The ride of her life
Last year was the Year of the Bike for Louise Curtis. So what? She's a keen cyclist, why the big title? This year is her Ride for Life.
The significance of the labels is that Curtis might not have made it to the end of last year and been able to plan for 2015.
Equally, she could have been curled up on a couch feeling sorry for herself. She has terminal cancer coupled with a persistent leg injury which makes it difficult for her to sit and stand. Walking, running and jumping also tax her. But she can ride a bike and loves riding a bike and that distracts her from pain and too much rumination.
Last year, she attracted more than $5000 in sponsorship for good causes as she pedalled in gruelling events like the 100 kilometre Grape Ride in Marlborough and the 200km Cancer Ride in Auckland. She aims for more this year, to help the Cancer Society and Malaghan Institute. She also intends a message of how short life is, and how necessary it is to live as if there will be no tomorrow.
Curtis, 44, the mother of two girls, 12 and 15, works part-time for Sport Wellington, supporting people on green prescriptions and teaches swimming pool fitness classes.
The leg injury happened four years ago when she was in a gym fitness class and landed heavily on her right foot, jolting her back and resulting in chronic, regular, ongoing pain and numbness. Two years ago, she was given a head MRI scan which should have been carried out several years earlier when she had a bad reaction to mouthwash.
The scan indicated the possibility of what turned out to be a brain tumour. She had no idea that anything was wrong. In July 2013, she had awake craniotomy - brain surgery performed with the patient awake.
"You don't feel the pain. I only felt the stapling. They needed me to talk. They didn't get 20 per cent of the tumour and found it was a lot more aggressive than it had seemed."
Six weeks of radiation, then six months of chemotherapy followed. She was "given" five years.
"I'm not having that," she says.
"It's going to kill me if nothing else does. In the meantime, it's based on average, a curve on which five years is the maximum. I've said to them I'm not having that."
Curtis has always "dabbled" in cycling. She cycled to ballet and swimming classes when she was a child. Sport and ballet were constants in her life as her father's job took him round New Zealand and overseas. She danced in the Royal New Zealand Ballet's 30th anniversary production in 1981 and contemplated training to be a physiotherapist for the company.
She left secondary school in Auckland, did pre-med in Wellington. In physiology, she encountered animal dissection.
"I managed the toad and rats and then it got a bit uglier and I wasn't wanting to do the next thing put on the table, a cat." She eventually completed a double degree with science and education."
So the theory of her problems is familiar to her but it's cycling rather than science that has delivered the best medicine.
She cycles to work each day so needs to make no extra effort for national Go By Bike Day on Wednesday , part of Bike Wise Month. Later, she'll ride in the Rotorua Bike the Lake challenge, the Mangatainoka Bush Ride and hopefully, if she gets sponsorship, in the Cape Reinga to Wellington leg of Tour of New Zealand.
That might all sound gruelling but she doesn't think like that.
"I ride for fun. It's all fun. It's my pain relief."
Her two girls, she says, "are my inspiration to keep going, because they see me getting up and back into it. They don't know the severity of what's going on."
"There's always someone worse off than you. I don't like complaining. I've given up on that. It doesn't get you anywhere."
Bike Wise Month runs throughout NZ this month, and national Go By Bike Day is Wednesday, February 11. For more information: bikewise.co.nz/ events
- The Dominion Post