An interview with Sharron Yaxley!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live, and what do you do? What do you like to do for fun? Family life, that sort of stuff.
Since 2009 I have resided in a little town, Turners Beach, on the North West coast of Tasmania.
I live only about 200 meters from a lovely, long, and sandy beach where I like to try and walk my German Shepherd Khalessi daily. She has a fetish for my shoes.
I am a mother of four children who are adults and geographically dispersed.
Joshua (34) lives in Hobart, is a chartered accountant, is married, and has two children—so yes, I am a Granny to Sienna and Eddie. Joshua is a former Australian age open water swimming champion (5km).
Ben lives in Switzerland, Ph.D. doing secret squirrel stuff for Roche, married. I have not seen him for nearly three years and am looking forward to spending time with him shortly on our Eu trip. They have a dog, Wags, who also emigrated from Tasmania about five years ago. Ben Zwifts.
Luke lives in Brisbane and is a pharmacist with a long-term partner. They love their dog Jaxson. Luke was a very talented triathlete medalling at the Oceania level in Elite.
Hannah lives in Adelaide, a physiotherapist with a long-term partner. They love their dog, Lily. Hannah and her partner Rory both Zwift. They are both former NRS cyclists.
Professionally, I am an accountant—having done a degree in Business majoring in accounting, and a few years later, a Master of Taxation Law.
I thought I would like to specialize in taxation—but I was wrong. The accounting firm I worked at was the most boring job I ever had, with the highlight being going to the toilet or the printer. I was not the job, and the job was not me.
I have had numerous roles in the health sector, having been on Tasmanian health boards, then becoming a Business Manager at the Launceston General Hospital. These days, I am the Senior Program Manager for the Department of State Growth (Tasmania), where I work in the area of advanced manufacturing and defense industry. I continue my involvement with health, being on the Consumer Advisory Committee for the regional private hospital.
Outside of working and Zwifting, I like to spend time with my husband Tony—and our shared love of Khaleesi. We enjoy going for walks with her, our garden, and spending time on our local beach.
What is your cycling story? When and how did you get involved in cycling?
As a kid, I had bikes—starting with a small trike, a bigger trike, a three-wheel scooter, a two-wheel scooter, and finally, my trusty steed (the type where the brake was reversing the pedal—no gears).
I used it to visit friends. My brother, five years my junior, had a bike with gears. One day when he was not around (I was about 19 at the time), I took it for a spin (maybe 30-35 km) in the days before helmets. I fell off on a very busy road, whacked my head hard with cars swerving to miss me—used up a life that day—and it is the probable cause of my fractured stapes conductive hearing loss and epilepsy (partial seizures).
When my children were growing up (I had four kids very close together), my fitness and health was not a priority as I was just so busy raising the children plus working. They all swam, so I was burning the candles at both ends of the day—getting up early to take them training and then working until late at night for the dental surgery I co-owned (accounting and quotations).
When they got a little older, I bought a bike and pottered around (maybe up to 20 km). My former husband and I traveled to the UK and did a supported ride—Source of the Thames—starting where the river commences in a Cotswold meadow, near Kemble, and over a week, we followed it out through London and on to the Thames Barrier, near Woolwich.
I was riding 30-32 km a day and I thought that was a lot!
Life threw a few curlies into the mix, and a few more years elapsed, and I had a hankering to complete a goal I had set myself after that first bike adventure—Lands End to John O Groats.
I was married to Tony by then, and he was a runner—but he agreed, and in 2013 we did a supported 1750 km ride known as LeJog. We loved it. We still keep in touch with numerous riders from that trip.
That took us to France in 2015 (Calais to Narbonne and up to Carcassonne), London to Venice in 2016, plus a self-supported three-day ride in Tuscany and Bordeaux to Barcelona in 2017. We spent a week in Bordeaux beforehand, riding all around the region.
In 2018 I did a solo ride in New Zealand as a challenge – Auckland to Cape Reinga and returned (1050km) and another with a girlfriend, Auckland to Wellington (950km). I then headed off to Switzerland for my son’s wedding and fell off my bike on cobbles, breaking two ribs and three teeth. Two days after my son’s wedding, I left with a friend and rode Zurich to Asolo (Italy ) to hook up with the Giro d’Italia for the last 12 days.
One of my biggest challenges was the ascent of Colla della Finestre (the day before Chris Froome mounted his huge solo challenge on the climb and won the day by a country mile). The last 7 km was gravel—and it had been snowing—and it was sludgy. I am not a good climber as I need to spin for the sake of my knee, and I am nervous in gravel, let alone snowy sludge, but I made it! Again—done with two broken ribs.
