“How many things can go wrong if you’re sitting in bed watching Jude Law in The Holiday?”
Wait… what? Who is that?
I’m usually the one hankering to climb Pike’s Peak after a weekend of ProXCT racing. The one driving 5 hours after a CX World Cup to a quaint B&B I found on the Internet in the Netherlands. The one who has her best race of the year after driving 4 hours over a snowy mountain pass in Bend to arrive at 2:30am the day of the race.
But the truth is, this past two-week trip to Belgium, I never made it Luxembourg, the one sight on my list I hadn’t yet seen in my Euro CX travels. Heck, I never even made it to Cafe Matagalpa 1.5k down the road.
I didn’t take a single artsy travel photo.
It would be possible to launch into a long explanation of travel woes here, and easily justify taking it easy to preserve energy for the 2 World Cups, Superprestige, and Bpost races. In the past it would simply be intuitive to weave 24 hours of travel, lost bikes, two midnight calls to the police, and hosts getting the stomach flu into an exciting tale to tell friends and family. That’s just travel. But this trip, even simple decisions left me frozen.
For example, after retrieving my lost bikes from the airport, should I make the 1.5 hour drive to the pre-ride in Namur that afternoon and back, or go back to Oudenaarde to build my bikes in my mechanic’s shop in Oudenaarde and keep it simple? I weighed the pros of each option, and still doubted my judgment!
How had something that makes me so happy turned to something that caused such distress?
I recently posted:
At the same time that racing is a source of joy, as an athlete, things fall apart when I don’t perform well. And by things, I mean life, meaning, the journey, all of the weighty things that linger like dormant volcanos in the soul. A string of poor races doesn’t just shake my confidence as a cyclist, it ignites all the weak spots I have as a human being too.
However, all these “issues” fall back into place with a good race or two and this led me to believe that something that can make me this happy, that can so magically align all of the stars for me, would be worth devoting more time and energy to.
With this in mind, I took a leave of absence from my teaching job to race full time cyclo-cross for Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies, chasing my childhood dream to represent the US as an athlete.
Having sought the advice of many family and friends, I put a lot of thought into crafting the year wisely. I made sure that I would have my teaching job back if I wished, I took a part-time position as a Health Educator at a local college to supplement my lack of income but also to provide some balance. This spring, a good friend of mine helped me find a wonderful housemate to rent one of my rooms, not just to further help financially but also to be a trusted and welcome friend at home. My brother-coach “Broach” Jesse and I discussed summer training and racing so that I would come into the season as fit and fresh as possible.
So many great things fell into place I knew I was on the right path, full of enthusiasm and confidence.
What followed instead can best be described as a game of whack-a-mole. Each race was a new, and lost, battle. If I averted a crash at the start, I crashed on a silly spot later. If I had good legs, I got a flat tire. How could it be that with so much thought and hard work, with all the advantages I could ask for with team support from Optum and time flexibility, I could be suffering so much in chasing my dream? Every single race result was absolutely and bizarrely consistent. No matter how much I practiced embracing the moment, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t overcome the cruise control.
Was it a training flaw?
A mental flaw because of the pressure I added this year?
I was doing a little meet-the-pros event out at Jingle Cross this year when the first clue came. John Meehan asked me to introduce myself briefly, and in the daze of being on the spot, I blurted out “I’m a teacher.”
Later, one of the kids in the audience came up and said, “You were the coolest one up there.” And I don’t share that to be boastful but rather to say, it made me think back to what I’d said, and realize that teaching is as much a part of me as racing is. I worked just as hard to find and get good at teaching as I did to find and get good at racing. One of my teaching friends recently ask me if teaching made me happy [as well as racing]. And yes, as cliche as it is, there’s nothing sweeter that the satisfaction of watching kids learn and get engaged, and besides every day when I get to work I get to see four of my best friends. Thanks to genes from my mother, I actually have enough energy to do both simultaneously!
Many pro riders find a way to create meaning through their riding communities and related outreach. Helen Wyman is an outstanding and tireless ambassador for promoting our sport, and women’s racing specifically. Meredith Miller is exceptional in her promotion of sponsors and a model to all women cyclists of being both down-to-earth and tough as nails.
For me, though Monday mornings will always be a bitch, and though I may suffer at some races because inevitably travel fails when you’re cutting it so close all the time, this year has taught me that what makes me tick is living on that edge. My gumption has always fueled me; take that away, and I just click off the races.
I don’t for a moment regret this year. A little space from teaching after 11 years has refreshed me and given me renewed energy and vision to bring back to it. I can’t lie, my body probably is enjoying this year of sleeping in too!
It’s sort of like that one guy you had to kiss once or else you’d always wonder…I would always have wondered if I could have gone further had I not “gone for it.”
A good friend once told me: “You’ll never lose your way or lose the truth by asking questions.” If you chase your dreams, there will always be signs to point you back to the path if you happen to stray.
This year has also taught me that no matter how clever I try to be, how hard I strive, the universe is impossible to outwit or outmuscle. For that I am grateful.
As counterintuitive as it might be, I was already “going for it,” everything was as it should be, and I’m not giving anything up by doing both teaching and racing. I’m incredibly lucky to have two things about which I’m passionate and so many friends, family an sponsors who support me in that. As a friend said, “You’ve come to peace with having two loves in your life.” Racing is the tempestuous and totally visceral affair, teaching is the steady and affectionate romance.
Living a full life and “going for it” can mean so many different things to different people, and my path has never been conventional, but it has always been my own. For the first time this year, I have begun to hear my own voice again. The beginning of the season was not what I had hoped, and it has been a long road to clarity. My first thought about this clarity was, “oh shit!” Why, why do I need to have such a crazy life?! But so it is. And I find just a tiny bit of relief and new energy in coming to peace with that.
Winning at Resolution Cross came with a flow that I haven’t felt in a long time, and couldn't come at a better time!
I look forward eagerly to Nationals on Sunday.