Sometimes we must dare to think big and act big says Sabine Jagminas
I signed up to cycle 1400 km from Copenhagen to Paris in 8 days! I rode with the Team Rynkeby Foundation, a Nordic charity cycling team consisting of 1600 participants divided into 38 teams. Every summer they cycle to Paris to raise money for children with cancer and their families.
Like many Danes, I have always enjoyed cycling, but never for more than 200 km in one day – and NEVER for 8 days in a row on a fancy race bike. I was pretty satisfied (proud) of my daily 15 km trip by ordinary bike back and forth to the office, so this would definitely be something out of the ordinary. But, I like to challenge myself, to meet new people and engage in different projects – and what is a greater cause than fighting childhood cancer?
In my job as PA for the CEO and CFO of Atos Denmark, I have a challenging and exciting career. I am very fortunate to work in a company with a strong focus on social responsibility and employee development. With their support, I am also a member and part of the national board of EUMA Denmark, an international network for management assistants.
With the support of my workplace regarding flexible work hours in connection with fundraising projects and training, I also persuaded the EUMA network to get involved. EUMA signed up for sponsorship of my team in connection with our annual international conference in Copenhagen last autumn. The topic of the conference was “Self-Development – Working in the Eye of the Storm”. During the trip, I often thought about this phrase when it got a bit tough. Children with cancer are truly in the eye of the storm in their lives, so whatever temporary hardship I experienced, was nothing compared to what they and their families have to go through on a daily basis.
When participating in a project like this you are not on your own. We trained together for months, for this tour, starting with indoor cycling during the winter and outdoor in April, gradually increasing the distance. Road cycling is a lot about teamwork. We all have different strengths and weaknesses: some are strong hill climbers, others are great at reading maps, fixing a flat tire, keeping up the team spirit when it starts to hurt or taking the front when cycling against the wind. By working effectively together as a team, we saved up to 40 % of our energy and the team maintained a higher speed for a longer distance.
On the road, you do not care if the person next to you is a CEO, nurse, dentist, kindergarten teacher, student or a PA. You focus on how well the team works together, so everybody arrives home safe. You also develop a very close bond with the 50 other members on your team – through simple things such as “going to the toilet” … well there is no toilet in the middle of nowhere…. there are fields, forests and ditches. So, teamwork and the ability to adapt to the current situation are crucial.
As management assistants, we must be flexible – sometimes as the calm person in a highly dynamic environment of constant changes, another day as the first-mover showing that change is not scary.
Usually when we are in an uncomfortable situation, we have 3 options: to accept it, try to change it, or to walk away. Our development happens when we dare to step out of our comfort zone, and it is amazing what the body and mind can handle, and how far you can push your boundaries when you “just do it”.
In my job, I am used to being well-prepared, being one step ahead and always with a plan B up my sleeve. Sure, I had medicine in my bag for all kinds of coughs and colds, happily distributing to sick team members in the breaks, so I hardly had time for my lunch. On the other hand, it was a great feeling to be one of the team, trusting the plan of the Team Captain and allowing myself to enjoy the experience – no phones, agendas, meetings, urgent matters depending on my attention and solution.
A typical day on the road started at 6 AM: waking up, showering, putting ointment on all the sore body parts (especially one specific area), eating loads of breakfast (Nutella and croissants here we go again), checking the weather and dressing for the road accordingly: rain, sun or wind, there was no alternative transportation other than your bike. Pack your clean but only half dry outfit from the day before in the suitcase, and fill your pockets with bananas, painkillers, candy (you really do NOT look fancy in yellow lycra with stuffed pockets but you really do NOT care). Hurry out to the van with your suitcase, find your yellow bike among all the other yellow bikes (on Team Rynkeby everybody rode identical bikes). Pump air in the tires – now it is 7.59 if you are lucky, and the Team Captain is ready to start the morning briefing at 8.00 SHARP. Panic if you are not ready, he is watching you – gosh where did I leave my helmet and should I bring my raincoat?! Morning exercise and 8.15 we are on the road. From “somewhere in Germany to somewhere in Belgium” 200 km in front of us and all I have to think about is cycling – pit stop – cycling – toilet break – cycling – lunch prepared by our wonderful service team – cycling – pit stop – cycling – afternoon break – cycling – cycling – 30,20,10 km to the hotel – and then finally we are somewhere in Belgium. Time to sit and relax together, have a cold beer (never tasted better). Text or call home to say that you are ok, clean the bike, find your suitcase and your room, take a shower, wash your dirty clothes and dry them with the half dry clothes from the suitcase (you really get creative with the hairdryer). Then dinner and evaluation of the day, maybe a massage, relax and joke about the day with your team, and at 11 pm it was time to go to sleep. The next morning it was same procedure as the day before.
As the days went by, you can´t avoid asking yourself what on earth am I doing cycling from Copenhagen to Paris?!! Completely crazy, dangerous and stupid! Everything hurts, it is too windy, too hot or rains and then all of a sudden the road is gone and there is only mud! You are also out of chocolate bars. Then luckily you have your team mates. Of course, you have to dare to reach out and ask for help or be attentive if someone needs your encouragement. You also learn to think only 50 km ahead – not 200 km to the finish – but the distance to the next break. And you do a lot of singing! I assure you that 50 cyclists do not sound very beautiful when they sing ”Always look on the bright side of life”, “singing in the rain”, “highway to hell” or whatever medley of Danish 80st hits – but we were in the fun, sun, rain or craziness together – and we made it! We arrived safely at the hotel in the evening and eventually made it to Paris. My best day was day 7. The route was so beautiful, the legs felt great, the popo was hurting a lot less – somehow my body (and mind) had accepted and adjusted to the routine. 182 kilometers on the road was just another great day in the office!
Honestly I had kind of enough of team spirit and cycling after one week on the road, but I also had a hard time getting back to “normal life”: Too quiet around me, no more carte blanche to go to the toilet behind any bush, walking down the street instead of cycling (and singing), not having to yell “look up left”, “hole to the right”, “horse droppings in the middle” to the cyclist behind me – and sadly enough, not being able to eat unlimited amounts of croissants and Nutella for breakfast.
So, in early September I was back on the road again in France. My company had their annual “AtosTour”, also raising funds for children with cancer. We were 60 colleagues from 10 different countries cycling 470 km in 2 days from Paris to Eindhoven – 3 ladies and 57 men. This was another life changing experience and a chance to meet and network with colleagues in a different environment and support charity at the same time.
I do not yet know what 2017 will bring in the way of challenges, but I have definitely learned a lot about myself. In our personal and professional life, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses and we don’t get further in life without moving physically and/or mentally. In order to move, we sometimes need help, inspiration and trust from others, either being part of a team at work, or riding in a cycling team for charity. Pushing your boundaries and surprising yourself by what you can do is something everybody can experience, on the bike or in real life.
Looking back at the experiences, I am very thankful to have participated, and I am also so happy that I dared to reach out and involve my private and professional network, locally and across borders. It was very touching to be welcomed by family, friends and members from EUMA France when Team Rynkeby arrived in Paris.
The Team Rynkeby Foundation collected € 8.84 million towards the fight against childhood cancer in the Nordics!
I hope you dare to say yes, if you get the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary. When we consider what happens in the world, we should dare to think big and act big for a greater cause and for our own personal development.