The highlight of my weekend was pinning on numbers. Let me explain.
After the London Games I was at a crossroads. The years leading up to the Games were laden with stress. They were packed with international travel, dozens of intense training camps, seemingly endless training at home, and the underlying stress of what if? What if I do all this work and don’t make the team? What if I get sick or injured and can’t compete? It felt like it was building and building and would eventually erupt like a volcano. This isn’t to mention all the same stress that an athlete puts on their family and friends. There are missed birthdays, graduations, summer barbeques and the more mundane movies with friends or nights on the town because of training. It’s tough on everyone involved. Riding and racing stopped being fun.
After the Games, the bikes went home on the freighter knowing it would take 2-3 weeks to arrive which meant forced time off and mental recovery. It would be time to sort things out. Bikes showed up and I didn’t want to ride- at all. They stayed boxed in the living room collecting dust. I took time to visit the friends and family I’d essentially ignored for the past three to eight years and do the things I missed out on while training- things like having fun. Fun is fun, after all.
It was three months before I had any interest in throwing a leg over a bike again not to mention training. In that time off, I contemplated retiring- at 24, was I done?- and what else would I do in that case? I came back to the mindset of enjoying the sport again, and wanted to continue riding and racing but didn’t want to deal with the stress- self-imposed and that put on my family and friends. Having another season like 2011 or 2012 was out of the question; international travel every month and being on planes two-three times a month wasn’t much fun by the time the Games rolled around, I hated the bike. There had to be a happy medium and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to race but on my terms and not finish the season wanting to light my bikes on fire.
This past weekend was the Greenville Para-cycling open in South Carolina. It was the first UCI Para race to be held in the states in over a decade and was my first race back after the Games. The event doubled as the kick off to the season and as the selection event for the American World Cup squad that will compete in Europe this summer. It was the perfect race to get back into the swing of things- it was close to home and there was something motivating on the line. That said, I went in with the mindset of “It is what it is” and if I’m selected, great, if not, that’s fine too. No stress. Having fun racing again was the goal. While pinning on a number for the time trial, it hit me: this was going to be fun, no matter what happened.
The simple act of pinning on a number is so much more than that. It’s symbolic of showing up with whatever game you’ve got- maybe it’s not your A game but you bring the best you can. You’re there to put your hard work to the test, to take to the start house, start line or start gate and give your best effort on that day. To say “yes I can!” to the effort because it’s something that’s fun. Pinning a number is symbolic of the hard work, the sweat, the taste of blood in your mouth, the hideous tan lines we wear proudly acquired from hours on the bike, that it took to get to that point.
This weekend’s racing went well. I rode a good, solid time trial- not great but good- especially after three months off and being the first race in seven months. It tested the legs and the mind and showed me that this is something I enjoy doing. This can be fun and doesn’t have to be stressful. I’m ready to pin on the next number.