In a nutshell, let me just say this.
Meghan’s life: one of rejection, near tragedy, perseverance,
determination, and in the end, success. Dr. Meghan Grant, welcome. You’ve been on quite a road to
cycling success but cycling started while you’re attending school. Why? Because you’re trying to become a doctor. So you had all the spare time on your
hands? Being a med student wasn’t enough? You decided to grab a bike and go cycling?
How did this come about? Well it’s a long and convoluted story, probably the short version is that I had always dreamed of being an athlete for Team Canada, as far back as I can remember. When I was a kid I remember watching the Olympics on TV with my nose pressed right up to the screen and it wasn’t so much the winning and the medals that drew me in, it was the stories of these athletes and their dreams. And I can end up wearing that Canadian maple leaf one day. But I sucked at sports. Absolutely terrible, worst kid in gym class. Last one picked for teams, And so it didn’t really look like that particular dream was gonna come true for me. I did get in to sports later in my life. So around fourteen I found figure skating, Was about ten years too late, probably, to do that. Had dreams of being Disney on Ice.
Tried out, didn’t make it. And so that’s how I ended up at university. At that time actually university sports was really important in my life. So in med school – I dabbled in some sports throughout my undergrad – but I really set my sights on getting myself onto a varsity figure skating team. Which at that time we didn’t have on the west side of Canada. So I needed to get myself into an east coast school and so I set my sights on McGill for medical school, to go there and be on the varsity skating team. Didn’t make it. Trained my butt off for another year. Ended up making the team for the next year and spent two wonderful years as a student athlete in figure skating at McGill and then a year on the rowing team. But then when I started my medical residency, completely retired from sport. I decided it was time to get serious, focus on my career. And so I became completely sedentary, couch potato. Gained a whole bunch of weight and was really unhealthy. And then about a year in to my medical residency one of my good friends and colleagues died by suicide. And this was a big shock to all of us. But the reality was that we were all going through a really tough time. Medical residency’s really difficult. So we made a pact with each other that we’re all gonna make a lifestyle change and we’re
gonna do something for our mental health. So we were all gonna do something fun. In my case it ended up being “performing in the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Olympics.” Which really rekindled that love of sport for me. And a week later I bought a used bike off Craigslist. And decided that I needed sport in my life in some form, even if it was just recreational. That 2010 Olympic Games, you were on the ice. Is that right? I actually got picked, believe it or not. So I don’t know if anyone was there and watched it, there was this scene where this big mountain rises out of the ground and people skate around the mountain. So we are actually on roller blades on carpet, which was really fun. And exhausting. You got to skate! You did get to skate, you made it! The 2010 Olympics obviously inspired you. I mean I know your you had your nose pressed to the TV watching the Olympic Games.
2010 must have set off a fire inside that said “I’m gonna be a doctor but I got to
be an athlete.” What happened? It was kinda like there was this ember inside that burst in to flame, that day that I skated out in to the stadium and felt that Olympic spirit. I think probably a lot of people in the room have felt that feeling, something about the spirit of sport, the camaraderie of the team. The pride of presenting a nation. The courage, the perseverance that athletes have. And so I knew at that time I wanted sport to be a big part of my life, that’s why I added the sports medicine fellowship in to my emergency medicine training. I thought maybe that that’s how I was going to be with Team Canada. It was to be as the doctor going to the olympics and helping the athletes. That maybe was just looking a bit different than what I thought. But, one thing led to another. And then you decide to get into cycling. So you get a
road bike and if you haven’t done road biking, to take it up just out of the
gate, it’s not that easy, it’s not like getting on a ten-speed or whatever and
just going around the block. You couldn’t even change the gears is that correct?
How tough was it? Yeah I felt like an idiot. So I actually could change the gears – any cyclists in the room? So I actually could get it in the hardest gear, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the gear or get it back to an easy gear. So I ended up stuck in my hardest gear, like grinding it out. And so I grounded it out to the local bike club and said: “Can somebody help me? “I don’t know what I’m doing.” I even googled, like, “How to change gears on bikes.” It wasn’t helpful. They did me one better, they showed me how to do it and they invited me to join their club. And that’s what really kinda hooked me to the sport. And then from there, what happened?
