Sunday, July 17, 2011

Not a Robot

Something within me has changed. I'm not sure what exactly brought it on, or why, but I kind of like it. I don't feel the need to be a robot anymore.

I’ve always been my harshest critic and have put pressure on myself to bat 1.000. To some, that may clearly be impossible but nothing is truly impossible, it’s just improbable. This way of life, while some may argue that it makes for a better athlete, isn’t such a great way to live. It’s quite stressful and often unnecessarily so. This season has been frustrating with rebounding from serious burnout, having pneumonia and not fully recovering, and a broken collarbone. Somewhere along this rocky road it dawned on me that maybe I need to take time to do things properly- things like recovering from illness and injury. Not everything can be controlled- which is still difficult for me to comprehend- and sometimes things just happen. While the mind is a powerful tool, it still doesn’t have magical powers. Healing damaged lungs in a week, or mending a broken bone overnight are not going to happen no matter how hard I concentrate, wish, pray, or cast spells for. Somehow an idea worked its way into my brain that maybe, just maybe, I could let it go. It was earth shattering.

In the last few weeks, I’ve raced the national championships in Augusta, GA, a world cup in Baie-Comeau, CAN and part of SuperWeek in Chicago and Wisconsin. Going into each of those races, I put no pressure on myself. All I had to do was ride as best as I could and my job was done. What did I find? I had great results! No, I didn’t win everything I entered and I even lost the overall UCI World Cup title in the final race- that was a tough, tough pill to swallow- but I’m not distraught over it. It wasn’t meant to be. I’m much more relaxed about my performances and my life in general. It’s like I’ve broken free from the tangled web of “perfection” and I’m now able to do what I love- race my bike!

One of my teammates sent me the link to this video. Now that I know what not to do, it should be easier to find what’s right. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Road Nationals

Road Nationals were held in Augusta, GA last week. In addition to being an opportunity to claim the title of National Champion, the time trial served as the selection event for the 2011 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Roskilde, Denmark. A total of eight spots for the men and four spots for the women were available for automatic selection to the team.

Matt picked Nadia and me up in Colorado Springs and we drove out to Augusta from there. We saw snow in eastern Colorado and then the rain came. Of the 27 hours we drove, 26.5 were in the rain- over 1000 miles of rain. The rain ended as soon as we arrived at our hotel in Augusta and was traded for heat and humidity. It was quite nice to have some moisture in the air.

Originally, my plan was to race the three Para races- Time trial, crit and road race- and the elite crit and road race. Plans changed after the broken collarbone so it was only a time trial for me. The TT was held along the Strom Thurmond dam on a straight out and back, 19.6km course. Who knew that Strom had his own dam?! The course was made for power riders. It rolled with hills that could all be taken in the aerobars. This was especially good for me because I could get settled in the clip-ons- I ran clip-ons because I couldn’t get into real aerobars- and stay in the bars the whole time. Despite rain for the race it was fast course. Pair that with riders on top form and you get some quick times. The top riders were all considerably faster than the National Team time standard. I finished up fourth overall in the women’s two wheeled bike classification- there is also a classification for the three wheeled cycles. Normally I would be very disappointed with a fourth place but with a broken collarbone, I’m quite pleased.

After the TT there was still the crit and road race to be fought. I did my training rides in the morning and was a spectator for the races in the afternoon. While frustrating, it was actually kind of fun to be a spectator at the races. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely wanted to race but it’s always fun to watch bike racing.

The week was filled with great racing by everyone. The team has just been named and it’s filled with tremendous athletes. I look forward to racing with everyone!

2011 U.S. UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships Team announced

2011 U.S. UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships Team announced | News | U.S. Paralympic Team

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Living a Double Life

Only a few people knew Batman’s real identity. He dressed in normal clothes, had a mostly normal life and job but lived as two people. He put on his super-suit and fought crime then went about his business. People knew that the villains were vanquished but didn’t know by whom. The streets of Gotham were being cleaned up and that’s what mattered.

This is what being a Para-cyclist is like. People have some sense that you exist but don’t really know what you do or how you do it. Something happens- it must- and races are won overseas but more detail than that is unknown and somewhat unnecessary. We live double lives as Para-cyclists and your average rider at local races- we’re just missing parts or some are defective and can’t be warrantied.

We train and race as hard as any other elite cyclist but without the recognition. We travel around the world fighting our competition and come home, quietly victorious.

Medals from Nationals and World Championships are kept in a basket and yellow jerseys are in a bag on the top shelf of a bookcase, out of the way, not displayed for people to see. They’re proof of an alter ego. Proof of the double life but a life I choose to live. Choices are not sacrifices because they are done willingly. Being a Para-cyclist isn’t going to get me on billboards or cereal boxes and I know that. It’s okay.

Most of us don’t race the able-bodied circuit for the recognition. Rather, we race because we love to race, it’s great training and, most of all, it’s fun. This is our day job (for some). Sure, in a pack a fake arm or leg- or riding with only one leg- is going to stand out and those are the things that people remember. It’s amazing how many people know me simply as “that blonde girl with one arm” at races. I come quietly, race my race and go on my way.

At an able bodied race, there’s no pressure other than what I put on myself. Yes, I like to win, but a lot of the races I do are for training. They’re just practice. For right now, the priority is on Para-racing and conquering foreign adversaries. It’s my priority that few people know even exists. The cutthroat attitude you learn in able-bodied racing is a necessity on the Para circuit. The top riders are all on able-bodied professional teams so the more cards in your deck the better off you’ll be.

Despite having a full deck of cards, the transition between the two can be a mental challenge. With two different styles of racing, it’s sort of like going from second gear to fifth- it’s a bit of a shock. Para-cycling is small pack racing. Only the top riders are there and the “pack fill” that you expect in races are all medal contenders so you have to be on it. Usually it’s every man for himself so teams of just two riders make a huge impact on the races. There are no lead out trains or caravans. One hundred spectators is a good turn out. The cat 4s usually have a better turn out!

This double life can be difficult. Right now, with the London Paralympics less than 500 days away, we’re chasing points. We always race to win, but now there is a bit more pressure. Without results now, we won’t have the team ranking to take the number of people we want which means people could be left at home come Games time. Results now means a larger team for the London Games. With this in mind, more than just a race win is on the line. This could be the difference between me going to The Show or watching on a grainy webcam feed.

For now, I’m going to continue to put on my national team super-suit and fight for every point. Then, as usual, come home, recover and do it all again seemingly under the cover of darkness.

Without the support of Peanut Butter & Co. Team TWENTY12, U.S. Paralympics and all of their sponsors and supporters, none of this would be possible. Thank you.