Never Give Up
In October 2018, my good friend Alison (who had also lived in the same little English town) and I set out to complete the Mystery Box Rally. The little brother event to the Shit Box Rally and with a few different rules: You have to purchase a car that is a 2WD and at least 25 years old, and while you know the start and finish point, you have no idea where you go in the five days in-between.
We purchased our car ‘Libby’ for $350, (a slight worry from the start), but she worked wonders. She was the only car in our group of six cars to not have any issues (not even a flat tyre and believe me we were not driving it carefully). Others in our group had an entire exhaust fall off, and there were more than 10 flat tyres and several broken suspensions.
The rally has been running for nine years and has raised almost $16 million for Cancer Council research. Cancer affects almost every Australian in one way or another and has had a huge effect on me.
When I first moved to Sydney in 2009 I met Mike. My best friend, soulmate, and eventually my partner. Every weekend we would find a hike, boating escape, bike ride or swim to fill our fire for adventure.
It wasn’t something I was used to doing. Growing up, my parents were not really into walking or adventures (they grew up in Kenya and had to walk for hours just to get to school so didn’t consider it leisure). Mike brought out a desire in me, that at times I didn’t even realise I had. Mike was never a person to say no. He pushed me to my limits in all aspects of life. He challenged me and I saw myself grow so much in those years.
In 2015 my rosy view of the world was shattered. Mike was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer). For 2.5 years, he suffered through endless treatments and surgery. Mike passed away in January 2018 at the age of 32, and left a huge void in my life.
But one thing Mike would always say was, “Just do it. Don’t let fear be the thing to ever stop you”. When Mike passed, it set a trigger in me, a craving that I had to do more, a feeling I was capable of exceeding further than my current visions.
Two months after his passing I completed my first multi-day hike in New Zealand. Initially I was scared of doing anything like this due to a knee injury I’d sustained in my teens. But with research, training, support and pure determination I conquered this fear and developed a new love for hiking. Now most of my weekends are spent venturing around the national parks of New South Wales.
I knew that Mike had always wanted to complete the Shit Box Rally and so this just seemed to be a priority on my new to-do list. In June 2018, Alison and I applied, and to our shock we were accepted. Our team name was ‘Bing Bong’, in honour of Mike’s nickname from the movie Inside Out (which now seems very fitting as I see him as my imaginary friend. He would have definitely had a few giggles during that rally).
The event started in Mildura, with 300 participants in 150 cars, and 30 support vehicles. We were one of only a handful of all female teams, and definitely not car savvy. Alison and I could change a car tyre – just.
Nonetheless, we smashed it. We drove 2500 km in the Australian outback on mainly unsealed roads (some were barely even roads). We stopped at camp sites each night, in the middle of nowhere, in towns I had never heard of before. In some places our rally had more of a population than the actual towns (which meant a lot to their economy).
The rally took me to the red dirt of Australia, something neither Alison or I had ever experienced before. The vastness of the land shocked me, as did how much the drought had affected the areas. In Sydney where I live water is abundant, whether it’s in the taps or in the ocean I swim in, it is always there. But some of these towns were so dry that the creeks were cracked and wildlife non-existent.
The rally was an experience that will stay with me for life. We did it in memory of Mike, but the friends we made with our team and beyond, are ones you can imagine having forever. Sometimes we had to wait hours for support to arrive, which allowed for endless conversations on the side of the road or even chill time on a railway track! It fueled me even more to be adventurous and push my limits.
We raised just under $6,000 and on our journey home, we both turned to each other and said – not asked – “We are doing this again next year, right!” What I thought was to be a once in a lifetime event, now has me thinking about fancy dress outfits well in advance, and how we can raise more money and awareness. Hopefully we can still use our trusted steed ‘Libby’.
How life has changed. I never thought I would now be waking up to the surf break and watching the boats sail across the harbour from my Bondi apartment.
How life has taken so many turns and left me at some pretty big crossroads, most of the time not being able to see what was in the distance. Losing Mike and tackling the Mystery Box Rally weren’t my only life lessons in never giving up. When I was aged 15, I moved to Florida to attend a tennis academy, fulfilling my dream at the time of playing tennis and completing high school. To this day, I still do not know how my parents let me move to a completely different continent on my own. It was a pretty daunting experience, and I can still remember asking my tennis coach before I accepted my place, “What if I don’t like it?” Her response was, “Well, you are not going to know unless you try.” I must admit these words seem to have stuck with me and become one of my mottos.
Following almost three years at school in Florida, I was accepted to an American college. But then disaster struck. A major knee injury and two lots of surgery meant my tennis career was over, along with my childhood dream to live in America. Throughout my years of rehab, I never stopped asking my physio questions. He joked one day that I should train as a physio. And so I did.
While it was a challenging degree, I completed my studies and was offered a job with a top Premier Rugby League team in England. This was a dream job for me at the time, working and travelling with an elite sports team. But it wasn’t without its challenges. One of the first comments a player said to me was, “How can you be our physio, you are tiny?” I responded by saying, “I promise I will have you in tears when I work that ITB”. And I did. I had most of the big burly team in tears when working on their injuries. Not so small now am I?
After several years of living in London I joined a friend on a holiday to Australia. I fell in love with it instantly. The coast lines, the countryside, the ocean, the vastness, the food, the people and most of all the lifestyle. It just seemed to gel well with me. One night when I was back in London and running through Hyde Park in freezing cold February, I stopped and had a ‘moment’ and thought why am I here?
So, I made the move Sydney, to the other side of the world away from my family. The second big move and the second time my parents had to let me go. Although they could relate as it was something they did at a young age when they left their own families in Kenya and moved to England to give my brother and I a better life. (Something I am eternally grateful for.)
In 2018 I decided to leave again. This time though it was from my safe and secure corporate job to set up MyMuse: a social enterprise that provides training to corporates on how to support employees with cancer themselves or caring for someone with cancer. MyMuse also helps individuals on their own journey.
This cause lights a spark in me. Something I have never felt before. Not with tennis and not with physio. Life can go in so many different directions. But it doesn’t matter where it takes you. As long as you never give up.
Story by: Nikki Shah