At her 41st birthday party in August 2015, Michelle Gray made a decision—she was going to cure cancer. Or at least get as close as she could.
It’s not a thought most people have in between the presents, drinks and laughing with friends but, for Michelle, her celebration was also an epiphany.
Since 2011 cancer had begun to touch her life in various ways and as she scanned the room in a quiet moment, reflecting on the people she loved, she knew one thing—she didn’t want cancer to take another person without trying to make a difference.
That’s when the Brisbane mother of two decided she was going to complete a Smiling for Smiddy event.
She wasn’t sure which one, however as the year progressed a 1700km ride from Adelaide to Uluru surfaced with Smiling for Smiddy. That was the one and so started her mission to raise money for cancer research.
“It was my ‘40 + 1’ party, as we called it,” Michelle recalled. “I had 68 guests there and I thought ‘Who will be here in another 40 years?’
“I thought ‘Right, I’m doing a Smiddy ride! I’m going to help change the world. I’m going to cure cancer!”
Despite Michelle’s sudden decision, it had been building for some time. She’d suffered the heartbreaking loss of a dear colleague and friend to a brain tumour, she’d supported her husband’s rides with Smiling for Smiddy in 2014, and she regularly sees an oncologist herself for precautionary check-ups for a blood thinning disorder.
“Karen is the real reason I’m riding; she had a brain tumour and died when she was just 37 years old.
“She had such a great upbeat personality and was always so defiant. Karen was the glue in our organisation—happy-go-lucky and so much fun. The place just disintegrated after she was gone.
“I’ll be thinking of her on the ride.”
Michelle said she was also moved to help fight cancer by people she doesn’t know, but watches struggle.
“I see an oncologist/haematologist every three months for a blood thinning disorder called ITP,” she explained.
“Going into that waiting room every three months is a real wake up call. Seeing younger people in there who have cancer and seeing the parents with kids, who are pretending to be together emotionally and happy for the kids really pains me.
“Cancer in various forms touches so many people. It doesn’t discriminate. You can be young or old, fit or unhealthy, thin or obese.”
After convincing her family and friends that she wasn’t having a midlife crisis, Michelle had to transform herself from recreational cyclist to endurance rider—while also being mum to two kids under seven, working as an executive head hunter / recruiter and selling Thermomixes on the side.
“Getting back on a bike was a good excuse to drop my baby weight,” she joked. “It was about just getting out there and doing the training.
“We have an au pair to help out with the kids, so they saw me in a lot more lycra than ever before.
“I made a deal with my husband that if he supported me with Smiddy, he could go to Italy in 2017 on a mates’ cycling holiday—we even put it in writing!”
Michelle dedicated herself to a routine of consistent training with Smiddy riding partner Adrian Cross’s wife Alicia Newman, Smiddy’s own Krista Page and self-appointed head-conditioning coach Jacque Gravesande, taking on mountain rides, many laps of the river-loop, longer weekend endurance rides and boxing classes at night.
“I remember when my husband did Noosa Smiddy in 2014 and watching him from afar, riding with these Smiddy ‘cult’ members,” she said.
“And Smiddy really is like a cult—there’s such an enormous comradeship in terms of helpfulness and willingness to help. Smiling for Smiddy is about mateship.
“Everyone’s got time for everybody and everything is so well-managed. The Smiddy story is so touching—it’s real and it’s raw.
“I did nearly every training ride Smiddy offered, including the training weekend out to Malgourie, west of Brisbane. It was great to meet other Smiddy riders from various Smiling for Smiddy challenges and events.
“I love pushing myself and seeing how many kilometres I can do. Cycling is my drug of choice.”
In between the training and her own busy personal life, Michelle and Adrian (pictured) also managed to host one of the most successful Smiddy fundraising events of 2016—at Newstead Brewery for 62 people, which raised more than $10,000.
From prized sporting memorabilia, a foldable bike, hair salon and barber packages to fitness fanatic training packages, no stone was left unturned when it came to prizes to get the crowd opening their wallets for cancer research.
“We held several raffles and auctions, both silent and loud,” Michelle said. “They closed the brewery down for us and we just started hustling. We had nothing to lose!
“People were so generous with their time and they gave us so much. It was actually quite overwhelming what people donated to my and Adrian’s cause. I shed a few tears while driving around collecting donated goods from so many generous people in the lead up to the Brewery function.
“Plus having alcohol and a couple of Smiddy Eft-pos machines at the ready and a few cycling elites in the room all trying to outdo each other, it made for a great night!” she laughed.
Michelle’s biggest concern before the ride was leaving her kids for 10 days, the longest time she’d ever been away from them. But she knew it was for the right reasons.
“Cancer is such a destructive disease. I hope my kids grow up never knowing about it.”
“A lot of people call me a dreamer in relation to desire to help eradicate cancer, but I don’t mind.”
We hope Michelle keeps dreaming—dreaming big. It’s often dreamers who make the biggest difference.