Keeping in mind you’re still going to school, you’re still, you know, got that med
thing going on, and now you’re getting involved seriously in cycling. Something
was going on, you wanted to take it somewhere. So it started quite slowly, so at first I would use – I had two weekends off a month – and so on those two weekends I would ride with this club in this group. They would teach me skills and I really enjoyed that. And then eventually they would convince me to try kinda their more advanced group where it was a bit competitive. From there I got convinced to do actually the RBC Gran Fondo to Whistler. And so at that point that was the longest ride I had ever done and I did it as a team with a group of men. And we had a splendid time. And then someone convinced me to try out a little race. I was terrible, but I loved it. And so then I started training after work so I would come home and get on a trainer in my apartment. Gradually did bigger and bigger races until all of a
sudden I found myself invited to a national team development camp. I think they had just a spare spot they needed to fill, I really did not belong there. I was totally out of my element. Everyone else was a provincial team, national team level, I was definitely the worst one there but really that was the experience that
sparked a bit of shift. At the end of the camp the Team Canada coach wanted to have a group photo. And I was the only one who didn’t have provincial or national team clothing to wear, so I was ruining the photo. And so she let me wear her Team Canada vest and as she zipped it on to me she whispered into my ear: “Let this serve as
motivation for you to one day earn your own Team Canada vest. And I was kinda floored by that moment. Cause I was thirty, about thirty, I was deep in to this medical training, I had done probably twelve years of post-secondary by then, I had six figures in debt. And I hadn’t really thought I had any natural athletic talent, but what if? And I couldn’t get it out of my head. And so when I got home I hired a coach and we made a plan to see what could happen. And things started to happen. You took it seriously, you trained hard, you made the Canadian team. How did you make that team and what was your reaction? So there were, kinda between those two times, there were a lot of ups and downs. I almost gave up on the sport quite a few times. It was a tough balance, I was working eighty hours to a hundred hours a week. Thirty hour overnight shifts and then doing my training. So it was a pretty big juggling act. I really struggled with the decision about whether I could step away from a medical career and what that would say about me as a person. If I’d rather ride bikes than help people So I had a lot of personal angst about what I was doing. Luckily I had this coach who was helping
me during those years but unfortunately he died by suicide. And so at that point I almost quit cycling again. But ultimately that became a motivation for me to really see through some of the goals that we had set
together and so at the end of my residency I was the only one in the
history of the program not to take a full-time job in the emergency
department. And I set my sights on making the time standard for the national team. So in order to do that you have to ride a timed event on the Velodrome. So it’s a two hundred and fifty meter wooden banked track. You ride in the Aero Bars like this. From a standing start you bring the bike up to about fifty kilometres an hour and hold it there. And then you just ride a time of 3’53. And so I trained really really hard for this event. And I felt pretty ready when I got in to the starting blocks. And I take a deep breath, get released, got the bike up to speed, and for three kilometres I left everything out on the track. And legs burning, lungs on fire, I came across the finish line and looked up at the scoreboard. Had 4’13. So I had missed the time pretty significantly in an event that’s measured to a thousandth of a second. But I got lots of pats on the back. “That was really brave of you for trying.” “So I guess you’re going back to your day job now right?” Yep. Like, “Good for you. Good for you.” And I asked around to the more experienced cyclists and said “Can I improve this? “If I try again how much time can I take off?” And they said “Absolutely you can improve! If you work really, really hard it’s very reasonable every year to take off something in the neighbourhood of two to three seconds.” Any math people in the room? And so I had a big decision to make, especially a couple days later I was approached by Cycling Canada and offered a job as the team doctor for the BMX team all the way through to the Olympics. And so here was an opportunity, a sure thing, to go to the Olympics as a doctor, but because of a schedule I would no longer be able to contest my own spot on the national team. And so that was a time of intense soul searching for me. But ultimately I decided that I needed to see it through, and so I trained for another year. And the next year I was very, very nervous, because I had made a lot of life changes in order to enable everything to come together. I had reduced the number, so I hadn’t taken a full-time job but I was working casually in the emergency department and picking
