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AUSTRALIAN STORY: Adrenaline Brush: Sophie Cape


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SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: So many athletes don’t make it. Everybody knows about the ones that do, but nobody ever hears about the ones that don’t.


JOEL CAPE, BROTHER: It was all or nothing, go hard, win or crash spectacularly.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: Being Sophie Cape’s mother is terrifying really.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I mean, I should have died a thousand times over, but I like pushing things right to the edge.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: She’s had too many near-death experiences that any mother would want to know about.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I kept pushing and pushing until eventually yeah, I just collapsed one too many times.

TIM OLSEN, ART DEALER: She’s a risk-taker and to be a great artist you have to be a risk-taker.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I have no idea where I would be without art. Art saved me.

TIM OLSEN, ART DEALER: Her work is just one big adrenaline rush. Her art mirrors her life.

TITLE: “Adrenaline Brush”

BRIDIE LUNNEY, ARTIST: Sport has taken both a psychological and physical toll on Sophie. Her body is completely covered in scars.

TIM OLSEN, ART DEALER: Sophie’s art’s opened up a can of worms, it’s made her have to confront herself on many levels and to, to really analyse her past and her future.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I do have chronic pain. My sporting injuries include, cracked skull, eight broken noses, two broken collarbones, shattered shoulder-blade, four broken ribs, broken wrist, thumb reconstructions, fractured fingers, two blown knees, spiral fracture of my tibia and fibula, broken ankles, fractured feet, fractured pelvis, fractured spine, several broken toes.

JASON GULBIN, AIS TALENT IDENTIFICATION AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER 2000 – 2013: The average person’s probably going to say, “It’s ok, I’ve had enough thanks.” But that’s not the constitution of an elite athlete. They are relentless, they are driven.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: Throughout her life she has pushed herself extraordinarily hard, much more so than she should. You know I’m always saying, “Look, near enough is good enough sometimes”, but she wanted to be the best, she wanted to be perfect, everything had to be right. And I don’t think that’s an easy thing to sustain and I’ve always worried about that a bit in her.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I never thought about being an artist. In fact, I ran away from it intentionally because you just, you know, you don’t want to do what your parents do.

BRIDIE LUNNEY, ARTIST: Ann, Sophie’s mother is an extraordinary artist.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: My grandmother was an incredible artist as well.

BRIDIE LUNNEY, ARTIST: There was no way that she was going to be following in her mum’s footsteps and her grandmother’s footsteps. It was a rebellion against that because it was also a given. It was an obvious choice and she’s not very interested in obvious choices. She was much more interested in following in her father’s footsteps. She wanted to be a fighter pilot.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: Dad was amazing, he joined the Air Force when he was 14. He always wanted to fly, he grew up in the bush, they said to him, “you can’t fly because you’ve got blue eyes, you can’t see the sky”, stupid things like that. But he was determined and he was in the Air Force for many years and then he moved to Qantas.

JOEL CAPE, BROTHER: Soph had a different kind of bond with Dad. Special I’d say.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I mean, I idolised him and worshipped him when I was a kid, I copied everything he did, I studied subjects he liked at school. I learnt to write with my left hand because he was left-handed. From the moment we could walk, he would have us running around in the dark every morning doing star jumps, sit-ups and push-ups. I hated it, I have to say. My first two broken noses were on those runs, running into walls in the dark and things like that. He taught us, “pain is only weakness leaving the body.” And “second place is the first loser.” And “a bored person is a boring person.”

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: She can still remember him pushing her a bit too hard she seems to think.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: It just made me more determined. I remember the first time I broke my leg him yelling at me that it, it didn’t hurt and me just going “nope, it doesn’t hurt, doesn’t hurt!” It seemed normal to me because I was in it, but in hindsight yes, it might be detrimental to a kid. But I mean I’m really grateful for it because I wouldn’t have done any of the things I’ve done if he hadn’t brought me up that way.

