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One of my first major event contracts was the Melbourne Cup/Spring Racing Carnival, and I had the job of opening the door of arriving limousine’s for VIP guests, most of whom where national, and international celebrities. I was truly in my element, surrounded by TV cameras and lots of glamorous people. I must have done a good job because at the next event, The Australian Open Tennis tournament, amongst other things, I would walk players out to the court, and make sure they got safely to and from their vehicles, before and after each match. Then we got the contact for the very first formula one grand prix in Melbourne. I was in my own personal heaven standing in the pits, surrounded by all the cars and drivers, whilst people paid thousands of dollars to sit in a grandstand on the other side of the track, and you would think I could not have been any happier.

 

I spent the following few years going from one major event to another. I did everything from the arranging the day to day lives of the best golfers in the world at the  Presidents Cup golf tournament, to ensuring the safety of the worlds best motorbike riders at Phillip Island MotoGP. I worked at everything from the Bells Beach Rip Curl Pro surfing contest, to major concerts, opening ceremonies, and gala dinners, and in between these major events I had weekly sports games, where I would often be inside a dressing room, standing on a stage, or in a packed stadium, with some of the most famous people in the world, in front of crowds upwards of one hundred thousand people, or other regular events to keep me occupied. I liked my job a lot, but my home life was very different.


I never really celebrated ‘me’ when I was in Australia. When I wasn’t working, I was still lost, so I would go into the city, and get wasted. I mean really wasted. I would often spend well over a thousand dollars when I went out, and even more over a big weekend. I would easily drink myself sober, and then drug myself to sleep. Yet I was somehow lucky enough to have people around me who occasionally made sure I felt important on my birthday, but I had already reached a point where I honestly did not know how old I was, because I wasn’t important, and I certainly never truly celebrated Christmas. I have never really cared about me, or money.


Sometimes I would be invited to join friends at their family’s Christmas, but often I chose to work so that someone there would not have to miss sharing the day with their family. I actually liked working Christmas for that reason, but regardless of where I was, I would try to ensure I had a nice meal, say a small thank you to God for the allowing me to be a part of everyone else’s life that previous year, and remind myself that Christmas was not about me, that it was okay to find a smile and in my own way celebrate. They were always the same.


The exception was 2004, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my room after working another Christmas all by myself, and I was looking at the card I had received, from my boss at that time. It simply said ‘Merry Christmas Karlyn, I wish you and your family all the best’, and in that moment I decided to again alter my future by contacting a few of the people I had lost for the first time since having everything stolen when I had first arrived in Australia.


I was working at Government House in Melbourne. It had taken me twelve years to work my way from having nothing, to get there, and now be in a good job that I loved, surrounded by people that genuinely cared about me. I had a nice three-bedroom house that I could afford on my own. I was buying brand new furniture, and able to pay all my bills on time. I was even considering buying my own house, but I had reached another crossroads in my life.


I somehow realised in that moment I again had a choice to make, that I now had to choose between staying in Australia, and living happily ever after, or coming back to New Zealand, to see if it really was my home.


I now had more ‘things’ than I ever had before, my quality of life was good, and I was approaching 10 years long service at work, which would mean a cash pay-out, and more holidays each year, but I had discovered something that I now wanted to change in my life. I felt that there was something missing, or at least I thought there was, and the only real option I had, was to do something about it.


I have learnt that life leads me to choices that I get to make, and that there is always a right choice, and a wrong choice, and by choosing correctly life will lead me somewhere else, to some where I really am meant to be. By not making the right choice does not mean that bad things will happen, it just means that my life will not change, even if I want it to. I have learnt that life also provides us with all the necessary information that we require to be able to make the right choices. We just need to look for that information in our lives.


In mid-2004 someone living in the building next door to where I was living at the time died in his sleep, this had a huge impact on me because they were not found for two weeks, and I could not stop thinking 'How can someone die and not be missed for two weeks?' before realising that so easily could have been me.


I did not have consistent relationships with anyone in my life, certainly not with any of my family, and because I had drifted in and out of so many people’s lives I had lost any sort of direction, and I quickly realised this fact alone was a huge part of what I believed I was missing in my life, but it was also something that I could change, and with just a little bit of effort that is what I did.