up night shifts when people are sick. So we started looking at where I could cut that stuff down. So if I didn’t have to pay rent I could reduce my expenses. So I sold pretty much everything I owned and moved on to people’s couches and spare rooms. So I really had made a lot of sacrifices
that year to make sure that I could do the training properly. So I was really nervous
when I got into the starting gate. So the gate released and I brought the bike up to speed and settled in to the position. And for three kilometres I left it all out there on the track, and legs are burning, lungs on fire. I came across the finish line and I looked at the scoreboard. 3’53. I had done it exactly. It was a couple of weeks later in a dingy basement bathroom in the velodrome that I zipped up my very own Team Canada jersey for the first time. So now we’re headed towards the Pan American games in 2017. Take us through that experience because it all seemed like a great idea and it was going to go really well but hmmm, maybe not. What happened? Yeah absolutely. I mean, dawning that jersey for the first time was really, I discovered, only the beginning of what could be a very steep learning curve and so my life changed a lot. I moved in to a team house with often nine or ten other women with some as young as sixteen or seventeen. Sharing rooms, travelling all over to train. And I trained harder than I ever had before. And part of the reason was because the day after I made the national team I got a call to say “We found out your age and actually, hmmm, there’d be a different time standard for someone your age. And so you haven’t actually made it.” And so I ultimately managed to prove myself and get that spot back on the team but I knew that the bar had been set. It was not going to be enough for me to be as fast as everyone else. I was gonna have to be faster. I wasn’t gonna have to just work as hard I was gonna have to work the hardest. And so I really overworked myself
the first season on the team and ended up with shingles and having to
take a break from the bike. At which point I learned a lot about how to rest and recover and balance work with recovery. Which is still a lesson I’m sometimes
learning, I think a lot of us are continually learning that lesson. But was a big hurdle for me and a couple of really
bad crashes throughout the year, some concussions, like broken rib, broken pelvis, broken elbow. and fought through some of those injuries. I had a couple of close friends hit by cars and die in training. And so those years were pretty tough and I struggled with depression during that time but in the few months leading up to Pan Ams it really finally felt like things were coming together. I had a coach who really believed in me, the training was really really solid and I felt really confident that I was gonna make that team that we’re
going to have a great performance and training was going really well and then
about six weeks before my partner had a bad crash on the velodrome and suffered a
catastrophic brain injury and ended up in intensive care with a less than 20%
chance of survival. So I dropped my training to go be there at her bedside and it was a really difficult time but thankfully my teammates and my community really propped us up during that time and so there was a lot of support but I sort of thought
that maybe that dream was gonna get put to the side again but miraculously my partner not
only survived but woke up and at about three weeks was able to start saying a
couple of words and then it was able to say enough to tell me that she wanted me
to go to the Pan Am trials. So she was a 2016 Olympian, we trained together and
so she wanted me to go for both of us. So this was difficult. Because I hadn’t been training. I think I was very physically and emotionally depleted I didn’t know how I was gonna make it through Pan Am trials. But, with the help of my community and my teammates, I got myself on that plane and got to this camp. I was riding like garbage, my legs were terrible. We did testing the first day, I put out
some of my worst numbers ever. I would cry in the bathroom in between sets but
over the next few days my legs started to come around and I started to believe
that maybe it would be possible for me to at least have a good try at making this team. So I was feeling more and more confident and the day before the trials I stepped in to a hole on the lawn and broke my ankle. But thankfully I had people who were supporting me, and were able to support me by taping that ankle up before it got too swollen and getting it in to a shoe. They were able to get me on the bike and I did the trials and somehow managed to make the team. And then with the support of all of these people I got myself to Trinidad and Tobago and lined up in the team pursuit and honestly on the track that day in the race I felt a lot of people there with me. Like I felt the friends I had lost, I had felt my coach, I felt my partner from a distance in the hospital. I felt all of the kids I had spoken to in schools, I felt these teammates, kinda like a tailwind at my back pushing me around the track, coming across the
finish line to win a gold medal. For Canada. So you get to put on that gold medal.
