Ten years ago, when I ditched a full-time career in advertising and began a new life as a journalist, words never came easily to me, which made my chosen profession a curious form of self-flagellation.
But I knew I loved words, the power they can bring, and the stories they can tell, which, if done exceptionally well, provide a far more compelling tale than that offered by any other medium.
I also knew I loved cycling Ã¢â¬â still the most beautiful sport in the world, in my incredibly biased opinion.
And after a hopeless stint racing in Belgium and Holland, apart from being too old and the weather too cold, a career as a road cyclist was never the answer. It was simply a way to pass time because then, I still didn't know what I wanted to do.
So I persevered as a 'hack', what I soon discovered to be vernacular for the job we do. I did the hard yards, competing mostly with people ten years my junior, in a profession that in spite of its high skill level, does not pay all that well. (I'm still coming to terms with it.)
I began interviewing names I would have only dreamt of talking to as a cyclist. I read and read and read. Books on Coppi and Bartali. Books on Armstrong, LeMond. Books on the Grand Tours. And, of course, books on doping. Picking up where I left off at school, I studied French and Italian at night, and later on, each week I would make a two-hour return trip to see one of only two Dutch teachers I knew of in Sydney.
I took a punt, and at no suggestion other than my own, bought a cheap and nasty return airfare to Europe that took close to thirty hours to get there, only because it would save me less than $100 on the next cheapest ticket.
I rediscovered what I loved about Europe when I was there as a racer, went to races from the Scheldeprijs to the Tour de France, and tried to be the best I could be. Along with one other Aussie, we were Cyclingnews' Europe operation when staff writer numbers could be counted on one hand.
One thing I said to myself I would always do, however, is be a journalist Ã¢â¬â not a sycophant like a number of my colleagues have disappointingly become simply because it is the easier option Ã¢â¬â which meant asking tough questions when they needed to be asked, demanding that the public have a right to know, and basing my stories on topical events that were not always about who crossed the line first.
It was never my intention to seek the easier, populist angle, or to be popular. That is not the role of the journalist, and those who do that miss the point of what their job asks them to do.
Perhaps if I had ignored the all too frequent doping scandals or pretended it was all hearsay and tabloid fabrication, I might be less cynical than I am now. In fact, four years ago, about six months after Floyd Landis tested positive at the 2006 Tour, I did quit the sport in disgust, sick of the authorities not doing enough and the teams encouraging riders to chase results at all costs to save their title sponsors, with little to no consideration of the effect it may have later on.
Though after a year's hiatus, I could no longer ignore my heart: it was telling me to return to cycling, because there were enough people out there who wanted the fabric to change.
It was also the irrepressible enthusiasm and optimism of people like my SBS colleague Mike Tomalaris, who I can say without any hesitation, has done more to promote cycling in Australia than any other media professional. Cheers to you, Tomo.
However, while Australian cycling fans know how good our riders are, sometimes those abroad do not. So over the last decade, the last half as a freelancer, that is what I have tried to do: to ensure our riders, our teams and our events like the Tour Down Under and Herald Sun Tour receive due recognition in foreign media outlets, and make sure they get the accolades they deserve.
This is something I feel I've done more than any other media professional in Australia Ã¢â¬â though much to the detriment of my bank balance!
So, on Sunday evening in Melbourne at the Jayco 2010 Australian Cyclist of the Year awards, when Cycling Australia awarded me the gong for best story for my cover story on Cadel Evans in the October issue of Procycling magazine, the most widely-read and revered publication on professional road cycling in the world, I was over the moon.
It was recognition from my peers that the job I was doing was worth something Ã¢â¬â something a lot more than money can buy.
Have a great Christmas, ride safe over the summer, and see you at the 2011 Tour Down Under.