I began by writing a letter to each side of my family, simply wishing them a merry Christmas and happy new year, and I received a reply to each letter almost immediately. This quickly led to regular contact, phone calls, and then half a dozen visits back to New Zealand.


I met another sister, and brother, nieces and nephews, cousins, aunties and uncles, and long-time friends of all sides of my family, whilst I separately renewed relationships with my birth mother, and birth father, and on one visit I even ticked another box when had my first ever birthday with my birth father, mother, and all my sisters together.


Each time I came to back to New Zealand the bonds I was creating would grow stronger and stronger, making it harder and harder to leave each time. I think I discovered more of myself in those visits back to New Zealand, than I did the whole time I had been away, and I quickly reached the point where I felt choosing between the two countries was simple.


It was really hard leaving Australia behind, especially my friends, because I think some part of me knew that no one in New Zealand would get to see that part of my life, and no one in Australia would get to see my new life, and I kind of wanted them to. I left behind a very good part of my life, but that part of my life is something I will always keep with me.


New Zealand has always been home. I was grateful for all I had achieved in Australia, but it was time to rediscover New Zealand, and go home, which is what I did next.


Initially I spent time with each part of my family, and to make sure I was in a position to pay for myself, I got a job delivering washing machines, because even though I gave up thousands of dollars to come home with very little, I wanted to do what I was doing without having to ask anyone for anything, and so that is exactly what I did.


I realised two things very quickly. The first was that I had made the right choice, that having a relationship with my family was an important part of my life that I was missing in Australia, and even though I knew that each member of my family had their own life already, I could be a part of it, and for me that was enough. The second was that I actually knew very little about New Zealand, and that needed to change. I needed to rediscover the New Zealand I grew up knowing.


Someone I knew suggested I should drive tour buses around New Zealand, and like I was saying earlier, life leads us to where we should be, so the more I thought about this, the more I realised that it was what I wanted to do. This job would allow me to visit my family scattered around New Zealand, and yet still permit me to do my own thing. I could see, and learn, about all of New Zealand, and have some fun doing it. So I applied, got the job, and then fell in love with New Zealand again as I took groups of people all around my beautiful country.


My job consisted of taking large groups of complete strangers from all over the world, and showing them as much of New Zealand as I could, whilst entertaining them, feeding them, educating them, and making them feel welcome, in the most scenic country on the planet. I went well beyond what was expected of me as I quickly figured out that the happier the entire group were, the better the trip was for everyone, including me.


I was a little different compared to our other drivers, as my main focus was not so much me guiding each tour, but rather allowing each group to dictate what they wanted to see and do. My personality allowed me to create a trip where everyone on my bus became an important part of the tour, rather than just being on one. As a result no two tours were ever the same, and as I took my role seriously, wanting to show everyone as much of Aotearoa as I possibly could, I quickly gained the reputation of being very good at what I did, and I probably learnt more from the people on my bus, than they learnt from me.


One of my very first passengers was a young lady from Germany who had travelled to New Zealand after the death of her father. He was born in New Zealand, but she had never been here before. It was my responsibility to show her the country in which her late father had come from. I did my utmost best to do that by stopping more often than I was perhaps meant to, and squeezing as much as possible into each day as I could. I began taking group photos, and organising group meals, as often as possible so everyone had as many memories as possible. I wanted everyone to share not only the journey that she was on, but also become a part of it, and that was an attitude I maintained ever since.


I was still a little bit naughty, but never as naughty as I could have been, and certainly not as naughty as some of my co-workers. I gave myself rules, and mostly I stuck to them. As a result everyone was comfortable, in a safe, relaxed, and fun, environment, because I made sure of it. My previous experience allowed me to achieve that, my personality allowed me to achieve even more.


It did take some adjusting. I had spent the last ten years in an incredibly professional environment, working hard, and then playing hard separately, so when my job was to play hard, it did take a little while to find a balance that I was comfortable with.


