

Who is Felicity Wardlaw  - I’m 37 years young. Dave is my wonderful caring and tolerant and supportive partner. We have a Dalmatian. We live on 40 Acres on a beautiful big hill in Upper Lurg in North East Victoria. I work as a Fire Planner with the Department of Environmental Land Water and Planning in Benalla. I grew up in Tassie and moved to Melbourne in 2001 for work.  We love to bushwalk (in Tassie), travelling the globe and learning about food and nutrition. 

Where were you born?

Scottsdale, Tasmania

Did you ride bikes as a child?

Apparently I started riding a bike and playing sport  in my mother’s womb!!!starting young
Did you play sport?

I played Netball when I was  very young.  I was also a competitive rower for 8 + years followed by endurance triathlons, mountain biking and eventually road cycling.  I started seriously road cycling in 2012.

What kind of person were you as a child?

My School Reports said  ‘I was very shy, happy, diligent, quiet, and conscientious and determined student’…I think school reports are a good indication of the kind of person you are.

Are you still that person?

If I were to write my school report now, I would say I still have all of those traits. I don’t think you ever lose your childhood personality or traits, some traits mature and become dominant and some become recessive throughout various aspects of your life. I would like to think I’m just a little more mature and responsible….hmmmmmmm

Brothers/sisters?

Yes. 1 Older Brother ( he’s a landscape architect in NSW) and 2 younger sisters (both Teachers in Melbourne)
racing my brother

I will admit I only know that you used to do triathlons, how did it start and how good did this get?

It was January 2000, It was first year out of Uni and I was living and working in Devonport. I remember waking up one Sunday morning and saying to my house mates. ‘I’m going to do the Ulverstone triathlon today’. There was no preparation or training involved. It was just a random act of  ‘I’m going to give something new a try’.

So, off I went with my housemates (for moral support), my mountain bike with big knobbly tyres and panniers attached. It was 500m swim, 10km ride and 5km run.

For the 10km ride leg I loaded up my backpack with some food, a big pump, a warm jacket and a camel pack. It was going to be a big day and I wanted to be prepared. I finished triathlon and from 1999 to 2005 I went on and completed several half ironman’s  and 2 x Aussie Ironman triathlons. I did upgrade from the mountain bike though!!  

Ironman Triathlon 2004

Unfortunately a knee injury eventually  prevented me  from running. I didn’t want surgery, so  I decided to abort triathlons and concentrate on adventure sports and cycling.

No doubt you were strong on the bike, how about running and swimming?

Riding was naturally my strongest leg. Swimming I just flapped about and used it as a warm up and I wasn’t too bad at running. I had to work hard to improve both my running and swimming, but I really loved seeing the improvements with working hard.  

I met you a few times at races and you were always strong on the mountain bike, I was just happy if there was more technical terrain, but scared of you on the flat power sections.   Tell us a bit more about you and mountain biking, how on earth did this transpire? What did you like about mountain biking?

Mountain biking transpired from being ‘forced’ away from triathlons from a nagging knee injury in 2008’ish.  I didn’t want to have surgery to fix the little ‘popliteal’ problem, so I gracefully moved across to cycling. Mountain bikes were my choice of 2 wheels. I loved the mountain biking scene, it was fun and social…..In 2012 I did my first ever National Solo 24 Hour Champs, thankfully you were not racing that year Jess!!!

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It was such a pleasure to have you on a women’s skills camp at Mt Buller one year, it was then I realised you are a sponge.  One of those amazing coachable athletes that digests information and translates it instantly to become a better improved version of themselves.  What are you memories of improving your skills and courage on the mountain bike?

When I’m learning something new I’m not one for saying too much. I often just watch, listen and then apply and reapply and reapply until I get it right.  When you are being coached you are learning from someone who has been there and done that….they are a wealth of knowledge and experience, so you have to make the most of it.  

Bike Skills CAmp

The skills camp at Buller I did with you Jess,  I was learning from the best and I was there to improve and work on my on my weakness, which was my technical and bike handling skills.   It was a great weekend and we laughed so much and came away with some great friendships but also new skill set and boost of confidence for racing the mountain bike.

Learning is great fun. You can never stop learning.

So then there was this amazing transformation into road time trials.  One year you were just riding along winning a few mountain bike events, certainly on the podium more times than not.  Then the next year you were the Australian Time Trial national champion.  It was exciting for me to watch you transform into this person.  So how did this happen?

My Coach, Mark Fenner could see that I had this crazy raw power and strength on the MTB. My technical skills were my weakest link. So he encouraged me to try the road bike. After saving my pennies I purchased my FIRST ever carbon fibre road bike and a power meter.  Fenz could see straight away where my strengths lie and that was on the road and time trial.

Firs Ever ITT in 2012

It was a very quick transition across to the road. Within 2 weeks of finishing the National 24 Hours MTb Race in 2012  I was doing my first ever road race in the National Road Series (NRS) with a Women’s Cycling Team. This was a MASSIVE leap out of my comfort zone, I was way out of my depth. But as mentioned previously I just quietly accepted the challenge, I observed, watched, listened, learnt and started to understand just what this road bike racing was all about.

