This morning about 560 legs powered off from the Mercure for the three-day 360km Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride (TCBR). Mother of two and BMX rider Maria Balaam is one of the 280-strong riders — the most in the event’s 16-year history. Taking up road cycling a year ago, we caught up with her before she took off in a whirl of excitement and nerves.
“I want to do this to test myself. I don’t want it to be easy, because nothing is easy for a child battling cancer”
- Maria Balaam
“I’m feeling a maelstrom of emotions,” says 47-year-old Maria, who is racing around ticking off last minute tasks. “So much is worrying me — can I ride three long days in a row? Is it going to rain? Am I going to be too slow? Will I be able to sleep? Am I going to fall off and take anyone out? Will the kids be behaving themselves while I’m gone? But, seriously, worrying won’t change anything now. What will be will be.”
Taking up BMX racing four years ago after she got bored of sitting on the sidelines watching her 11 and 12-year-old boys, Maria — who has won the State Titles in her age group — got disillusioned with the sport last year after a mechanical failure ended her National Titles hopes only 20 seconds into the first race. She had prepared for three months for mere seconds on the track. She needed a break from BMX comps and a new challenge to remain fit, so when a friend called asking Maria to ride the Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride with her, she didn’t dismiss the crazy idea. “Now the funny part,” Maria says. “The friend who asked me to do the ride with her — who shall remain nameless, but knows who she is (laughs) — hasn’t yet decided what bike she should buy; let alone ride it. She’s not doing it! This year anyway…”
But that didn’t stop Maria. With the help of her BMX coach who has assisted the Lycra-recruit with training, developing skills (hello hills!), mechanical issues, diet, her emotional ups and downs, and even patched-up cuts and bruises, Maria has ridden 3,400km since January. She’s still worried that she’ll handle the longer distances, with her biggest ride to-date being 120km; but that’s all part of the challenge.
“Personally, I want to see if I can do it. Each rider has their own reasons for riding, but we all share the desire to raise money for the Children’s Cancer Institute of Australia,” Maria says. “Some do the ride for the social experience, others to ride through new areas, some to do something different. I want to do this to test myself. I don’t want it to be easy, because nothing is easy for a child battling cancer. For me, this means riding with one of the faster groups. Bring it on — I’m ready!”
No stranger to the annual trek with this being his third year, TCBR president and Townsville Cycling Club vice president Simon Ormes says the event has changed the face of cycling in Townsville.
“Cycling is becoming more and more popular and an event like this further raises the sport’s profile,” Simon says. “There are some people doing this ride for the first time, and some who are up to their 15th or 16th event; there are high school groups and people in their 60s and 70s — there’s certainly a huge mix of people.”
Good luck riders!
Mission accomplished! So how did she go?
“Shattered — I’m totally wiped out today,” says Maria on Monday, adding that mundane household chores have brought her back to Earth with a thud after the high of finishing her first Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride on Saturday. “It was such a relief when I arrived in Cairns and I realised I’d done it — I did what I set out to do and didn’t let anyone down.” But it was hard going for Maria right from the get-go and the BMX-rider had doubts about whether she would finish the first leg from Townsville to Ingham. “On some stretches I was going OK and thought I’d make it, but then in other stretches I struggled to keep up and my legs were cramping by the time we got to Ingham — it was such a rollercoaster of emotions.”
The high points were definitely the euphoria of finishing the race and the camaraderie of her ride group (the Emus), who she barely knew before Thursday, but quickly gelled. The low was, determined to keep-up with the bunch, getting sprayed by dead snake juice: “There was a dead python on the road and as we road over it the liquid from it splashed up from the tyre in front of me all over my face,” tells Maria, “I thought ‘keep calm, you’re a cyclist, don’t panic and show yourself up’ (laughs).”
So would she do it again despite the pain, rain, climbs and road grit in her eyes? “When I was on the bike, I kept thinking, ‘Who would actually choose to do this ride?’, but since I’ve finished all I can think of is what I’ll be doing to make it easier for myself next year. I’ll definitely do it again. I didn’t enjoy the ride at the time, but I enjoyed the experience and I’ve learnt so much about cycling and myself. I’ll be better prepared next year and won’t be the person that the group needs to look after.”
Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride Quick Facts
- The annual ride is in its 16th year and raises much-needed funds for the Children’s Cancer Institute of Australia — a total of $4.5 million to-date
- There are three stages — 112km Townsville to Ingham; 152km Ingham to Innisfail (the most gruelling day over the Cardwell Range); and the final 94km Innisfail to Cairns.
- To take part riders in the TCBR need to have raised at least $500 for the valuable cause; with some drumming-up as much as $10,000.