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Married to a pro - What's it like.
3 Aug, 2003

Wife, soul-mate, best friend, number one fan, unconditional supporter, confidante, gofa (or personal assistant - just to sound fancy!), business partner, motor-pacer, masseuse, cook, house-cleaner, and self-appointed removalist.  My name is Carole Dean and I am all of these to Julian Dean, professional cyclist currently with Team CSC.  We've been together for 9 yrs - way before pro-cycling ever entered our life's equation.  We've spent the last five cycling seasons living in Spain.  In the off-season we go back home to New Zealand for a period of R'n'R and pre-season training for Julz and a time of madhouse work for me which, believe it or not, regenerates me for the upcoming season.

 

I've been asked to describe what it's like being married to a pro-cyclist.... what a great opportunity to set the record straight...

 
There seems to be a common misconception people have about my life as a wife to a professional cyclist.  For some strange reason, most people think it's a box of fluffies, a bed of roses, a life of luxury.  For me, it isn't any of these.  Although don't get me wrong.... I love my life and I wouldn't want it any other way, but it's a life that requires a lot of energy, patience, flexibility, understanding, selflessness, and adaptability.  The world of professional cycling is unpredictable, at times unstable, and always 'character building'. 

For as long as Julian has been a pro I've viewed his career as our 'business'.  My role in this business is primarily one of giving while his is primarily one of taking.  It may sound like a one-way street, but I believe that for this business - in which we are business partners - to be successful we both must dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to it.  His job is to train hard, race hard and get the results that make us both happy.  My job is to do everything else, or as much as possible, to help him achieve this.  I make our home environment conducive to a temptation-free, healthy lifestyle (no deep-fried calamares and chips for Julz during the season!), and one where he can recover well and relax with ease.  This means that when Julz comes home from training, all he needs to do is focus on stretching, recovering and relaxing - crucial ingredients to achieving a finely-tuned cycling machine.     

Five years ago, when Julian turned pro, I did a sports massage course so he could get his legs massaged whenever he needed without having to leave the house.  This is such an invaluable asset to our 'business'.  During the season I'll massage his legs 3-4 times a week so apart from saving us loads of money, it optimises his recovery, allows us both to gauge his form and enables us to get on top of any niggles he may be feeling.

 

I also get the honours of motorpacing Julian behind our Vespa.  This requires me riding the motorbike at a constant speed, without any abrupt braking, while Julian is riding tightly behind right up my exhaust pipe!  Depending on his training, we may motorpace for as many as 100kms or as few as 30kms.  Unfortunately, the weather has no role to play in determining the time spent behind the bike.  Needless to say, I've done my fair share of motorpacing in the pissing-down rain.  The only redeeming part of doing this in the rain is the 'never-tasted-sweeter-Kit-Kat-break' I take from Mother Nature's lashings, under the shelter of a gas station forecourt while waiting for Julz to finish his efforts before the next leg of motorpacing!  

Another role I have as Julian's business partner is as his 'gofa', or more eloquently put, 'personal assistant'.  I do all the administration-type stuff that comes with being a professional athlete, like taking care of all the correspondence and paperwork.   Julian has a web-site which he writes diaries for so I also do the proof-reading and general spruce up of these making them personable and readable (believe me, when Julian has done a hard day's racing, it's not always that easy for him to write coherent English!).  I then forward these on to our web-site designer/maintenance man who posts them up onto the site.

    
Doing all of the above is the easy part.....the hard part is keeping Julian's head on straight(and inevitably mine too!).  Emotionally, being a pro-athlete is, more often than not, a gut-churning roller-coaster ride.  In one season we'll experience almost every emotion in it's extreme at one time or another.  To keep your own mind balanced, healthy, positive, rational and focused is hard enough but it's even more challenging to look after the mind of someone as close to you as a spouse.  When things don't go so well for Julian, whether it's in training or racing, he can be his own worst enemy.  This is where, I think, I play the most vital role in this business of ours.  Take the start of the 2002 season, for example.  Julian began the season in great form.  He was excited to be on CSC-Tiscali and he was chomping at the bit to get out there and show his new team that he was worthy of their support... Then it all turned to custard.  After starting his first race in Europe for the season, he had to pull out due to a sore knee (injured in a crash at the Tour Down Under, Australia) and that's when things started to snowball for the worse.