Bridie Lunney: “I love this photo of you so much, because you are so unimpressed about being in a pink tutu!”
Sophie Cape: “I know! Very unimpressed!”
Bridie Lunney: “That little scowling face.”
Sophie Cape: “I hated ballet. I hated it.” 
Bridie Lunney: “I know. I can tell.”
Sophie Cape: “Not happy! I was not happy. This, I was happy about!”
Bridie Lunney: “Yeah, that’s much more you in your element, a tomboy, semi-naked up a tree! Nothing’s changed.”

BRIDIE LUNNEY, ARTIST: We were at school together, so we’ve known each other for a long time. She was very shy, except when she went onto the sports field, and then she transformed. I remember watching her chase this hockey ball with the most ferocious intensity, with the biggest competitive spirit, as though her life depended on it, and that bit hasn’t changed.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I think the drive comes from dad. Nothing was ever good enough. We could have always done better. 
dad, when he was in the Air Force, he flew over Thredbo and saw it and went “that looks fantastic, I want to try that.” And so from the time we were little, we would all go down there to ski, we were just like a little train and we all had exactly the same ski suits on. And I loved the challenge of me versus the mountain. When I finished school I really didn’t know what to do, so I went over to Canada and became a ski instructor. Then I started doing some races, and I loved it. I loved the adrenaline rush, I loved the speed, I loved how difficult it was.

CHRISTIAN HILLIER, FMR HEAD SKI COACH, PERISHER BLUE: I met Sophie in 1996 when I was the head coach for Perisher Blue. Sophie was one of the athletes on that particular ski team. She had a serious desire to learn to ski race competitively better and to go faster and faster.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: The dream always is to get to the Olympics but other things happened.

CHRISTIAN HILLIER, FMR HEAD SKI COACH, PERISHER BLUE: There was a little twist of fate when one morning we had super-G training. Sophie had an extremely bad crash, and at the time we didn’t realise it was as catastrophic as it turned out to be in fact.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: My leg snapped off at the top of my ski boot and it was just flapping around as I was cartwheeling down the hill with my, the boot and ski still attached and so it was just sort of my leg ended below the knee and then the sort of the suit and then there was, by the time I stopped, it was just my foot and everything was over there somewhere.

MATT CAPE, BROTHER: She ended up with an open wound, it was effectively shoe-laced together, so her whole shin was open you know maybe four or five inches.

CHRISTIAN HILLIER, FMR HEAD SKI COACH, PERISHER BLUE: She got a staph infection and they had to do a skin graft. And she said to me, “Look, I might lose my leg” and I thought, “My God, no”.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I think I was so high on morphine I was like “that’s fine I’ll just go to the Paralympics!” And then they said “we can manage to keep the leg” but I would certainly not walk properly again, and definitely never ski again or anything like that but it’s kind of like as soon as anybody says to me you can’t do something, I’m just, it’s like a red flag to a bull. It took 12 months to recover from that and get back skiing.

CHRISTIAN HILLIER, FMR HEAD SKI COACH, PERISHER BLUE: Even psychologically to want to even get back on skis after that is absolutely extraordinary.

JOEL CAPE, BROTHER: Dad, he was very proud, and I guess, you know, she saw maybe how happy he was when she did well that maybe the fear of the disappointment if that didn’t happen might have been there.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: I always had that fear whenever she was racing. That the odds were so high, if you fall at that speed in those conditions, you know, it’s very likely that can be fatal. That’s why I never went to any of her races. So when she was competing in the World University Games in Slovakia, Bill went over to watch her.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: He came over and rescued me from Slovakia when I absolutely annihilated myself. When you crash, it’s almost like slow motion, you remember every single twist, turn, snap, crack, you remember everything. That was the end, there wasn’t any repair for my knees after that.

CHRISTIAN HILLIER, FMR HEAD SKI COACH, PERISHER BLUE: I think the universe stepped in and said, “time to move on to another sport”.
SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: After the Sydney 2000 Olympics the Australian Institute of Sport felt that there was a gap in female track sprint cycling for the next Olympics, and they went looking for girls all over the country.