Even better, despite how many people have climbed it, I got a few cups on the descent!! Haha, I always said I preferred descending.
In 2019 we took matters into our own hands, planning our own rides, and undertook a 3,300 km ride in 8 countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Austria, Germany, and back to the Czech Republic). It was a 35 days ride and central Europe’s wettest spring in 30 years. So many memories from that trip, including riding through a minefield (minefields do not show up on mapping apps!).
Covid hit and I canceled two bike packing trips, so we undertook a 1500 km bike packing ride in Tasmania—lots of climbing—but gave us a greater appreciation of our own part of Australia.
What is your virtual cycling story? When and how did you get involved in virtual cycling? Did you have any experience before Zwift?
In 2016 someone told me to google Zwift. I had been riding on the road before work doing a 32 km out and back – and one day, a car and I had an encounter that shook me up.
The rest is history. I got a trainer, put my older bike on it, and would do maybe 30 km rides a few times a week. I started to talk to people and entered events.
Bring us back to your first Zwift ride and paint a mental picture. Can you give us some details (when, how long, course, etc.) and share your thoughts on the experience?
I cannot remember my first event, but I think it would have been a ZWOZ event (which no longer exists). They were a group out of Western Australia and I was constantly being dropped, every time without fail.
One of their leaders contacted me privately and gave me a heap of helpful hints on how to draft.
I would go to Watopia and look for groups as there was no such thing as closed road events. I would try and hop on the group and last as long as possible. I did this day after day, week after week.
I then started doing Asia 100 events (subsequently changed name). Again, as the pace was faster, I always dropped. Over some time, I began to hang on that bit longer.
The secret to Zwift is drafting, and it took me a long time to nail drafting—a long time. I am amazed when I see newbies doing a century ride in their first 1000 km. Massive kudos as certainly it took me a while and increased endurance fitness.
Did you know then that Zwift would become such a massive part of your life? What was it about Zwift that hooked you early on?
I was not hooked on Zwift at first, and no, I would have laughed if you told me that I would willingly wake up at 4:45 am and ride in a few years.
But there you go…
I think I realized its impact as I started to get up that bit earlier, and earlier and earlier. Fortunately, I have a very supportive and understanding husband.
It is addictive, and I like the social side as it helps to pass the time.
How has virtual cycling evolved since you began on Zwift in 2016? What significant innovations do you feel have been the most beneficial to the platform's growth and the virtual cycling experience? Which one is your favorite?
When I started, there was basic Watopia, where the most significant climb was behind the town. Richmond (basic Richmond, not the current expanded one) was also there.
I used to climb that hill behind the town and think it was awful.
Then they built the mountain and put in that even worse radio tower climb. That seriously sucks. Sorry I will rephrase that. I am really hopeless trying to climb hills! I have not ever nailed it satisfactorily.
Worlds have been added and expanded, but I think the best innovation has been the pace partners. Coco is my go-to if I am not doing an event.
Do you continue to Zwift now for the same reasons you began Zwifting then?
I started for fitness to increase my endurance for the then-impending IRL London to Venice.
I continue to Zwift these days to maintain physical and mental fitness and keep my endurance base ready for bike packing tours.
Zwift is my daily pill that helps keep my life on an even keel. I do suffer from anxiety at various times, and I find that Zwift is (generally speaking) a calming influence.
How do you feel that Zwift and virtual cycling can improve?
What can Zwift morph into? Who knows?
However, what I would like to see is based on personal experiences. I have been bullied recently by a few individuals in cahoots. I want the ability to block such riders like you can on Facebook.
I have been stalked. A Canadian guy was seriously stalking me, including checking out my house from Strava rides and talking to me when I was Zwifting (he would log on and sit there). He would watch my public conversations and write things like “I do not like you talking to him” or “you need to increase your cadence,” as my cadence is always too low, apparently.
I find it creepy that people like him could just log on and sit and watch you without your knowledge. You should be able to say “no” or “yes,” If they are blocked, they do not have that ability.
As a leader, I would like to be able to remove someone from a ride if they are not conforming. Remove them from the ride, not Zwift, so that they can keep riding.
The most significant improvement that Zwift could make? Minks @ Mont St. Michel Cafe, at the t-junction where the road heads to the Mont. I joke that I have saved all my drops for development costs (as at the time of writing, 169 million).
Are there any negative aspects of the platform or the community that have challenged you over the years?
Oh yes, and all people-based, though. 99.9% of people on Zwift are OK. Most are great, and you are friends, or they leave you alone, and you both get on and do your thing.
People are the positive and the negative.
I have experienced bullying (last year) and a stalker. Both have provided me with significant personal challenges. Last year, I was very close to quitting Zwift due to the continual bombardment on multiple channels from a few people working in cooperation.
