Melinda Cockshutt – Ironman

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Melinda Cockshutt is an unsung hero in our local. In conjunction with Mid Coast Care’s ‘A Woman’s Heart Series’ we interview Melinda who shares with us her inspirational story of hope and staying positive.


> You moved to Port Macquarie from Canberra 2½ years ago. What were your reasons for leaving the city life?

I was a lawyer working up to 15 hours a day, every day. We had a couple of incidences, one where I forgot to pick up my child from child care and I forgot to ask my son about an excursion to the National Zoo that he had been on, all because I was so focused on work. Also, our good friend who was our age, early thirties at the time, died suddenly.

All these things culminated in us having to put things into perspective and look at what we are doing and where we are going. We knew that our family was more important than my work. We reassessed, and once we decided we didn’t care about money, it was a really easy decision to say, “Let’s just go.”

We knew of Port Macquarie because I had raced in the Ironman Triathlon up here in 2006, and we quite liked the town. Luckily, Todd found a job within a couple of weeks of looking and I just took long service leave and decided to take the risk, even if I never found a job up here we would be fine.

In Canberra we were very money driven. We both came from working class families where we didn’t have a lot of money around, so we both worked really hard and we just ended up having too much focus on money. We decided we didn’t care about having overseas holidays; we would just take our kids camping. And if I never found a job up here, it was no big deal.

Luckily, when we came up here we reconnected with the kids and absolutely loved it. Then I found a job in the credit union as compliance manager, and it all worked out for the best!

> Your daughter, Alani was diagnosed with leukaemia in October last year. How has this experience affected your family?

Alani was only 5 at the time, so it was definitely a huge shock. We were shipped off to Sydney and had to live at Ronald McDonald House for 6 months while Alani received treatment at Westmead Children’s Hospital. I look back and think, the move to Port Macquarie was setting us up for that journey.

Alani with friends

Alani with friends

Canberra was never a home to us; it was always just somewhere we lived and worked. Port is our home. Luckily, we were in a lot better place to handle Alani’s cancer then what we would have been if we were in Canberra.

I don’t know how to describe it, because it was still an awful shock, but we were able to get back onto the journey and say, “Well this is where we’re at, this is what we have to deal with and we’re going to fight it as a family.” Alani’s now in remission and has been for 6 months. We’re all going really well! > What keeps you inspired everyday?

At the moment it’s my kids, Alani and Zach. Alani had friends down in the hospital that died so she understood what she had, yet it just did not upset her. She just said, “Let’s get on with the treatment, let’s get on with the medicine, and after I have chemo I want to go outside and play, Mum.” She didn’t want to be sad or wallow in self pity.

My son was pulled out of school and went to hospital school for a little while, then to another public school and came back to Port for a little while, so he was moved right around. Zach knew he had to take a bit of a 2nd place, but it didn’t bother him. He’s a happy little thing and he took it all in his stride and said, “Yep, my sister’s sick; we are all going to get her better.”

It’s unbelievable to me how they dealt with the situation; they helped Todd and I handle the situation better. Even now that we’re home, Alani doesn’t like me talking about her being sick. She just wants me to get over it and move on. They are amazing people and they’re going to be amazing adults. I can’t wait to watch them grow.

> What would you say to others who might be going through a tough time?

Acceptance is the biggest thing to get you onto the path of being able to fight something. If you’re really in a tough situation, you have to accept it or you’ll always be asking, “Why, why did this happen to me; what did I do?”

We ended up very quickly getting to a place, and I think it’s because of my kids and my husband, where we were able to say, “Ok, this has happened to us; now how are we going to deal with it?” That will be how we are guided in any of our future issues. I don’t think anyone will get through life without having some sort of issue that they will struggle with.

> You mentioned earlier that you were involved in triathlons. Is this something you have always done?

Definitely not! I decided to be a triathlete after the birth of my first child, Zach. I didn’t want to be a mum that kept on the baby weight. I wanted to get motivated, so I decide to try triathlon. I had never ridden a bike before, although I did do running and swimming when I was in high school. I decided to join an all women’s novice program for the 6 weeks.

I really enjoyed it, because I could take the kids swimming and in the jogger pram. Even riding, I could hook them up to the back. Triathlon was wonderful, because I didn’t have to be fast. In some sports if you’re not good, you can’t do it. In triathlon, they want you to give it a go and just do your own best. I love that culture of the sport. I ended up doing really well.

In my first half ironman, which was my own little goal (2km swim, 90km bike, 21km run) I actually qualified for ironman in that year. My husband and I talked about it and decided we’re only here once, I may never do this again, so let’s do ironman.

I did my first ironman in 2002; my son was 12 months old and I ended up winning my age group, which qualified me for Hawaii. Again, we had no expectations that I would do that well; it was unbelievable! We ended up going to Hawaii, then I had a break and had Alani.

I got back into it again a little while later, and last year I qualified for Hawaii again. So all 4 of us went as a family, and I came 10th in my age group. Alani was actually sick with Leukemia while we were over there and was diagnosed 2 days after we got back. It’s always been about me getting out there having some fun with people. Instead of going for coffee with people, I go out for a bike ride with my friends. It just gets me out of the house.

My daughter loves running with me; even at 5 she jumps in the jogger pram. It’s time for us to have a chat. It keeps me happy, so the kids are happy because I’m not yelling at them and stressed. For any mum or anyone that says, “I don’t have time for me”, this actually keeps our family working well because I do have time for me. Then I come home and focus all my energy on my kids, and I’m not tired and cranky.

I am now using my experience in triathlons to become a surf livesafer. I was 30 weeks pregnant when I passed my proficiency test recently, and I start volunteering this weekend at Flynns Beach. I really enjoy working in the community.

> Thank you Melinda.

Do you know an unsung hero? Nominate them by emailing editor@focusmag.com.au or PO Box 690, Port Macquarie 2444.

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