If I said I was 100% confident about getting on plane for my first solo international trip, going to a country I’ve never been too, and pulling off 8 days in Japan, 3 days of bike racing, and two UCI Class 1 events….I would be lying. I was terrified. It is true, last year I went to Germany, Holland, Belgium, Canada, and Mexico. But Mexico was a USA national team trip, and the others included 3 other individuals. This trip was put together in a matter of weeks, with the help of USA Cycling and donations on my GoFundMe page, I had my ticket 8 days before take off, and my confirmation in 4 days later. Now, I’m sitting in my dorm room, 24 hours after landing in Japan, and I’m asking myself why I even doubted this trip?
The first night here I got homesick. I was tired, had been up for 20+ hours, and I just wanted my brownies. I dug my comforts from my bag, curled up in my bed, and told myself it’ll be better tomorrow. And it was. I found the bathroom, followed the diagrams carefully on how to operate said toilets, wandered the halls, managed to find my new Canadian friend post shower in the mens bathroom, which I just walked into casually, thinking it was an outdoor viewing area, and built up my track bike and rollers…all before breakfast. It was while wandering the halls that I took a step outside the front door of our hotel and realized what I had missed the night before. The velodrome was directly in front of me. With Mount Fuji in the background, I fell in love instantly.
After breakfast we headed down to the track. Just as we arrived, the students from the keirin school rolled in, all saying hello in Japanese, and i just stared in awe of the fact that I was just presented with the opportunity to train next to the famous students of the Girls Keirin. This day was getting better and better every single second. Between their lessons, we were allowed on the track to train, and afterward, I was able to take a picture with the girls I wish I could be. I met a girl whose name was “Yoshi”, and she was so excited that our names were similar, and they loved my hair. As part of the school tradition, they are given hair cuts that are short and black. A barber comes into the school and cuts it for them, they are not given a choice. So being the only blonde cyclist in the building, they loved it. I’m proud of my long blonde hair, but to be given the opportunity those girls have, my dad and I might have to have a conversation 🙂 (just kidding).
The track is absolutely incredible. It still squeaks when you roll over the boards on the apron, just showing how new this track is. It’s clean, it’s smooth, and it’s absolutely beautiful. I’m in love with it. It was freezing cold, but by my last effort, I could feel the heat being turned on, as I rolled around finding little pools of hot air. The roof is filled with skylights, and the colors are beautiful.
The director of the keirin school then invited us to tour the campus that afternoon, but first, I was about to take my first shower in a tradition Japanese bathroom. I was lucky to have run into Rob that morning in the men’s room, so he could show me how to operate and follow the traditions. In a big open room, with showers on the ends, you grab a stool, sit down, and shower in complete view of anyone else washing themselves. After showering, you then can get into the bath tub if you like to swim around, rinse off, etc. It took about 10 minutes to get hot water flowing, but I can’t say it was as awkward as I imagined. With glass windows surrounding the room, there is also an incredible view of the track and mount Fuji.
After lunch, it was then time for our tour. It was around this time that I had to take a step back and remember that this was all happening within 24 hours. To remember why I’m here, that I have three days of intense racing coming up, and I was about to take a once in a lifetime tour of the keirin school. I am so blessed to be able to do this, and because of this, it’s hard for me to believe this is actually happening.
The keirin school was more intense that I thought. Like boot camp, I saw the classrooms, all 5+ velodromes ranging from 250 to 400m, the dorms, the theater, the weight room, and watched some of the training. Over 2 hours we spent, walking through the velodromes, training facilitates, and learning the history of the school.
I have fallen in love with Japan and its people. This is an experience of a lifetime, and I feel so blessed to have been given this opportunity. I am so grateful for my new friends, the people of Japan, and the help I have received since coming here. The velodrome is beautiful, the country is beautiful, and this experience will never be forgotten. In the past 24 hours, I have been blown away, and reminded over and over again that I would not be here without my sponsors, USA Cycling, my coaches, and my family and friends. Now, instead of being homesick and unsure, I’m so glad to be here and I can not wait to start racing on this beautiful track. Tomorrow I get to wake up to another sunrise over Mount Fuji, and I can’t wait to see what the next 24 hours bring.
Sweet dreams, America. I’m already living your tomorrow, and I hope yours is as incredible as mine has been.