Verita Stewart

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Verita Stewart, 27
Lives: Melbourne, Australia

It’s been a few years since Verita Stewart bought her first road bike and began cycling around El Dorado in country Victoria. The nearest main town was a 30-minute drive away, so rather than participating in team sports Verita would spend her weekends outdoors. Her bike marked the beginning of a new chapter. The girl who had never been considered the sporty type and almost shied away from applying to uni began spending all of her spare time in lycra!

Verita now calls Melbourne home, her official full-time job is in local government but her other big love, cycling, is about to take over. She is currently racing for the team Specialized Securitor in the national road series and one day hopes to be part of the Australian cycling team.

I love Verita’s story because it often feels like the act of following your dreams involves a singular moment where your goals are achieved.  You’ll see it’s more like a series of little nudges, getting yourself one hell of a support crew and a lot of early training sessions!


Let’s begin with your big love, cycling. How did you get into it?

I totally fell into cycling. I was always that kid at school who didn’t play sport but my parents used to stay up late and watch the Tour de France. After I got my first pay cheque I bought a bike just because I liked the idea of it. I thought, I’ll give it a go, and I would ride around El Dorado by myself because I didn’t know that you could ride in a bunch with other people.

Verita Stewart, climbing

The happy climber

When I moved to Melbourne I thought I might try and meet some new people so I joined Hawthorn Cycling Club and it just went from there. I went from not really doing anything in my spare time, going out and getting drunk, you know, to riding my bike all the time!


You start slow and before you know it you’re faster. You think, How did that happen?


As someone who didn’t have much of a sporting background, what was it like going into an environment you didn’t know much about?

It was good and I think you only need a little bit of encouragement to get you going. You start riding with people who may be better than you and you think, Oh, I’ve got to get as good as them. You start slow and before you know it you’re faster. You think, How did that happen? You just find your place.

I guess I’ve always liked a challenge. So not being sporty is not necessarily a reflection that I’m not competitive!

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Verita’s team mates at Specialized Securitor pausing for a selfie during their official photo shoot!

 

What is the best support you’ve had along your journey so far?

I think just having so many good people around me, that’s probably been the best support. Like anything in life, you want to surround yourself with people who are positive and can influence you in good ways.


It’s that one little push of support that starts everything. It was the beginning of my career.


When I was finishing high school it was my dad that said to me, ‘You need to just apply to university. You might get in.’ I thought, Oh ok, I’ll just apply, and I managed to scrape into uni. It’s that one little push of support that starts everything. It was the beginning of my career: If I didn’t go to uni I probably wouldn’t be in Melbourne because I wouldn’t have got the job I have now.

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Soaking in the atmosphere in the Pyrenees in 2014. Verita loves climbing the French Alps

 

It sounds like you’ve had lots of great support in your life. What is the best advice you’ve received?

That you can do anything that you set your mind to. It’s something that gets thrown around a lot but it’s totally true and of course there are different factors that effect how hard it is, but if you set your mind to doing something, you’ll get there.


Women need the same opportunities as men so that we can pursue these dreams of having cycling as a full-time job.


What instances in your life do you feel have really proved that to you?

It’s funny because it’s a lot of things. It’s not just career oriented or cycling oriented. I wanted to travel overseas and I thought, Ok, I really want to do this, what am I going to do? So you save all your pennies and it takes you a year to do it but you scrape the money together and then off you go, and all of a sudden you’re on this adventure.

At the moment you’re writing columns for Ella Cycling Tips, a new cycling website for women. What’s the toughest thing about being a woman in sport?

I guess there is a lot of history in men’s cycling. It’s been the men doing it for so many years that the proportion of women participating in cycling has only really started to increase in the last ten years. The ball is rolling and it’s a fantastic thing but I think the biggest hurdle that we have to get over as a sport is that women are equal and deserve the same as men.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be prize money, but it has to do with the opportunities we’re getting.

Women need the same opportunities as men so that we can pursue these dreams of having cycling as a full-time job.

