"This route starts at one of my favourite cafés, just around the corner from my home, where I start all of my training sessions when I'm in Melbourne. This is the warm up ride I do before going to the gym at the Victoria Institute of Sport. Check out the premises then roll back into the city for a coffee at the Clubhouse."
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I had a terrible car accident in 1994, the end physical result of which was the loss of one leg below the knee and significant impairment in the other leg. The greater loss though was something much more profound and impacting. I had lost my identity. I had lost who Stuart Tripp was. Up until that accident I was quite happy being Stuart Tripp. He was a plumber and a wool classer, a dreamer, goal setter, world traveller, drinker, smoker, and ladies man. I played hard. By the age of 24 I had worked overseas, travelling extensively through the USA, the UK for a brief time and had been in South Africa one month after Nelson Mandela had been elected. They were exciting and sometimes dangerous times. I always worked until I had enough money for the next adventure.
After the car accident, I could barely walk, think for myself, communicate, or manage stress. Over the next five years my life was a series of massive highs and depressing lows, which would see me in bed for days on end, wondering if it was all worth it. That was until one day the lights went out completely. I was in a lecture room on the third floor of the education building at Monash University, Clayton. I was studying for a Bachelor of Adult Learning and Development and the topic we were to present on was ‘Identity in the Workplace’. Normally I am happy to share experiences, however that was not a normal day. It was as if someone had hit the light switch. Light one moment, then complete darkness the next. So much so that I told another student that something had just happened to me. She replied that I looked the same.
My life took a downward spiral where the consideration of suicide was a very real option. I knew how, where and when. Luckily, I have good friends and parents who guided me to a psychologist who was very experienced in his profession, and thus, we began the transformation over a very long period to who I am now.
I remember the first handcycle I got and what that meant to me. It was a demo bike and I was only able to use it for a week. But, I will never forget that first time. I was living alone in a flat in Tiuna Grove in Elwood. We set the bike up on the road out front, I transferred from my chair to the bike, and I gripped the handgrips and pushed. It was amazing and profound. It was as if I had discovered something magical and the more I did it the more magic there would be. I realised I could move, and that I had momentum. I could move like I was walking, I could move like I was running, like I was sprinting, and I had no pain or discomfort. I hadn’t had that for ten years. I also knew that I had anger, and by moving these cranks I could get that anger out.
That bike has gone through many incarnations since then, but what hasn’t changed is that feeling of freedom and movement I get when I ride it. I love it as much today as I did in the beginning, it’s like falling in love every time you ride. What Melbourne has given me is a community. A passionate and caring community of cyclists, of all shapes, sizes and abilities. I might ride an unusual bike but to other cyclists, I am one of them.
Melbourne gives you the opportunity to go out by yourself and meet so many people. Rarely will I start a ride alone and finish it without having spoken to three or four people I have never met before. It’s not unusual to sit down and share stories over a coffee with someone I’ve just met. That is the culture of cycling in Melbourne, it is an accepting community of passionate people who love cycling and everything about cycling. From the single speed commuters that I chat with at the lights on the way through the city, to the ‘pros’ who know everything about cycling down to the last gram.
The city is beautiful to ride around, it has very distinct seasons. It lends itself to all types of riding. You can ride for hundreds of kilometres beside the bay, or hit the most challenging of hills just 30km from the city centre. You have single track within the city, bike paths and bike lanes, things to jump on and off. It really is a wonderful place to cycle, and I have that to thank, because I am pretty sure I know who Stuart Tripp is now.