Over the following few years that I was there I got in trouble for a few things happened, things that I disagreed with mostly because they were no worse than what others were doing whilst I was there that made it seem like I was being singled out, and unfairly treated because the truth was I was actually trying harder to do a good job, than be like everyone else. My life then again took me through a series of events that ultimately led to a situation I am almost certain no one else could have got themselves into, and so I left the job I had learnt to love, and the first job that I had I can honestly say never felt like work, bitter and angry at how it all happened.


Again I found myself a bit lost, wanting to do more than I was actually doing. That led me to back to Wellington, and a short stay with my adopted parents, whom over the years I have discovered a new respect for within the knowledge that as different as we are, I know that in their own way they love, and do actually care about me. That like any parent they want the best for me, and that if I was ever in trouble they would probably be the first people there to help.


I have some unpleasant memories as a child growing up, and I blamed myself for all of them because I felt that it was all my fault. It is only as I have grown older that I have learnt children make mistakes, but so do adults. Children react in a variety of ways, and so do adults. It is nobody’s fault children do what children do, it is just that they haven’t learnt differently, and adults do exactly the same thing. It seems like one of my biggest problems is actually learning, and something I still need to learn is that I am not a bad person, because sometimes I do still feel like I am. But I think I am slowly learning otherwise.


It was whilst I was in Wellington that I was inspired to cycle around New Zealand, and to this day I cannot offer any better reason for me deciding to do it, other than I thought at the time it was just the right thing for me to do. That my life had brought me to the point where it was something that I thought that I could do, but I was never really sure.


I am not going to sugar coat this next bit, I literally had no idea what I was doing. I have had many challenges in my life, but all of them were unintentional. Cycling around New Zealand was planned, it was a challenge that I had set myself, and I think now that by completing that challenge I allowed myself to discover not only a part of me that wanted to help other people in the future without wanting anything in return, but also the part of me that challenged a preconceived perception that the world in which I lived was not a good place.


I have seen some terrible things growing up, and I have been told stories by other people of even worse things in their lives. There is a huge percentage of people who experience what can only be described as a life less than what we all deserve, and having travelled in, and again out of, so many people’s different lives, I actually consider myself lucky to be able to do what I have the options to do, because so many people don’t have the same options, and that is something I am trying to change.


I know I cannot change the world by myself, I know that bad things will continue to happen to good people, but I believe that I can do my part to make the world in which we all live a better place. Cycle for Life allowed me to see that.


When I finished I was in was in Wellington, but I knew that I could not stay there. That led me to back to Hamilton. Somewhere I knew was not the ideal place to set up Custom Vision Photography, but it was somewhere that I knew would allow me to create my own path. I knew by moving to Hamilton I would not receive any help, that my birth father was there were doing what he did, and if I wanted to do something other than what he was doing, I would have to do it all by myself.


I started by getting a job in a factory to pay the bills, and on Saturdays I would sit at the local market with a table and folder filled with photos. Most people would just walk past, but occasionally someone would stop, and I would get to share with them my journey. I did not look very professional but it was a start.


I quickly reached the point where I knew if I was to progress, I had to do even more than what I was doing, I needed to be more professional, and attract more attention, which led to me registering Custom Vision as a business, and building my 'Photo Cart', something I am immensely proud of.


I had not yet set myself up to actually sell anything, but already discovered that for every step forward I wanted to take, I actually would take two steps backwards before actually taking that important next step forward. In business wanting to do something on my own, and being able to, were two very different things, but instead of giving up, I persevered.


I created a few cards, and learnt to build picture frames. I continuously worked on my cart, until it was as good as I could make it by myself. I selected a few images that I liked, and put them together in the frames that I had created, and finally had a few things that I was able to sell. Each week I would create more, and each week I became increasingly proud of what I was doing, wanting to do more, and more.


I got myself into a position where I was ready to take the next step, but I needed help to do it, and the short version of what happened next is quite simple, I never got the help that I needed, and so I took another step back.


Fortunately, that step back allowed me to get back on my bike and cycle around New Zealand again, and this time around I knew what to do. But I made a huge mistake, and learnt a very important lesson.