My first ever Time Trial was in 2012…I had no idea what a TT helmet was, I had no idea what rollers were, I had no idea about time trialling. But I came in the top twelve in the first NRS race. My coach said we are going to aim for National’s in 2013.

2013 National ITT

Within 12 months I came 3rd at 2013 National Individual Time Trial.  I then remember saying to my coach I AM GOING TO WIN YOU A GOLD MEDAL.

And that I did in 2014.

Let’s think about that Australian Time Trial Championships back in 2013 when you got the Bronze, you must have known you had what it took and that must have given you great confidence in settling in to a year of training to win the gold.

When I crossed the line I remember being absolutely exhausted but saying to Fenz (my coach) ‘I Nailed it,  I Nailed it, I Nailed it. I Nailed 300 watts!!

The focus and preparation for my first ever Nationals was purely about following a process.

I was too ‘new’ to be focused on a result, and being result focused would deter me away from refining and working on the important cogs in the process of being the best Time Trialer.

Once we snagged the bronze in 2013, the focus for 2014 campaign changed somewhat.
We had pretty much refined and worked on the process, it was now a matter of taking it up a notch to get the top spot on the podium. I wanted the gold medal.  

We knew what we needed to do both in training and racing and we executed everything perfectly. For the entire 29.9 km National Time Trial I was in this incredible ‘zen zone’. I’ve never felt that before BUT it took lots and lots of mental preparation and training to stay within in zone.  I was definitely more mentally trained and mentally stronger that year.

felicity gold  
Flick, I have never raced TT, but I can only imagine how reliant being process driven is, down to the tiny details.  Every thought, every action, every training session, every recovery session culminated in that Gold medal.

It’s very much a process driven discipline of cycling, and unlike road racing, so much more is in your control. It’s the details that count and the 1% can be the difference between gold or silver. Once the process is nailed then you work on all the 1%’ers.

You can’t just jump into a TT and expect to win a National Title. I think that’s the challenge for many younger athletes out there, they focus on the results and neglect to get the basics right. It’s the process and those 1 % that need a lot of hard work - How you corner, how you pace yourself, your equipment, your mental preparation. They all can have significant gains if you work to improve them. There are no shortcuts to being the best athlete.

My last ITT before I knew I needed to stop

How did you move on from winning?  There must have been a 'come down' period?

After winning the Nationals Title on the Thursday, I was back to work and back to reality on the Monday. I knew the ‘come down’ post winning’ high would come. I was expecting the slump. After all, so much  mental and physical energy was poured into training and preparing for Nationals. I also had lot to consider as suddenly there were doors opening to qualify for the Comms Games Team and Worlds Team. There was pressure to keep performing and it was all new to me. It was pretty overwhelming as I wasn’t expecting it.   

I think going back to work after Nationals was a great way to debrief, as my work colleagues were all part of this journey so it was good to share the story and debrief at the same time. This definitely helped with the post win ‘come down’. I also had a brief break from the bike and this was very much needed to mentally and physically recover.

Pretty quickly you were offered a spot on the national women’s team overseas after winning, how did you cope with all this attention? What about work?  What about life?

Winning a National Title definitely opened up  many doors that I never ever thought I would be considering. I had opportunities awaiting and decisions to make. I wasn’t an athlete in at ‘AIS –System’ so I had to ‘form’ my own team to help me navigate and support me through this unknown territory.

Finished my first Euro race

After much discussing and talking through with Dave and Fenz we decided I would put my work and life on hold and aim for selection for Commonwealth Games team and World Championship team in the Time trial. This meant going to Europe to race, and I was lucky enough to wear the green and gold and join the Aussie Women’s Road Team.  It was a top bunch of women to be in Europe with.

I knew I had what it takes to get a result in the Time Trial either at Comm Games or Worlds and I was prepared to put in the hard yards to make this happen.

Your time overseas? How long? What did you race? How was this experience? I remember seeing pics of you feeding the younger riders, preparing meals and making things happen. That role must have come naturally for you.

Last year I took the National ITT jersey to Europe, twice. I couldn’t say no and I didn’t want to say no. Although I was ‘offered’ a spot in the National Team, both trips were self-funded.  Personally I thought it was a bit rough having to self-fund taking the National jersey to Europe to race, but I didn’t want to lose a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent our Country.

I was thrown in the deep end of European racing. I was doing UC1.1 races  and World Cups within  a few weeks of arriving in Europe. I was once again well out of my comfort zone. Nothing can prepare you for racing in Europe other than just getting amongst it, crashing, learning, getting back up and doing it all again race after race.

The last horah in Europe

I was with such a supportive  group of young Aussie Women, and they were teaching me the do’s and don’ts of surviving European racing. It was a case of the young teaching the old!! I really loved learning from them and have so many fond memories of our racing and travelling through Europe and China.

