Alison Jackson is everything I’m not: comfortable in her own skin, willing to embarrass herself in the name of entertaining others, and a really coordinated dancer. I have been quietly watching her from afar, trying to figure out her secret and the gateway to such unbridled joy on the internet, and then finally I thought, maybe I should just ask her. How did someone from a teeny, tiny town in Canada manage to carve out a space for fun and frolicking amongst the traditional cycling community, that is vehemently obsessed with professionalism, speed and pulling your best range of serious facial expressions on the bike?
The answer was deep and meaningful in a way I couldn’t have foreseen, and when I closed down our Zoom session filled with so much jubilation I had a little giggle to myself that this all started with my least favourite social media app, TikTok.
If you’re not aware of Alison’s TikTok prowess, firstly, where have you been? Secondly, behold….
…..swagger, silliness and being serious about making people laugh is Alison’s thing.
She is an entertainer. Unafraid of what people think. Willing to risk being ostracised. Alison is simply, being Alison. I cried with laughter as we chatted about the images we are fed from the professional peloton, and what it could be like if things went the way Alison would like;
“I thought it would be so cool if we could have a league like the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), with storylines, everything all really over the top. Like we’d come to Flanders and then trash talk each other. Everyone would have to be on board obviously.”
Yeah, I can’t really see the idea taking off. But I really wish it would.
Just as I wish I’d grown up in a place that was a little more forgiving of people’s differences, as Alison did. She was born and raised in Vermilion, a town in Alberta Canada, with a population of approximately 4,000. It turns out, as Alison explains, that can be good for the soul:
“In small towns, or at least in my small town, everyone’s a little bit quirky, it’s not like in a big place where you get to find people just like you and only hang out with them because there’s not that many people to choose from. So you just allow people to be who they are.
Like in highschool I loved doing handstands, in the classroom, in the hallway. No one thought that was weird. It was just like ‘oh that’s just what Alison does’. But then when I went to uni, the response was like ‘oh what is this?!’. So that was weird for me.”
Alison’s freedom of expression may have been born in the allowing school halls of Vermilion, but it was cemented by her Christian upbringing. She went to theology school and spent a lot of time studying the bible, wanting to ensure if she was going to call herself Christian, she knew exactly what she was signing up for. Her eyes are wide open, explaining she fully accepts the challenges with bringing the bibles teachings into the modern day world, and also the pain that religion has caused others. She tells me;
“There are people that don’t want to talk about spiritual stuff, and the politics behind it all can get super uncomfortable. But I also think some uncomfortable conversations are fine. I want to come to those conversations from a point of curiosity. So I love hearing other people’s stories. I’ve heard so many stories of negative experiences with Christianity and lived lives of hurt so I do want to be sensitive about that. But also my story is my story and that’s fine to tell.
Like with my stuff if someone wants to ask, then I’m fine with sharing my why, but if no one does then that’s also fine.”
As with everything, Alison is comfortable enough in her own skin enough to live and let live.
As an atheist I don’t often get the opportunity to talk to people about religion, faith, or spirituality. All too often we live inside echo chambers, surrounded by people we believe are our people, those that are aligned with our values and beliefs. Despite all the technology and ways we have to stay connected, we now live in a society that is more divided than ever. By trying to get closer, we are somehow getting further apart.
Talking to Alison I could see that we are more similar than we are different, and despite our opposing beliefs, I was learning and growing through talking to her.
After all it is her faith, combined with her experiences, that have led her to live by three guiding principles, which I think we can all agree are a pretty good way to live:
- Follow the opportunity, say yes and collect stories
- Do what you can, with what you have right now
- Live with passion and purpose
Follow the opportunity, say yes and collect stories
“I always follow the opportunity and say yes. For example, one year my goal was to do something uncomfortable every day. It could be talking to someone new, or be the first to go to lunch, or sit at the table by myself. I think that way you expand what you think is uncomfortable.
I think life is basically story collecting. Experience confirms there’s a lot of magic in this world when you’re willing to open yourself up to it.”
Do what you can, with what you have right now
“We’re all made super unique, with special skills. In a moment you might not think you have everything you need to make yourself successful, but then you take stock of what you do have and you realise maybe you have more than you thought. Soak in the good things, it’s not about what you don’t have, it’s about what you do have, and going full blast into that. That opens opportunities, but also gives you purpose in the moment.
That’s what I call creative survival: when you have less than what you need, allow it to make you think outside the box.
For me for example with cycling, my age and coming from Canada were against me. I could have thought ‘oh these people started riding bikes earlier than I did, so i’ll never be as good as they are’. Or that ‘they’re from this country, and they know this person, so they’ll have more opportunities’. But really that just closes off stuff.
Feeling bad for yourself doesn’t get you anywhere. If you turn it around and think ‘what do I have right now that I can use to overcome the barriers?’
So for me it was ‘I’m in Europe, and I don’t have the regular distractions of family, so I’m just going to use my time to go to the park and practice all the drills I didn’t do when I was 12 like the Dutch girls’. So it’s about reframing everything. “
Live with passion and purpose
“I just want to story collect as much as possible while I’m here and invest in the people that I’m with right now. Life rolls on and builds by itself. Ultimately, if I really enjoy what I’m doing, then I’ll keep doing it, until I’m not.
It’s also my belief that things will just work out. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know I’ll be fine. I think if you have the attitude of wanting to see what the new opportunity is with a new challenge, you’ll be able to see it and deal with it.”
I have no doubt Alison will be more than fine. With her grounded life philosophy and moves like Jagger, she’s got it all. She’s not too bad on the bike too, she recently became an Olympian after all.
As I slide back into my usual role of watching her from afar and wishing I had the balls to dance like no one’s watching, when everyone is, I make a mental note to live every day a little bit more like Alison. To say yes, to be grateful for what I have, and to turn up the music and let it all go more often.
Photo credit: Mark Janzen