Sunday, October 23, 2011


First, if you are going to read this. hit play.

This post has been a long time coming.

When I was in high school, there was this mean girl who used to call me thunder thighs. I was really socially awkward, and anxious and depressed a lot on top of that, and not being one of the skinny popular girls who seemed to fit in so easily, during highschool i spent about four years hanging out in the art rooms painting rather than be teased and humiliated.

I turned avoiding PE into an artform. Anytime I was forced to participate I could see and hear the other girls making fun of me the whole way - I struggled, I was slow, I was unfit, I was red and puffed in the face, and I was fatter than them.

There's this other dual part of my life growing up though, that never fit - I come from a family that spent a lot of time at the coast, bushwalking, bodyboarding, camping, fishing - and when there was no one around to make fun of me, while I wasn't a superstar, I'd stay out the back of the waves longer than anyone else.

I also did a lot of secret sport on the side; you'd probably be surprised to know that I was a grade V ballroom dancer, that I have a whole bunch of showjumping ribbons from horseriding, that I have a few medals hidden somewhere from figure skating, which I used to love (mostly just the going really fast bit) until one day at school one of the boys looked at me, and looked at this other, thinner girl who also figure skated, and said to me "dont you need to have a figure to be a figure skater?"

I quit not long after. My ballet career ended much the same way, with the teacher telling me my stomach was too big and I was too overweight for Ballet. One by one, everything I would try, I would eventually give up because I felt bigger and like I looked bad doing it.

I started playing music when I was 12, and was performing regularly in bars from age 15, and in 1997 we had three songs on triple j. But I always noticed the different reactions that really skinny, pretty girls playing guitar got, were different to the reactions to me and this played a big part in my not going further with it than I did. 

I became a swimming coach in my early 20s, but attempts to actually train in an adult squad were thwarted by needing to wear swimmers in front of coworkers. And from age 15 to my mid 20s I was not only bulimic on and off, but using various drugs to try and lose weight. You could never really tell, I didn't get that skinny, I was just miserable and in pain all the time. I've also spent significant periods of time in relationships with guys who would openly tell me they thought I was too overweight for them.

I took up mountain biking in 2006 and started hitting the local gym pretty hard, but never seemed to see the results I know now were probably there. I continued to feel that high school mentality, discovering rock climbing and loving it, but not continuing it because I had a whole lot of friends who were really good climbers (and being good climbers they were super skinny) and I just visualised how I must look to them, climbing up a cliff face with my legs in the harness....

I don't know what changed really, I think getting a bit older helps a lot, but there was a point when I had just started to like riding, especially by myself, because I could challenge myself, prove that I could do things, and there was no one around to see how bad I looked in cycling gear. And when I made the move to Canberra, I gave myself the present of a brand new Felt F5, full carbon road bike, with the intention of riding more and more.

It took me two years to join a club, because I was sure all the other girls would be skinnier and look better in their kit than me, and I remember my first V-Mobile session, Verity was there and she looked super pro to me, that (as per a previous post) I nearly gave up then and there. 

The support though, of vmobilers like Ben, Brad and Rob kept me coming and gradually, something changed. 

The focus became about speed, skill, kms, hills and not so much about what I looked like.

Winning the Club Champs time trial was actually a huge deal for me, I've never ever won anything that was a race before and it was a really big moment for me personally. 

The DBR results helped too, and the more I train, the better I feel about my body and my capabilities.

But the point I wanted to make, was that there was a day a couple of weeks ago where I was doing hill reps on Stromlo, and after the previous attempt where I couldnt get a single rep right, I managed to do 6 perfect strength reps in a row, all thanks to the work of my Thunder Thighs, and I was so buzzed that I composed this whole post in my head. But before I got a chance to put it up, there were some pics taken at the Novice crit and I instantly went back to feeling awful about myself. Funny thing was, while I could only see myself in the pictures looking awful, the more other cyclists I talked to, the more they were pointing out how bad thought they looked in the photos!!

Almost every one of us were feeling the same thing! 

So this bring me to my point I guess. Whilst riding recently with our WA champ, LisaK told me that she too used to get called Thunder Thighs. I was a bit dumbfounded by this as we are totally different shapes, but it just goes to show that we all have this kind of body image natter in our heads.