They accused me of riding an e-bike! I contacted Trek (I am an ambassador) to ask if that was even possible. Technically yes, but they said it is a pretty dumb concept, as it only aids you up to about 25 km/h. After that, it is all you, plus battery life would be a challenge with the amount of km that I do. So, all in all, a pretty silly, not well thought out, pointless accusation.
Another also said that I must be cheating: “I was a nearly 60-year-old woman, and I cannot beat her!” My response after I stopped laughing? “He is 125 kg and rides rarely, and I would be disappointed if I could not beat him on flats and climbs, but he would nail me on descents!”
It is important to remember that such people are the minority, and it says far more about them than me.
I will say that I am very thankful and indebted to Zwift for the personal support that they provided me at the highest levels during these situations.
Where do you see virtual cycling in 5 or 10 years, and what do you anticipate your involvement to be at that time?
I hope that Zwift still exists and that I have involvement of a continuing nature.
I have upcoming and unavoidable surgeries at some point. I will need a total knee replacement, and both feet will require reconstruction. So a lot of time in recovery and rehab.
I think that Zwift will be an essential rehabilitation tool then. It’s a bit like starting again, building back up—probably frustrating at first, but it is what it is.
I have a Zwift friend in New Zealand who is currently using Zwift to recover from a cardiac bypass. Indeed, a lucky man as his wife was there when he collapsed and did CPR. It is frustrating for him as he is obviously doing a lot less and finding it harder, but isn’t it great that he can use Zwift to assist in his recovery.
What is a typical training week for you? When do you get going in the morning and how long do typically ride?
Monday, I get up at 4:30 am. I do a lead starting at 5:05 am—a 100 km ride.
On other weekdays I get up at 4:45 am. Saturday is my biggest day as I have a backup/sometimes lead with Trek (70 km) followed by an AHDR lead (60 km). Most days, I ride for 3-4 hours.
Currently, I am doing a lot of km as I am working from home. That will reduce when I am ultimately required to head back into the office on a semi-regular basis. I will retire in the next few years, and those obligations will be gone.
I do not race, nor do I ride in the evenings. Racing is too hard on my knee, and evenings are the time to spend with Tony and allow my body recovery time.
What is your involvement with Zwift outside of the time you spend riding?
I am a leader with AHDR and Trek. I have two leads weekly for AHDR and a backup lead for Smugpie (also AHDR).
I am a Trek ambassador and backup leader for their Sat. event. I have lately done several leads as Trek establishes a new store in Melbourne.
I regard myself as an unofficial, self-appointed Zwift ambassador. I am conscious that my cumulative km and profile create awareness of me as the Mink. I try to use that very carefully and responsibly.
I like to encourage others however I can, whether while riding or on social media. I get many messages from many people, and I do my best to support those who contact me.
How important is the Zwift community in your life? How has your role in the community evolved over the years?
My role, in some ways, has not changed a lot. I have been a leader of events for around 5.5 years now.
In other ways, though, I have a voice that I am prepared to use. I speak up, and not all like that.
I stand up for the wrong. I stood up for a very well-known Zwifter who had been bullied relentlessly for a few years, significantly impacting his life. When I realized this, I offered him my personal support. He wrote to Zwift, and Zwift contacted me, amongst others, to help in this particular case. I stood up for him when many others would not get involved.
I have undertaken courses with White Ribbon and recently became a qualified Mental Health First Aider. I wear a Beyond Blue (Australian mental health organization) blue wrist band on all IRL rides and have given a few out over time to Zwifters that I know to be suffering from depression and anxiety. The bands I give out are ones that I have worn on my IRL tours, so I tell them that they are preloaded with my strength to support them.
What are your greatest Zwift accomplishments and most significant challenges you've overcome?
I regard raising $16,000 for a children’s cancer research institute in 2020 as my greatest Zwift accomplishment. I did that for the former SAS club as an annual fundraiser.
I did all the km for the month on Zwift. I stepped out of my comfort zone, posting videos of myself begging for money. I had an initial goal of $500. I was stunned by the final figure and the generosity of so many Zwifters.
The most significant challenge to overcome, without a doubt, is learning to draft. Once I nailed that, my enjoyment and confidence factor rose exponentially.
If you had to rank the top-3 most appealing aspects of Zwift, what would they be and why?
- Social – I have made some wonderful friends globally and visited some of them. I have seen Mirek twice in the Czech Republic and Jacqui and others in New Zealand.
- Fitness – It is so convenient to walk to my garage and ride safely.
- Safety – I have only fallen off my trainer once. It was in the early days – another story for another day. It involved breaking hard to get off the trainer—not thinking!! Far safer than our winter roads in my area.