In 2010 when I did my original bike ride, I could not afford to buy a proper bike, so I built one from spare parts, then painted it up to look nice. I used the best spare parts I could find, and the bike I built was pretty damn good if I do say so myself. It was completely the wrong type of bike, and way too small for my 140kg/6ft4in at the time body, but it worked. So much so that I used the same bike again the second time around.


The problem in 2013 was I knew what I needed to do, but I let somebody else do it, and effectively because I let someone else to set up my bike, and I took a short-cut, and it caused me nothing but problems until I sorted them out. That cost me a lot of time, and money, both things that I could not afford, after I had actually begun. That was a mistake, and I learnt that lesson the hard way, because the beginning of Cycle 4 Life 2 was a lot harder than it needed it be.


The things I did organise myself were better, like the new seat, flyers, uniform, and trailer adjustments. They all contributed to make Cycle 4 Life 2 even better than my original bike ride around New Zealand. The support I received was amazing, and a part of me wishes that I could do it every year, because I really did make a positive difference in people’s lives by doing it. I don’t think that there will be another one, mostly because I was very, very sick by the time I finished Cycle 4 Life 2, but only God knows what is install in the future, I certainly don’t know what is next.


With that said, my second bike ride did give me plenty of time to think about what I really want to do. It gave me lots of time to think about my next step, and as I had already taken a step back when I did not get the help I needed in Hamilton to take a step forward, I decided that I should better prepare myself to take that step on my own.


You see I thought when I was in Hamilton that I wanted to start my own shop, a small café/gallery that allowed me to grow further, but I wasn't really sure, so when I was unable to do that there I guess I kind of thought I would figure out something else that I wanted to do instead, but the funny part is that I didn’t. Instead, what I figured out was, I am going to start my own shop/gallery, and I am going to do it without needing anyone’s help. I am going to do what I actually want to do, mostly just because I think it is a good thing for me to do, and the only person who is going to stop me, is me.


Ever since I can remember I have always done whatever I can to help those around me, and life has allowed me to do that in its own way, regardless of where I have been, and what I have had. Life has given me lots things, and it has cost me everything I have ever earned, more than once, and I know already that life will continue to give me options, probably in the form of challenges, but now life has seemingly given me a direction, somewhere that I want to be so I can continue to do what I have been doing, and I truly believe that all I have to do next is what I really want to do.


So, perhaps surprisingly, my next step is to take a step back, back to something I love doing, and I am going to drive tour buses around New Zealand again to repay all the money I owe, then try and save a deposit for my cafe/gallery. I am going to show people not only the New Zealand that they have come to see, but I am also going to show them the New Zealand that I love, because when I was riding my bicycle around New Zealand, I realised that not only am I very good at what I do, but people coming here deserve the opportunity to be able to see what I have seen. Aotearoa is not just a place with pretty scenery, a diverse culture, and somewhere that hobbits were created. It is somewhere that I call home, and I want to share that with as many people as I can before I fall in love with something else. Maybe even someone else.


There are so many people that I want to thank who have been a part of my journey. Some I have spoken about on these pages, others have stories I am unable to accurately define in a few words.


Some of you I only spent moments with, others will always be a part of my life regardless of where our day to day lives take us, and I want you all to know that am grateful for each and every one of you, because I would not be who I am without all of you. I hope that if you are reading this that you know, regardless of who you are, that you are now an important part of my story because you can do something positive where ever you are, as I continue to work towards creating something that I hope makes the lives of New Zealand kids better. You are all now a part of this, no matter where, or who you are.


So to each and every one who is a part of my life, whether it be in my past, at this moment, or at some point in the future, regardless of who you are, thank you for being you, and allowing me to be who I am.


And finally, to all of my family. I will always love each and every one of you, no matter where I am, or what I do.


I am, quite simply, who I am … .. .



“As tender as a kiss and as simple as my touch, life in my palm I now hold up for you.


I am a ghost, a spirit wandering from room to room in search of a way out,

in search of a resting place amongst strangers.


As I have seen the angel of death take all, I have held a new born to hear a first breath,

and I shed a tear within the knowledge that this child must grow.

 

I am but one and alone I stand trapped within the freedom that I have created,

except no one will know why unless I continue to try.”



. .. … Dean (Karlyn) Connolly