After returning from the US Pro National Championships, and realizing that this was my 8th USA National Championships that I have attended, I went back to feeling “old”. I blame the South, country music, and warm summer nights. It made me miss the powerful women I was teammates with in previous years that have now moved on to great things. I let that familiar feeling of nostalgia flow like smooth Tennessee Whiskey. Actually there was Tennessee Whiskey involved, and it wasn’t all smooth since it did burn a little.
After that settled, it made me love the ones that are still out there now with me as well. Those that were able to hug me gently after I had fallen and have enough confidence to congratulate each other on competitive performances and enough honesty to recognize disappointing performances. That being said, I still missed some of the good ones of the prior golden years.
As promised, here is the continuation of my nostalgia: Ghosts of Teammates Past, Episode 2
We all know the gifts and passions of Mara Abbott. I have loved being her teammate and friend. I remember feeling intoxicated with happiness after working for her wins at the Giro Donne and the Tour of the Gila. All the pain I had when riding the front of the bike race for 1000’s of kilometers simply evaporate when you get the big thank you hug, podium champagne, and a smile. As a teammate, it means so much when your leader not only delivers the winning results, but also exhibits joy and gratitude to her teammates.
- One for the good guys. Mara is an incredible athlete with an unworldly talent of ascending high mountains faster than you can say Rocky Mountain High. No matter how much pain she inflicts on you when you try to scamper behind her, Mara is one of the good guys. We started saying that several years ago, but it has to do with our creed to accept our lofty goals, but always remain a good person. You can be vicious on the bike, but still one of the good guys. Be a good person first. Be an athlete second.
- Dandelion in the wind. When your competition thinks you are drowning, stick a hose down their throat. Ok, that is harsh, but when people are counting you out and saying you are not capable, prove them wrong. This advice came from our mutual CTS coach, Dean Golich, and it is a keeper. Mara has a great way of remaining calm, calculated, and focused on the task at hand. Does she like the wind? If she is a dandelion she does. Make those wishes into reality.
- Heart break. All I will say is Rio 2016. Racing with all your heart can be so painful.
- Take care of our planet earth. Or she will check the trash to make sure there is nothing that could be re-used or recycled.
I always thought Amber Gaffney was too smart to be a bike racer. I guess I was right, since now she is a college professor at Humboldt University and tours the world presenting her research. Amber believed in me as a bike racer and a person more than any teammate I have ever had. Amber inspired me succeed in graduate school beyond what I thought was possible.
- Know your sources. I was just starting graduate school as Dr. Amber Gaffney was defending her PhD. Traveling to races, working, and going to graduate school was hard for me to balance. Having Dr. Amber Gaffney on the road with me was not only inspiring, but also useful from an educational standpoint. I wrote a paper in clinical psychology, and was able to cite my source, in APA format of course, of a fascinating journal article written by none other than Dr. Amber Gaffney.
- Know your bias. Being a Social Psychology PhD, Amber taught me to understand our biases and how we select groups to identify with and how this can lead to our overall attitude and decisions. She challenged me to lower my guard and learn the origin of my opinions. Through this, I became more accepting, and cautious of blanket generalizations.
- Love cats. Once at the San Dimas Stage Race, I was able to stay at Amber’s house adjacent to Claremont Colleges. She let me bring my cat, much to the chagrin of her own feline companion, Rocky, who still holds a grudge to this day. But it is pretty awesome to travel to a race with your cat. Be bold. Meow.
Coming from a successful financial career, Olivia, like many competitive female cyclists, started racing well into adulthood. This didn’t stop her from being Irish National Champion in both the road race and the time trial, and being an incredible teammate and asset to the sport. She continues to thrive in the world of cycling, rocking for Velocio Apparel and of course still being highly competitive in multiple disciplines. Although we were only teammates for a year, I am proud to know Olivia is one of my closest friends. I will try to keep this shorter than my toast at her wedding.
- Eat Nails for Breakfast: Bike racing is hard, and it is not for the faint of heart. Olivia taught me that through the pain, the desire to quit, and the fear, you still show up and do your best. There were so many times I wondered how she could keep fighting in a race and keep coming back day in and day out, and then I came to the only conclusions possible. She must eat nails for breakfast. She is that tough. Upon investigating her toothbrush one morning, I was sure I saw chards of steel, and I knew my assumption was correct. Put away the oatmeal, and grab some nails. You will need it.
- Sharp Elbows: You have to make room for yourself in races. I have a difficult time doing this and of course I think I am wider than the average human being, therefore normal “holes” are much too small for my football shoulders. Olivia could sharpen her elbows, and get into spaces of the pack that I didn’t know were feasible. It is one thing to ride elbows out to make space, it is another thing to have sharp elbows. I was always envious of this trait.