What was that like? That’s a moment right there. Absolutely. Yeah. It was kinda like a moment I had dreamed of when I was a child. I saw it on TV. So feeling the weight of that medal around my neck, hearing the anthem, watching the flag rise, it was a little bit surreal. But I think, it didn’t feel like how I expected, I think. I think I thought that moment would be full of so much joy and pride at what we had just won. But what surprised me was how, in that moment, I felt like that medal was a piece of ribbon with a piece of metal hanging from it, and it was just a symbol and it was a symbol of victory that was so much more important than what had happened on the track that day. That our
real opponent had never been that other team out on the track. My real opponent had been inside. That the real jeopardy had happened so long
before it happened that very first day that I listened to that “What If?” voice.
That it had happened every time I picked myself up and tried again after having failure or rejection. That I had already won when I allowed other people to support me through these hard times and support others through their hard times and in those times that I had come together with my teammates to really achieve something. So, at that point you’re now a gold
medalist and looking forward because the next step would obviously be the Olympic
Games. So that’s gonna happen, right? I was riding a bit of a high after the Pan Ams, I was like “Alright, everything’s on track. “Things are going to be okay.” I was pretty tired, I needed a bit of a rest. I went back to Calgary where my partner was still in the hospital, to be there for the recovery. About two weeks later I got a call out of the blue to say “We’ve looked at the power numbers,” from the testing at the camp, and you’re cut from the team. “You’ll never be world class. And so we’re letting you go.” You can probably imagine how that felt. It was kinda like my heart had been ripped out in that moment. Dreams came crumbling down. So that was really difficult. But at the same time I was very, I had really important things to focus on. So I was back with my partner, she had defied the odds again to start walking again. They had said that maybe she’ll walk, she’ll definitely never ride a bike. So I spent the next few months really
focusing on her recovery and helping her recover. The day after I got that phone
call I went out on my bike and I set some of my best powers numbers ever in my life. And then I put the bike away in the garage and didn’t look at it for a few months and
thought maybe I was retired from the sport. But that little flame was still
there and so I had gone back to work I started working back in the emergency
department but I’d only make it about three weeks at a time before I found that I would feel a bit empty with out that sport and so I
would go and ride my bike for two weeks, just six hour rides by myself and so that
was my life for a little while, a little between emergency, riding again, helping
my partner with her rehab, she had another brain surgery during that time. And in the background accidentally cofounded a start-up. And so that kept me a little bit busy too and that really
took off and kind of helped me find some meaning and purpose again during that
time. And then kinda over the last few months watching my partner Katie and her recovery, I felt so inspired. So not only did she learn to walk again and ride a bike again, she has just done her first bike race back last weekend. She’s also gonna try for another Olympics. And so going through that journey with her, really really helped that flame grow for me again. And I started training again in earnest on the bike, ’cause now I’m full time training. So you’re going to try and make an Olympic bid here. And so now you’re all part of my journey, so I don’t know how this story ends yet, but now you can all see with me. That’s fabulous. As we wrap things up, just, if you can in a nutshell your message to all of us this morning would be what? Obviously don’t give up. Yeah absolutely don’t give up. And I think one of the most precious things that I’ve learned in all of this is the real value of learning to listen to that inner voice. Like I’m kinda a dreamer and explorer, I love space, the final frontier. But I really believe the final frontier is inside of us. That’s
where the most interesting exploration is. Like what is your “what if?” What would be possible for you if you suspended your idea of what the limit’s might be and listened to that little thing that pulls on you, that little ember that wants to burst in to a flame. Disclaimer! This is not intended to make you quit your job! But it’s okay if you want to. Like, what little change could you make? Wow. Dr. Meghan Grant, thank you very much.