What would you do without Zwift and the virtual cycling community? How would your life be different?
Perish the thought! Go away. I do not need that kind of negativity in my life!!
Would you say that Zwift has become a part of your identity? If yes or no, why or why not?
Yes, it has. My persona, The Mink, has had a life of its own.
I was at the top of Mount Macedon in Victoria in December 2020. It was a cold day, and I was inappropriately dressed. As I headed back to the car with my family, a female voice asked if I was the mink.
Then, of course, there is Steve Prince, a talented musician who wrote and recorded a song about me—The Mink. I was blown away. I think it is super cool.
What is your most memorable virtual cycling experience? Most rewarding? The one you are most proud of?
Most memorable, rewarding, and proud would be the last few km of my 24-hour ride, where I received the most incredible support. I had not told anyone I was planning on doing the ride as I did not want to pressure myself. I kept quiet about it and had designed that I would make my mind up at the 12-hour mark.
Riders just kept joining. It was like that scene in Forrest Gump when he kept running, and people joined him.
I was truly humbled and cried tears of joy (and tiredness) that so many people would do that to help me draft. I had groups of people with me for all but 15 km. It was so nice despite my extreme fatigue.
What does the 200,000km milestone mean to you? Do you see another 200,000km in your future?
It was a goal for sure, but not like the 100,000. I did not plan to do anything special as I am more conscious of not wanting to appear that I am ‘bragging.’ However, others cottoned on and made it special, so my thanks to them. I rode with Coco as there is always a good crew there.
Other ladies will overtake me in time. It will happen, and that will be awesome if I can pass on the baton. It is the circle of life.
How many hours did it take, how many pizza slices have you earned, how many XP points you have, how many drops do you have, and how many meters you have climbed? How many Kms do you think you have totaled during that time if you add your outdoor riding?
Ooh, I should have taken a screenshot at that point. As of today, I am at 201,203. That is 10,327 pizza slices, 1.142million meters of ascent, and no idea about my XP as I do not bother checking. I will say drops and XP are not motivators for me at all. I have spent 230 days on Zwift – titanium butt!
Outdoor riding, after checking Strava, I have ridden 250,986 simultaneously. So around 50,000 km IRL.
How did you celebrate the 200,000km achievement, and did it involve the virtual cycling community?
It has passed by, and per my wishes, it was low-key. It did not feature on my Strava or Facebook page, as I try not to do lots of self-promotion – non-Zwifters do not get it.
However, others celebrated it for me. Belinda Giles had a page set up, AHDR (Tim Searle) had a post, Jeff Heisler did a post, and Zwift Australia did one on Instagram and Facebook too. So very kind of people to do that. I also received numerous private messages.
Please tell us a bit about your outdoor real-life cycling experience. What type of riding do you enjoy and how many miles do you cycle outdoors?
Covered in detail above—I have ridden around 5,500 km in New Zealand, 12,000 km in Europe, and 3,200 in the UK.
I do not ride IRL around here much anymore as I Zwift! The only time would be to hop on a bike to go to a cafe ride!
So I Zwift to provide the endurance base for bike touring.
Do you have any exciting real-life cycling challenges on the horizon?
Very exciting plans. In May 2022, a 3,000 km ride (up to 25,000m ascent) is planned in France and Switzerland with a smidgeon of Germany thrown in. The plans are health (covid) and weather dependent. We will be carrying our own gear (so an extra 12-15 kg—not weighed yet).
I will hopefully have my new Trek Checkpoint SL7 with me—40 mm tires and really suited to gravel and touring.
We will start at my son’s house in Switzerland (Stein), cross the Rhine River into Germany, cross the Rhine again into France, head westerly across France via the Doubs and Loire Valleys to the Bay of Biscay.
We will then head south to La Rochelle and Ile de Re before heading east over many days to arrive in Annecy. Then onto Morzine, Lake Geneva, Lausanne, Lake Neuchatel, and the mountains and lakes of Switzerland.
Weather permitting, one of our so-called rest days will be Kleine Scheidegg, a wonderful route under the face of the Eiger. I wanted to do that in 2018, but unfortunately, the pass had not yet opened from the winter snows.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow Zwifters know about you? Please?!?
The floor is yours! Is there anything you would like to say?
Life is short. Live it
Love is rare. Grab it
Anger is bad. Dump it
Fear is awful. Face it
Memories are sweet. Cherish them!
Thank you for sharing, Sharron!
For more amazing stories highlighting the extraordinary ordinary individuals in virtual cycling check out the Community page of The ZOM.
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Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!
I am blessed to have the Mink Sharon Yaxley as my Neighbor now Friend 😀