JASON GULBIN, AIS TALENT IDENTIFICATION AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER 2000 – 2013: Sophie was one of the 450 people that applied. She had this extreme mental toughness. I mean if you come from a sport like alpine skiing, you know, you're no shrinking violet there. You're as tough as nails and, you know, Sophie very much brought that steely determination.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: They made us do jump tests and power tests and tests on the bike and in the end they chose twenty of us. And gave us a few weeks to train with them and then put us into nationals. Normally as an athlete you start really slowly until your body adapts. But we went straight into the velodrome, straight into the gym, straight into the sprints. So it was all power and all speed right from the start. So people started getting injured and over-trained and falling apart or just giving up.

JASON GULBIN, AIS TALENT IDENTIFICATION AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER 2000 – 2013: This project actually, this sprint cycling project has become a very important case study about what not to do in terms of follow up development. So, we clearly got it wrong.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I did feel like a bit of a guinea pig or a lab rat. I started getting really serious leg pain and we couldn’t figure out what it was from.

JASON GULBIN, AIS TALENT IDENTIFICATION AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER 2000 – 2013: Sophie underwent two very invasive surgeries, designed to try to help her.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: What we decided to do was cut the fascia off my quad muscles. So effectively what they did is they stripped the sheath off the outside of the muscles like the skin on the outside of a sausage to allow them to grow, without restraint. It was pretty amazing when I went back training with these huge Frankenstein scars all the way down my quads and as soon as I started training they just went whoop!

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: I mean she had these massive muscular thighs. I thought that was pretty ghastly I have to say. In fact, I thought it was horrendously extreme.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: The times were fast — everything was great but then the pain came back again and it was much worse. So that’s when we tried the vascular surgery. They thought well maybe what we could do is widen the arteries going into the legs. So they cut my stomach open on both sides and took veins out of my shins and put patch grafts into my arteries to make them larger. So I have these oversized arteries going into these oversized muscles.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: Devastated, absolutely devastated by that. I just couldn’t believe that, that she’d done that to herself.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I mean of course I was going to try this sort of, I suppose you could say, experimental surgery but it was because you know I was in pain and I wanted to keep training and get faster.

JASON GULBIN, AIS TALENT IDENTIFICATION AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER 2000 – 2013: The first thing you have to realise is that elite athletes are not normal people. And so they are looking for the edge. They are looking to achieve their dreams and their goals and they'll leave no stone unturned in doing that.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: I sort of got the impression that it was a bit of an experiment.

JASON GULBIN, AIS TALENT IDENTIFICATION AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER 2000 – 2013: I wouldn't say that they were experimental body modifications. My experience in working with the medical staff at the Australian Institute of Sport is they're super qualified, super confident, very risk averse and surgery is often a very last resort.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: You do trust the doctors and the coaches and what their opinions are. But also in the end it was my decision.

REBECCA BAILLIE, ABC PRODUCER: And you wouldn’t change it?


JASON GULBIN, AIS TALENT IDENTIFICATION AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER 2000 – 2013: Unfortunately for Sophie those surgeries really didn't improve or make a large difference.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: We tried everything, but they just came to the conclusion that it was severe over-training and didn’t know what the solution was. So that was the end of all sport for me for the rest of my life.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: You know her love-life and her career, everything, it crashed at the one time.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I fell into a really black hole for about a year, could barely leave the house. I was deeply depressed. I was lost, suicidal. Everything I’d been working towards and training for and dreaming of, was now absolutely, truly impossible. And I didn’t really know what to do, or what I was anymore. Nothing really made any sense anymore.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: It’s alarming as a parent. She would sit in front of television in a darkened room and watch just nothing, but she wouldn’t go out, she wouldn’t take phone calls, she didn’t want to see her friends. She didn’t want to see anybody.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: You know I went to drugs and alcohol. I’d jumped off roofs and fractured my back, I’m still hurting myself. But nothing replaced that challenge of training at that level. And it was just by fate I ended up at Art School. People had been trying to get me to go ever since I was a kid and I was like, “no!” Because I’d seen mum struggle, trying to make a living as an artist, and I was more focussed on sport. But I just knew I needed to do something so I thought “bugger it, let’s just go to art school for a little while and see if that helps in any way shape or form”.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: It was just what she needed at the time. So I knew it would work, if I could get her there.

