Friday, January 23, 2015

Seeing The Forest Through The Trees

Bike racing is a hard sport (the sacrifice and dedication required to succeed is something that has been spoken of quite a bit, so I wont elaborate on it here). However, there are some days I feel like bike racing has made me soft—in that it has given me a false sense of entitlement. Racing at a high level, it’s easy to expect certain things—bikes, clothes, housing, equipment, massages, food, etc.—that, outside the scope of actual racing, are luxuries to the common person. Even worse, in the face of not receiving such accommodations it’s easy to find yourself quickly becoming annoyed. It’s sad really that, even after years in this sport, I’m still learning about just how great I have it and how miserably I’ve failed at thanking those who have helped me get to where I am.

This past season racing for Horizon was especially eye opening in terms of the effort required for the team (specifically our director, Nick Traggis) to get us the things we needed to race. Even as a small program, we rarely went without the necessary items needed to compete. This was no fluke—it was the result of many individuals sacrificing their time and resources because they believed in what we were doing and thought we could serve a greater purpose (i.e. promoting their brand, growing the sport, community outreach, etc.). It was here that I really learned how there is no such thing as “free” in bike racing—it’s a two way street, even when the flow of traffic would make one think otherwise. Now, I’m sure someone can make the case that receiving such items is necessary or constitutes the tools of the trade or that it’s part of the business; and I agree. However, simply because something is part of a job description doesn’t make it’s execution un-remarkable and not worthy of gratitude. For example, it’s NASA’s job to go to outer space—does that mean we shouldn’t be amazed when they land on the moon?

But I digress…

The real point I’m trying to make here is that I (and probably many other cyclists) need to bring a bit of perspective to our expectations about what this sport owes us; because the fact of the matter is, it owes us nothing.

To offer a short anecdote, after winning nationals I was completely convinced I had my ticket back to the pro ranks. In my mind, I earned it…I deserved it. In the months that followed, I emailed every team under the sun—rather incessantly if you ask me—to the point where I was convinced each team director would roll their eyes when they saw my name pop-up (once again) in their inbox. Despite doing everything I thought I could though, come the Fall I had nothing but an inbox full of rejections. I was devastated. I wanted to quit; and for a short time I did. I remember calling my parents, all my cycling mentors, and even some friends to tell them I was hanging it up. I’m pretty sure I even replied to a few of the rejection emails saying I was done which, in hindsight, was pretty dumb but at the moment seemed inconsequential. In the end, my expectations got the best of me and when they didn’t come to fruition, I was at a loss.

Fast forward a few weeks and I emerge from the grocery store to a text message about a new team—Alto Velo/Seasucker—that was looking to see if I was still available for next season. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t quite done with this whole cycling thing and, as such, I told them I was. After speaking with the management a bit more, I came to realize this program was a great fit and I can honestly say I’m more excited about the opportunity this season presents than I have been about any other race season to date. At the same time, I’ve come to realize that nothing is guaranteed in this sport; and yea, while it’s easy to lament at the things you don’t have (or haven’t received), it’s even easier to lose sight of the things you do. This was a prime opportunity to prove my mettle--I took it and haven't looked back.

So what’s the lesson in all this? Well, for me, it’s about taking a bit more inventory in the things that have been given to me and using that appreciation as motivation to continue working hard everyday. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true; and when push comes to shove, I’d rather wax poetic like some suck-up than, in the words of Louis CK,  be a "non-contributing zero."

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