- Black and White: In times of doubt, sometimes it is best to erase the grey. It makes life’s difficult questions easier to answer. In matters of loyalty, always choose loyalty. Olivia’s secret talent is to be able to visualize issues clearly and remove the soft edges. If you didn’t complete your job in the race, you didn’t do it. It can be made that simple. I always appreciated this in a teammate. It doesn’t mean we don’t like each other, instead, it is a good way to maintain clarity, honesty, and trust. It is respectful to say what you really think and feel. Yes, it is easier to do this and to accept this, if you eat nails for breakfast.
Another teammate that I always thought was too smart to be a bike racer, is Dr. Lauren Komanski. She is a Southern Belle that also happens to be a veterinarian. I was lucky to have her as a teammate because now I can keep her and her family as friends forever.
- Whiskey cures all. I am sure I learned more lessons from Lauren, but the one that I think is the best. And here I thought she followed all of the “rules”, but this was a Southern rule. Always carry whiskey with you. Whiskey can cure a sore throat, a dry throat, and give a little burn for that win or loss. It can be used as bribery for your mechanic or teammates. It is a commodity that never goes out of style. Whiskey is southern gold.
- Southern Hospitality. I met Lauren’s family once, and I was adopted. I hope to always be as welcoming and hospitable as her family. Not only do I get my teammates as family, I also get their family as family. Driving through one night, nearing midnight, I called to see if I could stay with them. I don’t think I left for several weeks. That is the true Southern way that I hope to replicate even way over here in California.
- Real Life Perspective. Knowing that you have a career outside of the sport can be so freeing. You can then stand up for what you want to accomplish. It gives your perspective to race as hard as ever because there is life outside of the cycling bubble. This also allows us to recognize when an injury or expectations are too much and begin to compromise our “other” most likely more successful life. Keeping things in perspective allows us to race hard, and to live even more completely.
Cari and I didn’t have many races together, but when I did, I would soak in her nurturing nature and understanding expectations. Cari is known for her track cycling power, but her abilities extend onto the road. She has accolades from many disciplines, but her patience to help develop and foster riders is unparalleled. Cari is a talented mentor, teacher, and an asset to women’s cycling
- Embrace your strengths. I know we can go on and on about working on your weaknesses, but sometimes it is just nice to feel understood. Or maybe that people are ignoring your weaknesses and just focusing on your strengths. I raced my one and only track race with Cari, the USA Track National Championships team pursuit. This would normally have been a terrifying experience, but Cari set it up for me to embrace my strengths and have as much confidence in myself as she had in me. In hindsight, I can see we also were secretly working on my weaknesses, but without making me feel inferior. Some days, ignore your weaknesses, and embrace your strengths. Suddenly, you are winning races and the only person that is surprised is you.
- Realistic goals. We all want to rope the moon, but sometimes we can gain more satisfaction from accomplishing realistic goals. There is something in accomplishment, and if you set realistic goals, you can continue to improve. Cari would be very clear on the race plan and season goals. It must have been the teacher in her, but I felt a sense of accomplishment with the goals she set. They were attainable. They were fun. They were accomplished.
- Bring a nice purse. Cari probably didn’t know I noticed this, but I always did love looking at her purse at the bike races. Let’s just say those 4 letter were worth something. Even if we are sporty, doesn’t mean we can’t have nice things. Bike racing isn’t always glamorous, so bring a nice purse. You just never know when you might need it.
I was teammates with Shelley on the USA National Team back in 2010 when we won the Giro Donne and Tour of New Zealand. Her ability to compete so intensely often misleads people that she is superhuman, but inside that muscular bag of dynamite is a heart of gold.
- Show up. You can only win the races you show up to. You can look at results at races you aren’t at and speculate, but you still need to show up to those races to actually get the results. Shelley always showed up and raced, even the races that might not have suited her on paper, she always showed up. And, she usually won.
- Acknowledge your competition. Say hello, then compete. Ignoring each other gets us nowhere. Bike racing is lonely enough as it is.
- Ritual Riding. Shelley would get up in the morning and ride 30 minutes on the rollers. This was her time to decompress, reset, and prepare for the day. In this habitual process, she was creating a ritual that she could take confidence in through the chaos of travel, injuries, and races. Shelley and I were great roommates because we both love our coffee in the room before venturing down into the restaurant at the hotel where all the teams are. We would speak very little until that caffeine settled in. This became our ritual too. Coffee. Rollers. Start the day.
- You chose to do this. Whenever you want to complain about the race, your saddle sore, being scared in a lead-out, or the hotel coffee, remember that you chose to be a professional cyclist. Bike racing can be really hard and sometimes the chicken is dry, the pasta is soggy and the hills are steep. Yes, we can always strive to make the sport a better place, but ultimately, being a professional athlete is not an entitlement, it is a choice. When you are suffering at the end of the race and need to close down the break for your team, you do everything in your power to do so. After all, you chose to be here.
Yes, some teammates are just there for a season, but I have been so lucky for those that continue on much after the contract ends. We need teammates, in everything we do. They are like family, you don’t always get to choose them for the year. But unlike family, you do get to choose the ones you want to keep for life. May there be many more years of rejoicing in success and finding comfort through failures. And if not, we can pull out the whiskey and nails.
Stay tuned, there could be an Episode 3.