It was truly an honour and a once in a lifetime opportunity. But as an athlete  who is outside of ‘the system’ and vying for selection it’s a very challenging and often confusing process to work through.  I didn’t qualify, but I gave it a good shot and had a bloody good time!!

On your return to the domestic scene you were racing the NRS and being pivotal in your team. You were a more senior rider, but not brought up from a teenager via the state level into AIS, so your pathway was less travelled but it is becoming more prevalent in today’s race scene. Can you fill us in on the steep learning curve and of course the experiences?

My cycling became more serious ‘later in life’. I was 36 when I won Nationals, so my pathway to Elite cycling and Europe is a far cry from the typical cycle of  an ‘emerging’ junior cyclist. But you just have to look at the average age of many of world ITT champions and they are in their mid to late 30’s, and many of the women in European based teams are early to mid 30’s. Age is seriously no barrier and it’s great to see UCI and many teams removing this as a barrier.

It is a steep learning curve jumping in with minimal to no cycling background. But being a little older and wiser you come to the sport offering a different skill set than say a 21 year old.

I find I do what I do because I want to do it, I have purpose and reason.

I now deal and resolve issues differently that what I did when I was 21. I’m pretty sure had I been racing and riding since a junior I wouldn’t be writing this article.

I think it’s great to see many NRS teams supporting women of all ages, it is a great mix and everyone learns something no matter what age or ability.  I certainly learn a lot from the younger riders who have been cycling and racing most of their junior years. It a shared and  mutual respect amongst all riders and it’s great to see.

BSS Team

Your return to the national scene is looking good, with the BSS team coming to an end, you have a new team right? Can you tell us about this?

It’s sad to see BSS no longer supporting Women’s NRS Cycling Team. But BSS put in a pretty good innings. Four years is tremendous contribution to Women’s Cycling and the NRS.

For 2016 I will be racing the NRS series with the ‘Bike Bug Neg Gen’ Racing Team. A team of 10 Women from across the country. I was a little hesitant to commit to a team for 2016 as I was unsure how I would go post-surgery, so t it’s great to still be considered and selected for the team.

My goal is to be back on the TT bike and aiming for National’s and I can’t wait!!

BikeBug

Now you've had the time to reflect on this whirlwind of success in the past few years, are you just amazed at what you have achieved?

Yes I am amazed, and yes it has been a whirlwind few years. I have achieved some amazing results considering my short time in the sport. But I worked so hard for all of this. But whilst I worked hard I have always aimed to keep a good balance in life. That’s why I chose to keep working full time, we chose to go on holidays and travel the world Life hasn’t always been about the bike.  Keeping the balance means your still have and keep a good perspective of life, you keep things real.  One thing for sure….you become very good at time management and prioritisation! 

Travelling South America

Ride Like a Girl readers would be most appreciative if you had any advice you could offer to a 'newbie' to the road scene. What things were left unsaid and expected that you would know?
What would you tell someone now, what kind of advice to help girls with who start riding or racing for the first time?

  • It’s OK to wear a kit that doesn’t match.
  • It’s OK if your drink bottle doesn’t match your bar tape.  
  • It’s OK to wear socks that aren’t mid-calf length.
  • It’s Ok to ask if you wear undies under your Knicks’.
  • It’s OK.  
  • Please don’t be intimidated by the portrayed ‘image’ of cycling….we have all been a newbie at some point.

If anyone tells you otherwise just do what I did.
My first race was a crit in Melbourne. I was the ‘girl from the country’ with ‘short socks’.  I thought I will show them. So I smashed that crit and almost came away with the win. I was no longer known as the ‘girl from the country with short sock’ but the ‘girl that can ride a bike’.
Get out there and give it go. You have to start somewhere!!

From start to finish

Flick, you are an awesome person, you have worked VERY hard to achieve your accolades, just how would you package your life lessons into a few sentences?

You will never get anywhere if you are unwilling to be uncomfortable – Get out of your comfort zone.
It may be uncomfortable at first and overwhelming (like starting a new job), but the more you put yourself out there the more you will grow and experience opportunities.

Effort is more important than talent – There are many talented people out there that never amount to anything because of a fear or trying or hurting. If you are willing to sweat and put in the work you will end up going places. Trust me!! 

Never bury your talents in the sand – If you are blessed with a talent, don’t let it go to waste. You have to develop and work at your talents if you want it to amount to anything. If you are not going to do that, then you can just bury your talents in the sand.

ITT Borsele in Belgium 2014

Listen to your body. You know it better than anyone. – Respect your body as you only have one and one chance to look after it.

Be a rebounder – everyone fails at something at some point. It’s not about how much you fail, but how you handle that failure. Don’t wallow in self-pity….learn from it and get over it and keep trying. You will get there. It may not  be the ‘there’ that you initially intended, but its somewhere.

Whatever you do you have to laugh lots and be happy.
This is your responsibility and not the fault of anyone else but you if you are not happy.
Life’s too short to be grumpy.

Flick has her own website where she writes about bikes, good food and nutrition and lessons she has learnt, do check it out: http://pedalpantry.org/