So I'll share with you something I read in a magazine when I was a kid that has always stuck with me:

Thunder Thighs at least implies a kind of power, that sparrow legs will never have.

So I guess thats cycling for you, and one of the things I love most about it. 

It eventually wears that self image focus out of you, and its not about the body and all about the strength, power, determination, and also, tan lines.

Yesterday I had an amazing race, light years better than anything I have done before, I really raced the whole thing and coming second in B Grade I really made the first placed woman work hard for it.

On top of that this week I have:
-taken my Stromlo hill rep count up to 7
-taken 25 seconds off my PB up stromlo
-hung on to a WA crit for four laps and then brought home a second place in B
-raced well
-trained hard

And all of that, thanks to my Thunder Thighs which pulled me up each and every climb.

Thanks Thunder Thighs...oh, and to the mean high school girls along the way?'ve been thunderstruck.


  1. Thanks for posting this Rach - very thought provoking.

    I don't come from a sporting background and have never been confident in my sporting abilities. I only used to play netball at school, not because I particularly enjoyed it or because I was any good at it but because all of my sisters played netball.

    I am really happy that Brad introduced me to cycling and you got me into Valkyries as I have found a sport that I actually enjoy and a bunch of very supportive and friendly people that encourage me to keep going and have helped me build more self confidence in my abilities.

    It is definitely the strength, power and determination (tan lines will never be an option for me) of the other Valkyries that impresses me most, and inspires and motivates me to keep turning up to training so that I can improve and get stronger.

    None of the girls I talked to liked the photos of themselves that were taken the other night (including myself), but we liked photos of each other. I guess when you look at yourself its hard to get past the lycra etc and see what other people see - the determination, power, strength in the legs, great position on the bike, happy smiles on faces etc.

    The way we perceive ourselves is rarely how others perceive us. We are quick to admire qualities and strengths in other people and rarely recognise them in ourselves. So keep going Rach - you're doing an amazing job. And I thank you, the other Valkyries, and Vikings, for inspiring me to develop skills and strengths I didn't know that I even wanted to have.

  2. Good post Rach, and good comment Leonie.

    As well as being called Thunder Thighs, I remember being told when I was about 12 - 13 that I had good child-bearing hips. Who says that to a kid who is clearly awkward with the changes that puberty is creating? Amazing how much it can affect us long term though. But as Leonie said - we always focus on the negative 1% rather than the positive 99%.

    I've received a few comments about the shape of my legs of late too, but strangely they don't bother me anymore. These included "your thighs are almost as big as your waist", and "check out your 'mossive' calves", amongst other things. My response: yes, I'm built like a cyclist. And doesn't it feel awesome. :-)

  3. yeah its safe to say that in this world we are hella impressed by those legs of yours Lisa!!

  4. This is such a timely and relevant post Rach - thank you so much for your honesty and openness about body issues and self esteem. It helps so much for me and other women reading this to know that we are not alone with our battles.

    It's so easy to get caught up in needing to feel perfect in everything - looks, weight, social stuff, and yes - bike riding too. I know that I am so hard on myself with this stuff, but then my friends and family will remind me how far I've come with my cycling in the last 3 years, or I catch up with a friend who makes me feel good about myself, who has faith in my abilities and sees the good stuff in me, and it gives me hope and helps me be at peace with things.

  5. I remember when I was doing the novice program last year I told a girl friend how excited I was about doing the crits. Her response was 'you know your thighs are going to get huge don't you?'. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't believe that anyone would take that approach to exercise, while at the same time putting someone else down for their exercise choices. Luckily I have a very supportive boyfriend who told me not to worry about it, that my thighs were strong, not large, and possibly harshly, that even if they did get bigger they would still be smaller than my friends, and she was only saying it out of jealousy.

    And the funny thing is, now that injury has kept me cycling for months and summer is around the corner, I am much more aware of my 'thunder thighs', and extremely disappointed in my legs that I am not able to cycle or do any of the other exercise I love.

    I think it probably only is as you get older or that you have injuries or push it to the limits that you focus less on how your body looks and more on what it is able to do - which is some amazing stuff.

    P.S. Rachel, I am so amazed that I looked super pro to you at your first V-mobile session. I think our first sessions were quite similar and I was so glad that there was someone at my second one who was similar to my skill/fitness level.

    Happy cycling guys.