Verita Stewart team specialized

Celebrating with Specialized in Noosa after a team mate won the Noosa Criterium race. Verita is third from left

 

It sounds like there are a lot of amazing women on the cycling circuit. What qualities do you admire in them the most?

I definitely admire their passion and dedication to what they do. You don’t get far in life if you don’t love what you do and they absolutely live and breathe cycling. I know if I train as hard as them, if I was able to do everything that they do, then maybe I could be over there, too [laughs]. It’s the dream. And they look like they have a ball! As well as it being hard–they crash and all these things–they have a great time doing it.

That’s the thing that I’ve always loved about sport. There’s this sense of community in there that is hard to find elsewhere.

Totally. And it doesn’t have to be cycling. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re in, the endorphins are the same!

What do you think is your biggest achievement?

I guess I’ve got a few. When I was working in Benalla one of my colleagues pushed me to apply for a fellowship to go to America and work for a month at a local government over there. At the time that was a really big achievement because I didn’t think that I would get it and I wasn’t convinced that the application I did was good enough. You know, all that self-doubt. When I received the email that I was in I nearly fell off the back of my chair. [Laughs]


I think that’s the story of my life, underestimating what I can do. And I think it stems down to not wanting to fail.


In cycling, a big achievement for me was signing up to the team that I’m on right now and being accepted. It was the same thing: I applied for the team not being convinced that I would get in and then all of a sudden I received a phone call from the team manager saying, ‘Yeah, we want you on board.’ I thought, Oh holy shit! I didn’t expect you to want me.

It sounds like you have consistently underestimated what you can do.

Oh yeah, totally. To tell you the truth, I think that’s the story of my life, underestimating what I can do. And I think it stems down to not wanting to fail. Lots of people don’t do things because they think they won’t be good at it or they’ll be embarrassed. Well, you just have to do it because the worst that can happen is you will fail and it’s not necessarily such a bad thing. There’s so much self-doubt and you don’t need it at all.

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Verita and her partner, Purdie, head out for an Easter bike ride

 

You’ve had some great informal mentors in your life. Do you mentor people as well?

I think in a round about way you kind of do. You offer advice at the coffee shop, just those little conversations you have that might last five minutes. That’s what happened to me. It was those little five-minute conversations that I had with people when I was starting out that gave me the encouragement I needed. You just take those little things and run with it.


There’s so much self-doubt and you don’t need it at all.


What questions were you asking when you first started out? What did you want to know?

I can’t even remember, but I do remember little things that people told me, like telling me to ride as hard as you can. It’s a funny comment that’s almost a given but I just remember the person that said, ‘Just go out there and do it! Ride as hard as you can. Don’t worry about anything else because you can only ride as fast as you can ride.’

And I was like, ‘Right, ok, go and ride as fast as I can.’ And you go and do it. It’s such a silly thing for someone to say, but it makes a difference.

Absolutely. It shows that someone cares if they’re bothering to give you advice when they don’t need to.

Exactly.

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Climbing to third position in Stage 2 at the recent Tour Of Bright photo credit: JXP photography

 

Do you feel like you realise now how much you’ve achieved? Or do you feel like self-doubt still follows you around?

Oh God, it just follows me around. Of course it does! And it’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s part of the process that happens. I doubt myself and then I kick myself in the butt and say, ‘Oh you’re being stupid, just go for it.’ Or I’ll have Purdie [my partner] go, ‘You’re being stupid!’ and put me back into line. It follows me around all the time.

I can tell you that you’re not alone! So many women we speak to experience the same. And it’s a really good point you make, that it’s actually just part of a cycle that signals you’re onto something good. 

Yeah, it’s about trying new things. They say that change can be the hardest thing you do in your life. It’s an exciting thing to do, to be part of that cycle, and there’s always a good outcome, I think.

Thank you, Verita!
Follow Verita Stewart at www.veritastewart.com and read her cycling columns over at www.cyclingtips.com.au/ella


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