Australian cycling champion Anna Meares has traded her bicycle for a pen to share her story of overcoming significant adversity and change.
- Meares has overcome a cycling crash in which she broke her neck, a marriage breakdown, and the death of her coach from MND
- She hopes people reading her book now, amid the current pandemic, find strength from her resilience during adversity
- After looking at adoption and a period as a foster parent Meares unexpectantly had her first child in February with her partner, Nick Flyger
Meares retired in 2016 after 22 years in the sport and six Olympic medals — though life has not been without its challenges.
In 2008 Meares fractured her neck, 2 millimetres short of a clean break, in a horrific velodrome crash in Los Angeles.
“What I learnt was to look at the situational response of that in the ‘what if’ and ‘what is’ of the situation.
“The ‘what is’ of the situation was simply that the two millimetres saved my life and it’s a very different way that you can look at the one situation.
“Once I realised how valuable and special that 2mm was, my whole outlook on life and competition after that accident significantly changed.”
Struggling to adjust to so much change
Meares was unsure about releasing her new book, titled Now, during the coronavirus pandemic but realised its themes may help people during this time.
“For me; I ended a 22-year career, I was physically injured, I had to finalise and get my head around being divorced.
“And then my coach, who was such a pertinent element of my life and my career, was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and died a year after the Rio Olympic Games.”
Meares said it was a struggle to process so many significant life changes in such a short period of time.
“With that comes so much loss and grief,” she said.
“I needed both the time, to allow myself to process it and deal with it, but also the support in order to make that happen — and that’s been detailed in this book.”
Meares said her open and honest account of her career and challenges would shock most people.
“They’re used to seeing me on the TV [as] strong, aggressive, competitive, brave,” she said.
“I’m emotional, I’m always emotional, but what people don’t see is behind the scenes — the drops, the low bounce not the high bounce,” she said.
Life outside of cycling
Meares puts her grounded and humble nature down to her upbringing in central Queensland.
“I think it gave me a sense of community. And pride and community and family is at the forefront of everything for me so I think that became my anchor.
“No matter where I went in the world, and what sort of levels I reached, I always came back home and I think that was really important.”
In 2016, at the age of 32, Meares became Australia’s most decorated cyclist in Olympic history but by this stage she thought motherhood was out of reach.
“I honestly thought I had missed that window, which is why in my retirement I looked at adoption, [but] as a single person in Australia that’s non-existent, pretty much.
“I became a foster parent and I’ve cared for children between the ages of four and eight.”
Things changed when Meares met her partner Nick Flyger.
“We both agreed that if family happened for us that would be wonderful but we weren’t putting any pressure on it because we weren’t sure that our age would allow us,” she said.
“But low and behold, we were blessed with our gorgeous baby girl, Evelyn.
Why write a book?
As with many well-known athletes, Meares received many offers from publishers after retiring in 2016.
“I wanted to be open and honest which is why it’s taken me a little bit of time to actually do it because I wasn’t in the right mindset when I retired to put a book together,” she said.
Meares said her memoir reflects on the hurdles she faced throughout her cycling career, and the road after.
“The book is not really a go-to-woe type autobiography in the sense of I grew up in Middlemount and the steps of how I got involved in cycling — that’s been well and truly covered.
“This is a bit more of a look back, with perspective and time, on how I see my career now and the challenge basically that most people won’t be aware of.