Nutrition & Health
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Date Posted: 26 August 2023
We're on a roll with sharing stories by dads who exercise and these guys are no exception. Meet Ben and Jim and learn how about what cycling means to them for mental health and overcoming challenges.
Ben Nicol, @ben_nicol13
How many children do you have and how old are they?
3, aged 13, 10 and 4
What is your sport/exercise of choice and how long have you been doing it?
Cycling. Started in 2007 as a commuter which quickly became my main vice as footy and cricket careers wound down. I ride with my partner and small bunches in Darwin, and with friends and larger bunches in Adelaide and Warrnambool
Do you have a favourite location or national park to exercise?
What is your favourite piece of equipment that you always use before/during/after your exercise?
Yoga mat, foam roller and softball
What is something you have learned since combining exercise and kids in your life?
To make the most of any time available and aim for shorter, more intense workouts when time permits. If anything it likely helps focus on better use of interval training
What are some challenges you have faced? How did you overcome them?
Besides the basic time issues, a serious crash shortly followed by a marriage breakdown. The associated mental health issues and working around 50/50 shared custody. Cycling was very helpful. Firstly setting recovery and comeback goals for motivation, and very helpful with clearing the head when struggling with life
What has been your greatest achievement in your sport?
From a very mediocre sporting career, my highlights would be being selected to play for the Australian indoor netball team. And lining up for a Melbourne to Warrnambool 13 months after fracturing a pelvis and 8 other bones
Do you have any future goals for your sport?
Complete the Warrnie (Melbourne to Warrnambool). To riide for as many years as I can
Do your children have any involvement in your sport?
Not yet. They show general interest in cycling and enjoy watching criteriums with me
How do you encourage your children to be active?
I try to lead by example. Eating relatively healthy and maintaining a very active lifestyle with them
How do you incorporate sport into your daily/weekly routine?
A change of career, then change of city has made routine a bit difficult the last year and a half. But I’ve tried to maintain some regular bike commuting to ensure I’m able to ride around irregular shifts
What advice would you give to another dad wanting to get into exercise/sport but may be unsure as to where to start?
Don’t be afraid to start. Particularly with bunches/clubs/groups. People right into the sport you want to try are nearly always far too keen to share all their expertise with you and have more enthusiasts in their sport
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Maintaining an active lifestyle for me is vital. I feel better mentally and physically when I do, and my energy levels are much higher. Even if my aches and pains increase with age. But yoga and stretching, do it! It helps so much
Two kids. 2 and 4 years old
Cycling, I’ve been doing it for about 16 years or so. I started riding regularly after buying a mountain bike to commute to uni on. Sometimes I ride with others, but a bit less now due to less time (kids etc). I actually used to do running before I started cycling. I don’t like it as much but it’s time efficient and good if I travel for work or something. I’ve done a marathon and a few half-marathons but usually I’ll do 5-7km just to fit something in.
Anywhere around the Adelaide hills as well as Belair National Park and Shepherds Hill Recreation Park.
Various bikes: gravel, cyclocross, light-touring bike, and MTB
Time is even more of the essence. I used to say “it wasn’t worth riding unless you did 80km”, now I fit in what I can. Depending on the bike, if I’m on the road maybe 50-60km, on the gravel or MTB between 20 and 30km.
Time. I’ve overcome this by accepting I can’t ride as much as I’d like, so I’ve started running more. I now appreciate commuting to work by bike.
A couple of 4 week self-supported cycling tours in Europe. Is that a sport? I don’t know but I reflect on those as two of the best things I’ve done in my life. The first one was Prague to Podgorica in Montenegro via Austria, Slovenia and Croatia with a mate. Second was Dresden to Nice including Czech Republic and Austria. Europe is amazing because there are so many towns and places to stay that you can almost make it up as you go. The whole thing about any trip on a bike is that you see so much and although it’s a cliche it’s all about the journey, not the destination.
I’ve done a couple of trips in Australia too; Adalaide to Melbourne along the coast and Melbourne through Bright on back roads. Riding by yourself means that you can push your limits and see what you’re capable of. For any beginners out there: you can bike pack on almost any bike with so many bag options now that strap on without needing mounts. Lightweight camping gear can be expensive, so if that’s a barrier just ride and stay at a caravan park with units or a motel. It’s less complex but still an adventure. Sometimes committing with someone else will make it happen so it’s good to have a like-minded friend.
Keep riding consistently and hope that the kids keep interested in riding too.
Occasional kids cyclocross races, otherwise riding bikes for fun.
At their age just encouraging them to play outside in whatever format. They do swimming lessons too.
Work commutes (35km) a couple of times a week, try to sneak in runs on work-from-home days and a longer ride on the weekend.
Try and do it with others so you have motivation to show up. I’ve joined a social cyclocross team (MOOD.cx) but I still have trouble getting to all events due to various commitments. Otherwise buy some running shoes and listen to a podcast.
If I don’t exercise most days I have trouble sleeping and have trouble with anxiety so exercise in some form is critical for my mental health.
* If you need support or information on mental health, contact Beyond Blue