Ann Cape: “That’s your grandmother, Gwenna, at Art School, she was was only 16” – 
Sophie Cape: “Oh my god!”
Ann Cape: “- when she started at Art School which is pretty amazing. She was so young. This must be the Art School ball, dressed up as a pirate. She was a bit of an exhibitionist really.”
Sophie Cape: “Didn’t she do some centrefold thing?”
Ann Cape: “She did! She did the centrefold for ‘Man Magazine’, not that they were nude, they were actually very scantily clad. So that was her forte, she used to draw these very beautiful buxom young ladies with little scanties on and that was the ‘Man Magazine’ centrefold.”

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: Mum’s very determined. When she went through Art School, figurative work was not fashionable, nor portraits. But she stuck to her guns. She’s been in the Archibald twice. She’s won so many awards, I can’t even begin to try to list them. 
When I first started at NAS (National Art School), yes I felt definitely I was constantly being compared to my mother, which I found really tough. And being told that I drew just like her, but after a while that shifted. I had a fantastic teacher at Art School that was like, “go big, take a huge bit of canvas outside, use your body as a tool like you do in a race, and vent these sort of emotional, psychological, internal angsts that you’ve got.”
I’d created my own sport in a way. I had to be bold and brave and take risks and I loved working outside. I’d go to throw the paint in that direction and the wind would come up and it’d go over there, or the canvases would get blown away. I like throwing it around and dragging it through the bush because I like what happens to it and that chaos and uncertainty. It’s really satisfying because I’m competing against myself and I get the rush and the adrenaline from trying to be a better artist.

JOHN OLSEN, ARTIST: My son and I fell upon her work. We give a drawing prize at the National Art School each year.

TIM OLSEN, ART DEALER: My father got up in his beret and said “the winner of this year’s John Olsen Drawing prize is Sophie Cape!”

JOHN OLSEN, ARTIST: We saw Sophie’s work and were immediately astonished by the sophistication of it, the drive of it. Very very strong, very strong stuff. And my son very quickly said “what about having a show in my gallery?” Now, for a person who’s just graduated to be asked to have a show, that’s very unique. I mean, I never had that.

TIM OLSEN, ART DEALER: She looked like the lead singer out of a rock band rather than a painter. But I knew I wasn’t taking a risk for a minute. You know, she, she had it.

JASON GULBIN, AIS TALENT IDENTIFICATION AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER 2000 – 2013: When I learnt that Sophie had become an artist, I was a little bit gobsmacked. I actually envisaged Sophie sitting on the banks of the Yarra with her easel and her water colours, you know, painting the swans as they went by. And then I actually found out really what Sophie had done in art. It was this full on physical, tactile approach to her art which is totally Sophie, guns blazing, at a hundred miles an hour.

BRIDIE LUNNEY, ARTIST: She still has this idea that she needs to push until she drops.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I seem to have a talent for putting myself into extreme situations. In 2014, I climbed up to Everest base camp. I decided to stupidly drag this canvas up, tied it to my back, took it all the way, through the rivers, over the ice. I looked like an idiot, and all the locals found it very entertaining. It was actually kind of great because it forced this interaction on the local community and all the kids would jump on and sit on it and I’d have to drag them along as well, I was so exhausted! When I got up to base camp everybody got together and signed the back of the canvas.

BRIDIE LUNNEY, ARTIST: You know, she was going to base camp in springtime. It wasn’t meant to be the disaster that it ended up being.

