In 2015, 16-year-old Zack Gilmore felt a lump behind his ear after finishing a cycling training session. Three days later, he received the news: a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis
In October of 2015, 16-year-old Zack Gilmore felt a lump behind his ear after finishing a cycling training session. He went to the doctor to find out what it was and, three days later, he received the dreadful news: a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis. Gilmore began chemotherapy right away at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. He also had some platelets put in to form plugs in his blood vessels that help stop bleeding in case of an injury.
The bright and promising young cyclist admitted that mentally, he first went in thinking he was pretty fit to handle chemotherapy and invasive injections. “I won a national medal a few weeks before I was diagnosed so I went in with my head held high” he said. As a side effect of the chemotherapy, he lost his hair and a lot of muscle in his legs. His weight also fluctuated. “I’ve seen my body transform and it’s pretty interesting to see what our bodies can do” he said. Being in the hospital for quite a while, Gilmore knew that the best way to deal with his sore legs was to ride on rollers. “I didn’t last too long so it didn’t help too much but mentally it was one of the best things for me” he said.
Road to recovery
Eight months later, Gilmore had to return to Melbourne for more treatment due to some blood issues. However, soon enough, he was declared cancer-free. “Trying to get back to normal. So, in and out of school at the moment which is a bugger that I’m not there all the time I guess. Back on the bike training as well” he said. He was put on oral chemotherapy treatment in order to stop the cancer from relapsing. In addition, he was given specific tablets to support that and other functions, including the prevention of infections.
Gilmore stated that he never really thought about the dark side of it all, but rather he was hopeful about getting back on his bike. “For me, the bike has been my major motivator through all of this. Without it I don’t think it would’ve been… well, it wasn’t easy but I don’t think I’d be in the position I was now. When I was facing my tougher times, my bike was helping me out the most. Whether that was me on my bike or just watching a bike race either of those really helped” he said.
Although it was rather confusing for him at the beginning of his diagnosis, Gilmore said that to him, cancer was more of a mental battle and being on a bike helped to clear his head. “I think a lot of other cyclists would be able to relate to that sort of feeling so I think that’s what I used more for when I was going through tougher battles” he said. Moreover, he admitted that one of his biggest lessons was dealing with the patience of having to wait for good news or bad news. However, having great clinical support, as well as family support really helped and made his battle with cancer a lot easier. “All the nurses and doctors are amazing without the support of people like them there’d be no chance of people getting healthier and I have to give my biggest gratitude to them for getting me through it as well as my family without them I don’t know what position I’d be in now” he said.
In an interview, Gilmore said that he was ‘almost glad’ to have gone through the cancer journey so that he could try and educate others who do not know much about cancer. “I’m not really ‘glad’ I’ve been through it. I’m glad I came out really well and I am still motivated for cycling because I kinda want to be a role model for other kids who are going through the same situation I’ve been through – just to show them it is possible to get back to where you were” he said.
Since his diagnosis, Gilmore has refused to let cancer slow him down. A little more than a week since his last round of chemotherapy, the brave young man made his professional debut in the Symes Motors BMW Bendigo International Madison. “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to be back on the bike racing. It’s been a real tough journey to get where I am – I had to start back from the ground floor” he said. “To be honest, it’s been such a learning curve for me that I’ve actually appreciated the time it has taken me to get back” he added. Gilmore teamed up with fellow cyclist, Josh Duffy, at the featured event at Tom Flood Sports Centre. He admitted that it was nerve wrecking coming up against a world-class field of international riders, “but equally exciting getting the opportunity to race against world-level guys and to be able to compare ourselves to them. We want to show there is pathway to get to their level.”
Gilmore was the third-generation rider to compete in the Madison, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Graeme, who rode in the 1970s, and his father Matthew, who rode through the 90s and 2000s. His uncle Luc also rode through the 90s and 2000s. “I always went over as a kid to watch dad, but now to be a part of it is exciting. It’s always been a dream of mine to follow in the footsteps of dad and hopefully forge myself a path to go over to Europe and race there in the future. Dad has always been one of my heroes when I look at trying to achieve things on the bike” said Gilmore.
Gilmore’s father, Matthew, reminisced on the fond memories he had of the Bendigo International Madison as a young kid. “It was always Christmas carnivals and the Bendigo Madison that we looked forward to and strived to do well at” he said. “It’s not just the Madison, it’s the atmosphere – it’s a special thing to soak up. It’s just an iconic carnival, which is now the pillar of Australian cycling” he added. Matthew said that he could not be prouder of his son Zack. Despite his battle with cancer being an emotional roller-coaster, his spirits remained up. “To go through what he has and still be a pretty competitive cyclist he’s done a great job” said Matthew.