Julian was advised to stay off the bike for 8 weeks.  This was difficult enough for Julian to deal with but just as he started back training, he had an accident in which he broke his right leg in two places.  Julian was absolutely devastated and at the time I was still in New Zealand working so I was not around initially to help him deal with the injury mentally or physically.  I'd have to say that this injury has proved to be the toughest experience we've ever to deal with so far, as individuals and as a couple.  His leg was in a full length cast for 6 weeks and he had to keep weight off it completely for 8 weeks.  By the time he started rehabilitation, his right leg had atrophied beyond our comprehension - it didn't even look like it belonged to Julian.  He felt demoralised.  For someone so accustomed to being in peak physical condition, it was a very frustrating time for him.....and me.


Rehabilitation was definitely 'character building' for us both.  Like always when Julian is suffering from injury or low morale, there were days where he wouldn't even get out of bed.  It's my job to help him out of these times by being positive and comforting yet at the same time being firm enough so he doesn't drown in his own self-pity - which I think is his most self-destructive weapon.  I find it incredibly difficult finding ways to pull him out of his gloom and sometimes no matter what words I use and how much comfort and encouragement I give, it doesn't seem to make a difference. It's gut wrenching and frustrating watching someone you love, suffer like this and it can be such an isolating and helpless feeling.  It's times like these that I'm most reminded how far away my family and friends are; whenever I need them to reassure me that I'm doing the best I can and everything will work out.

Then there are the times I spend days or a few weeks on my own when Julian is away racing.  All of a sudden a huge chunk of my daily routine disappears.  My focus on Julian is not needed and I have only myself to take care of.  Most people ask, 'What's so hard about being on your own?'.  Unless you've ever done it, you wouldn't understand.  Of course it's easy if you have your friends and family around and more importantly, speak the language.  But here in Spain, when Julian is away, I have no family, only a few Spanish friends, only the basics of the language and a lot of time to kill.  I've spoken to several of the other wives about this and they agree that it's hard doing nothing in particular when the boys are away racing.  In fact, it takes a lot of practise to be able to do a whole lot of nothing!  I spend a lot of time riding my bike, training for no particular reason - if only just to help pass time.  Of course it gets easier every year for me as my Spanish improves and my confidence in getting out and about in a foreign country by myself increases.  But it's during these slow-moving hours that I miss my family and friends the most and crave having my own focus.  Besides, I'm a Gemini and we Geminiís are not so good at doing nothing in particular!  Athough there is always my mother's advice for dealing with this, 'Just start having children.  That'll give you plenty to do!'.  Yeah...Good one, Mum!


What makes it even harder to spend solitary hours on end without a focus is the fact that I have a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Arts, a deep passion for wildlife conservation and a job at home waiting for me to get stuck into.  So it's not without a certain element of sacrifice that I devote myself to Julian during the cycling season.  I'm fortunate enough to work during the off-seasons at a wildlife park in NZ.  Here I work with our endangered national icon, the Kiwi.  Part of my job includes working on the Operation Nest Egg Programme in conjunction with the Department of Conservation.   We artificially incubate Kiwi eggs taken from the forests, raise the chicks until they reach a certain weight before releasing them back into the wild.  This job gives me goals to achieve and problems to solve.  But more importantly, it feeds, yet satisfies, my passion, and reinforces in me a sense of self-worth.  It also gives me a break from our 'pro-cycling' life, allowing me to refuel and re-motivate myself for the coming season.

I have goals of my own which I'd like to pursue one day in earnest.  But while there continues to be opportunities in pro-cycling for Julian, I'll continue to put my goals aside until he's satisfied he has achieved all he can. Then it'll be my turn.  It'll be time for me to devote myself to what I love doing.  When this time comes, I know Julian will give just as much back into my passion as I have given to his. 

Well, hopefully I've cleared up the common misconception that all wives of pro-cyclists lead a life of luxury, full of shopping, facials and sunbathing - some of us work just as hard as our husbands.  But after all is said and done, no matter how many 'character-building' experiences we have or how hard this life can be sometimes, it's all put behind us when Julian gets the results he works so hard for.  The intense feelings of deep pride, pure elation and complete satisfaction we experience through his victories - race and personal - are what drives us both and pushes us through the tough times to the brighter side...and makes it all worth it... 

So, that's what it's like being married to my pro-cyclist!

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