JEREMY FERNANDEZ, ABC NEWSREADER (19/2/2014): At least 13 Nepalese sherpas have been killed in an avalanche on Mount Everest. It’s believed to be the most deadly, single accident in the history of modern mountaineering on the world’s highest peak.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: It was a shock to the system, knowing that they were there and walking next to you only a couple of days before and having a cup of yak’s milk tea in the tent and signing your canvas and then they’re gone. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do something with that canvas. It’s just I don’t know if I can do it justice.

Bill Cape, father: “What do you want me to do?”
Ann Cape, mother: “Just look up- keep looking out the window.”
Bill Cape, father: “Yeah, doing that. Yep.”

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: Fifteen years ago we started to notice that something wasn’t right with Dad.

Bill Cape, father: “I’ll do what I do best- listening.
Ann Cape, mother: “Alright, ok.”

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: He was diagnosed some years ago now with Frontotemporal Dementia. It’s very hard for him because he’s aware of losing his memory. And that causes an enormous frustration and depression, anxiety, it, and it’s, it’s really cruel.

Ann Cape: “Bill? Can you look out the window darling? Oh dear he’s asleep. What do you think, start again?”

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: It’s been really tough, because he was this man that I idolised and worshipped and adored, who’d suddenly, his personality flipped and he became aggressive and vicious and exhibited all this completely different characteristics to what we knew and loved. The man I adored still lives, but doesn’t seem to exist.

ANN CAPE, MOTHER: There is a sense of grieving really, of grieving for the person that was.

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I tried living here for a couple of years to help with the caring, but I actually made the situation worse, because I wouldn’t cope with how he was treating her and I would get upset at him and then he would get upset at her for turning us against him. You know I was in fact ruining any chance I had of still loving my father.
Mum and I were asked to do an exhibition together about dementia because of what we were going through. I started working during the night because it was the only way that I could get some clear thinking space. It was silent, it was black, I was blocked in and it was, like a safe place without the constant drama of what was happening in the house.

After I finished the dementia show I was a little bit broken, because of the emotional rollercoaster that I had had to go through of dealing with Dad and sort of breaking things down and thinking about the past and questioning everything and I just needed to vent in a really simple, cathartic straightforward way that didn’t require any thinking, and I just drew a face, my face.

BRIDIE LUNNEY, ARTIST: It’s not about having a tortured soul, we’ve all got darkness. She just accesses hers. And I think she’s actually much more good and centred and calm than she would let on. [laughs]

Ann Cape: “Ok, I’m just trying to clear a space!”

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: Right at the time that I needed to get away, I ran into an old friend from high school. Bridie lives in Melbourne and I always wanted to move to Melbourne!

BRIDIE LUNNEY, PARTNER: Going to Melbourne was actually a fantastic way out. She has a studio separate from her mother, and an ability to see Bill’s illness for what it is, and to find a place of empathy.

Bill Cape: “There’s that moon coming.”
Sophie Cape: “Yep. You were always good at reading the sky.”
Bill Cape: “Thank you, Sophie.” 
Sophie Cape: “We always looked to you to tell us what the weather report was, we never listened to the news.”
Bill Cape: “I hope so. I hope I do. Thank you, Soph.”
Sophie Cape: “Ha ha ha.”

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: Every bad experience isn’t really a bad experience. It’s just an opportunity to lead you into something else.

Sophie Cape: “OK Angus, it needs more water. Ready boys?”

SOPHIE CAPE, ARTIST AND FORMER ATHLETE: I remember people saying to me, “god you’re so unlucky!” and me going, “what? No I’m not, I think I’m the luckiest person in the world!” And it’s- I think it’s just a matter of perspective. I remember this old lady coming up to me in an exhibition once and touching me on the arm and go, “are you okay dear? I’ve just looked at your paintings, are you, are you okay?” And I was like, “yeah I’m fine, I’m fine. It’s all up there on the canvas.”

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