Sacrifices are all part of the day job for King’s Lynn Stars skipper Rory Schlein
- Credit: Archant
As King's Lynn's captain is about to embark on his 15th season in British speedway, GAVIN CANEY sits down with Rory Schlein to see what life's really been like for the Australian in the UK.
One look into Rory Schlein's eyes tells you just how much he adores being a professional speedway rider.
Yet if you stare a little deeper into that desperately exhausted gaze – which lights up immediately when the Australian discusses how he feels about making a living out of riding a motorbike with no brakes – you can see pain. That hurt stems from deep, deep inside a man whose heart is as big as his personality.
King's Lynn Stars' captain is about to embark on his third term with the club and a 15th season in British speedway. That longevity will be celebrated during the popular figure's testimonial at his English side's Adrian Flux Arena tomorrow. And it's the least the Aussie deserves for the sacrifices he continues to make to entertain fans of the dangerous thrill-a-minute sport that's become his life.
Coventry-based Schlein, who has two daughters, Roxy-Lee and Ricci-Bobby with his long-term fiancee Natalie, said: 'I missed my missus when I was away but the feeling changed once I had kids. Sometimes I've missed their birthdays, which a lot of people take for granted. It's not nice to say, but I have missed some of them, some of their dancing shows – I try to go to every one I can – but you do miss out on a lot.
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'Family holidays too. I do try my best to take my kids and partner away as often as I can because I believe they've put up with enough with me, so I try and make up for it. But I think it's harder on them than it is on me, as much as I miss them. But they go without a lot – not having their dad around for say parents' teacher night. It's tough but that's the lifestyle I've chosen. They accept it, I accept it, and we try and make everything we can with the time that we've got.'
'Roo-Boy', as he is known, arrived to the UK as a shivering 16-year-old when he signed for the Edinburgh Monarchs in 2001. Now almost 31, he still remembers that bitterly cold night which saw his father Lyndon lighting a fire to keep his son's hands warm so he could actually hold onto his handlebars when he took to the shale. But not even the freezing weather could put out the red-hot passion that eventually inspired Schlein to go on make a big name for himself in Britain.
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A host of clubs followed, as did international recognition, and the trophies arrived – most notably during Coventry's treble-winning season of 2007. It's been a long journey which has taken Schlein right to the top and across the world on an adventure which has provided untold laps of oval circuits and many thousand more miles of travelling action in the air and on the road.
The Darwin-born slider, who will star for Lynn as well as clubs in Poland, Sweden and Germany this season just to earn a decent living out of a sport that can only dream of tapping into a mere fraction of football's money-making machine, said: 'If you ask any speedway rider 'what would be the one thing you'd take out of your job?' I think it would be the travelling.
'Our sleep patterns are not like any normal 9am-5pm worker or even a guy that's on late night shifts. You sleep where you can, whether it's in the back of a van, across three seats, in your own van which we deck out with beds, airport floors.
'The positions I've woken up in are endless. And that's one thing people probably don't appreciate, the hours that we do.'
The veteran isn't ready to give up on life on the road just yet though. At 30, Schlein hopes to compete for another seven years – if his badly damaged knees and back hold out that long.
So there'll be a few more 3.30am wake-up calls and early-morning flights to deal with yet. And all of that incredible effort remains worth it once it gets to tapes up for a sportsman who still realises he's living his childhood dream.
'A few years ago I was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr which is an illness that is down to fatigue,' said Schlein, a man who is never shy in giving his opinion.
'Casey Stoner (Moto GP) had it, quite a few people have, Ryan Villopoto (supercross) had it. You notice when they do have that they're literally empty – there's nothing left. And they seriously consider (quitting). And I did at the time. I had a bad year at Belle Vue (2012), the year before I came to King's Lynn, I got to the end of the season and I'd had so much on I'd had enough. But fortunately we've all got it. The bug. That's speedway and you just keep going. I just love what I'm doing.'
While Lynn's skipper continues to feel that way about his job, it's clear to see he won't be looking for a career change just yet.
Although after 14 tiresome years, you could hardly blame him if he wanted to.
Testimonial will 'raise the bar' for promoters
Rory Schlein is determined to make sure his testimonial is never forgotten.
King's Lynn's skipper will host a celebratory meeting of his British career at the Adrian Flux Arena tomorrow. And the Australian insists he has pulled out all the stops to make it a day to remember.
Schlein said: 'They (die-hard fans) don't care if Siegfried & Roy (musicians/entertainers) are out there riding their bikes, they just love their speedway. But I believe we need to start marketing to a different audience. Without the die-hards speedway wouldn't be here at the minute, so my utmost respect to these people.
'But I believe we can't direct our promotional packaging and marketing at these people anymore. We need to go in the complete opposite direction quickly or speedway's just slowly, slowly going to die.'
Live music, light shows and a stellar line-up – which now includes Bjarne Pedersen and not Emil Sayfutdinov after the Russian pulled out – are just some of the treats on offer during a show that will be similar to those seen at supercross and monster truck events.
'I'm trying to make a statement. I'm trying to raise the bar,' said the man who has had financial backing from firms like MRC and Timbers Lodge to help stage the extravaganza.
'I want people to drive out that gate and think 'far out, that's what I want to see every week. That's the direction I want our sport to go in'. I'm hoping with what I've done and got planned it's going to do that.'
Line-up: Schlein, Pedersen, Niels-Kristian Iversen, Kenneth Bjerre, Chris Holder, Troy Batchelor, Jason Doyle, Chris Harris, Scott Nicholls, Simon Stead, Dakota North and Olly Allen. Gates open at 4pm. The racing starts at 6pm.
To hear the full interview listen to West Norfolk Sports Podcast episode 58 at www.edp24.co.uk/wnsp