From stowaway to sex worker; doctor to athlete, Lauren Roche has finally stopped running

With a new book, author and adventurer Lauren Roche tells Virginia Fallon there’s something good about sitting still for a while.

Of all the things Lauren Roche has done in her life, it’s one thing she hasn’t done that we’re discussing.

That’s because Roche recounts how, as a teenager, she snuck onto a ship in Wellington and stowed away for the trip to Seattle, hiding in a compartment below her deck.

Not even having enough space to sit properly, she was left there with three pairs of jeans, $40 and a pack of books which she read until her torch went out halfway through. journey path.

“I dug into a tin can, but I kept my poo. I haven’t made it for three weeks!

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Lauren Roche's new novel, Mila and the Bone Man, is now available in bookstores.


Lauren Roche’s new novel, Mila and the Bone Man, is now available in bookstores.

Now 60, Roche says she has spent most of her life running from one thing to another; example this adventure that she undertook at the age of 16. She was bored, she says, and like everything she did, it was a good idea at the time.

Other great ideas include a three-year stint as a sex worker; a period as a fire-breathing pregnant stripper; working as a hospital cleaner and a career as a general practitioner. It has been a life of reinvention where the only constant, for better or for worse, has been his determination to keep moving forward.

That’s the thing in life, Roche says from her home in Tutukākā, you can always choose to change direction.

And that’s what she did. After a back injury ended her medical career, Roche focused on writing, something she always loved, even though she never thought she could earn a living.

She has already published two autobiographies, but her recently published novel Mila and the Bone Man is a work of fiction. Most.

“There are definitely aspects of my life in there.”

But back to hiding and the thing she didn’t do. While the teenager could handle both not washing for weeks and peeing in her box, that other process was a bridge too far.

“It was a relief to come to America, that’s for sure.”

Roche, pictured in 2001, has lived a life of constant reinvention.

Haana Howard/National Post

Roche, pictured in 2001, has lived a life of constant reinvention.

Upon arrival, she traveled by bus with one of the sailors to her parents’ home in Oregon. The plan had been to tell them that she had arrived by plane; instead, she got drunk and revealed the truth.

Mortified, they contacted his uncle in California. Roche stayed with him for a few months, but wanting to keep moving, she hitchhiked to Flagstaff, Arizona, ending up first in juvenile detention and then in county jail. from Dallas for two weeks.

Eventually deported from the United States, she returned to New Zealand and received a chilly reception from her long-suffering father. “He was so furious when he heard my fake American accent giving an interview on RNZ that he took me from Auckland to Wellington while he was driving.”

It was always the boredom coupled with an intense sense of wanderlust that got Roche into trouble. She never did anything mean or nasty, she never thought about the fallout.

Roche had a happy childhood in Wellington where she loved school until she was 14 when things started to go wrong.

She had come across a rambunctious college crowd while at home her mother suffered from mental illness and struggled with addiction to alcohol and drugs which she used to manage her distress.

Roche moved to live with an aunt in Auckland, but two weeks before starting college, her mother committed suicide.

“I started school with this awful grief… also tremendous guilt. I thought if I hadn’t left my mother, maybe she would still be alive.

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Staying in Auckland for two school terms, Roche fled to Wellington, eventually dropping out of school and becoming a cleaner at Wellington Hospital. She loved this job and admired nurses even though she thought she wasn’t smart enough to be one.

After that, she spent a few months working as an insurance clerk before wanderlust struck and she boarded the ship.

“Years later, while we were living in Wellington, my son ran away to Masterton and what bothered me the most was his lack of ambition.”

Back in New Zealand, Roche began a relationship with her manager at McDonald’s; move into her apartment and get pregnant. Eventually she lost her job, her apartment and her boyfriend, but determined to keep her baby, she hitchhiked across the country before she had to settle down.

Back in Wellington four months pregnant, she got a job at a strip club, playing the role of fire-eater until her belly got too big. Then she walked the streets.

“I loved my baby but I wasn’t mentally stimulated enough so I went back out into the world. My grandmother and my sister took care of my baby… I worked in a massage parlor and in the sex industry for about three years.

Roche competed twice in Ironman competition before a back injury prevented him from competing.  (File photo)

John Hetfleisch

Roche competed twice in Ironman competition before a back injury prevented him from competing. (File photo)

Struggling with depression, a suicide attempt ensues and during a long hospital stay, Roche decides to challenge herself: to become a doctor.

While caring for her second baby, she completed medical school, graduating in 1991 and specializing in sexual health. However, she kept on moving, climbing the ranks of the country, those early years of practice marred by mental illness and addiction.

Then she started running again, this time to relieve her depression.

Roche became an elite athlete, completing two Ironman competitions, before the back injury ended that and her medical career. She retired from her work as a doctor in 2019.

He had his good sides, she says, from the little cabin in the bush where she writes; his dog barking at the birds in the background. Life is good now.

“All the things I never noticed, never really took the time to appreciate, now that I can’t run, I see them better.”

Mila and the Bone Man (Quentin Wilson Publishing, RRP $37.99) is out now in bookstores.

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