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.

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