BULGING DISC AND CRIPPLED FINGERS: THE BRUTAL TOLL OF BONNIE HANCOCK’S PADDLE
When Bonnie Hancock ran up the beach to complete her Shaw and Partners Paddle of Australia, she gave no indication of the “dehumanising” pain she was forced to battle every day.
That’s largely a reflection of her mental fortitude that was required to complete a 12,700 kilometre circumnavigation in a timeframe many deemed impossible.
But now, as the magnitude of her achievement begins to sink in, Hancock has spoken for the first time about the excruciating reality of her journey.
Joining The Paddler’s Pod on an extended interview episode, she revealed that she was forced to contend with a bulging disc in her back and fingers so crippled, she feared they would never recover.
“A lot of it over the last few months, to be honest, was quite horrific.” She admits.
“You think about the position of your fingers holding a paddle… at the end of a 14 hour day, I couldn’t get them out of that position.
“I couldn’t open bottle lids, I couldn’t write with a pen or even open a fridge door. It was agony.
“Basically from May onwards, I felt like 1000 needles were stabbing into my hands.
“The whole time I knew there was something seriously wrong with my back… but I just kept telling myself, ‘It’s just pain. I can get through this.’”
“The fingers I haven’t got checked out yet, but I’m hoping there’s no serious damage there.”
Since returning home, Hancock has received medical attention on her back, while there is improvement in the mobility of her fingers.
“I am sitting here wiggling them thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is like a party trick!’” She laughs.
As someone who naturally radiates optimism, the brutal toll of Hancock’s paddle around Australia has been challenging to reconcile with.
“Parts of the paddle were almost dehumanising in a way,” she says. “I had everything stripped away from me.
“Everyone would bring my clothes and help me get dressed when I was sea-sick.
“All I could eat was ice-cream and the boys would have to spoon-feed me then get my jaw and force it to make chewing movements… that’s how close we came to quitting in the Great Australian Bite.”
“I was still getting in the ski and doing 100 kilometres… it’s just amazing what the mind can do.”
In a wide-ranging interview with The Paddler’s Pod that is now available on all leading podcast platforms, Hancock also revealed just how close she came to quitting weeks after leaving the Gold Coast.
“I’ve never told anyone this actually,” she says. “There was a moment around Coffs Harbour where I was doing my first 100 kilometre day and it literally felt like my back was breaking.
I knew there was something wrong and I had the thought, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to do this.’
“I had all of these people invested, sponsors believing in me, Earl [Evans, co-CEO of Shaw and Partners] really backing me… I thought of how embarrassing it would be to pull out this early.
“I told myself I would just get to one month where it wouldn’t be as shameful to pull out. Then when I got to one month, I thought, ‘Do not let your past month self down. You can do one more month.’
“And every month I got to, I thought, ‘You are not going to let yourself down after what you’ve done over the past three months.
“It was the fear of not wanting to let my yesterday-self down that kept me going.”
“By the time I got to month three or four, when I started doing 130 and 140 kilometre days, I knew I was going to make it.”
Hancock also discusses the departure of her support vessel while in remote Western Australia, a split that placed her paddle in jeopardy.
“We felt lost,” she says. “That was definitely my hardest moment of the trip.”
As well as the added responsibility that came with supporting mental health charity Gotcha4Life – and the inspiration it gave her to complete this unfathomable adventure.
“It lifted me in a way I never, ever expected,” she says.
“When you receive those messages, you realise that everybody has been touched by mental health in some way.”
To support Bonnie’s fundraising campaign for mental health charity Gotcha4Life, click here.
Episode 35 of The Paddler’s Pod with Bonnie Hancock is out now on all leading podcast platforms.