I’ve been home for a week now. A week of jet lag and being sick for the 1000th time in the last few months. I just got back from a Personal Gold screening in Scottsdale Arizona, where the Foundation for American Track Cycling had its first big kickoff. As I sat shaking in my chair in front of 200+ people sitting in a theater, I was handed the microphone to answer a question asked by the audience. You would think being at the world championships, sitting in the staging area in those chairs…waiting for my turn to race for that coveted rainbow jersey would be 10x more nerve-racking than sitting in front of 200 people in a theater..but not to me. But I took a deep breath, and I realized how many times I’ve been put under the spotlight, interviewed, or asked uncomfortable questions in the past year, and the nerves started to go away, the words started coming out, and my first big public speaking event went better than I expected. I was introduced as a world cup medalist for the first time, and even with a stuffy nose, I was able to share a little bit about myself, my experience, and my goals with a few complete strangers. It’s crazy to think that just a week ago I was competing in France, where I was the first US sprint female in six years to race the World Championships. I didn’t think I was going to get there, not after the last year I had. But I did make it there, and I couldn’t have imagined what it would do for me.
Travis and Brian both looked at me and asked, “Are you nervous?”
“YES! I can’t remember the last time I was this nervous!” I said. And it was true. My heart rate was pumping, my legs were twitching, and I kept digging through my bag for nothing other than keeping myself busy. Then I remembered a clip for the Personal Gold Film I saw last February in LA, and I realized I needed to be still. No sense in wasting my energy doing unnecessary things. I kept telling myself, “just breathe..”.
“Just do what you know how to do…you look good.”
Travis went up in the stands, and Brian and I completed my warm up, and then it was time. I rolled over to the bike check on the back straight. We walked up the steps to the track, avoiding the eyes of the crowd staring down at us as the flying 200ms got started. Brian rolled me up on the track, and with the final push, I was on my own. “Here we go..”, I thought. It was all up to me with what happens next. I took to the track for the very first time, at my very first Elite World Championships.
As I rolled around the track, I felt extremely accomplished, but I was also heart-broken. I rode an 11.326. A new sea-level PR for me, a huge improvement from what I saw while riding the world cups, but I knew it wasn’t going to be enough. As the times started coming in, I saw my name go farther and farther down the list, eventually landing in 27th place, .06 seconds out of the tournament. Do you know how little that is? That’s a change in helmet because one is more aero than the other. That’s riding one board lower on the track. That’s a different handlebar or a different hand position. That’s nothing.
“You are right there”,… that was said to me over and over by many USA staff members. The fastest ride I have done since my back injury, and even though they are right, I said before I left for Paris that I wanted to be in the tournament and I wanted to ride fastest than 11.3. The speed was coming back, the strength was coming back, and I am on the way back up, after over a year of being suppressed by an injury that never got the chance to heal. But…there’s still an empty pit there.
The day after my flying 200m, I had an off day. I met Travis at the track, rode the rollers, watched the men’s flying 200m, and then went back to the hotel. I re-centered myself, after being incredibly disappointed, I realized tomorrow was another day, and I was going to enjoy this experience. Our team dinners were some of the best US team environments I’d been part of. Even though, by the end of the week, Sarah and I were the only two athletes left. I left meals rolling in laughter between the story telling or jokes. I was a great positive environment to be part of, which I think aided in a very stress free environment for not only my first worlds, but I think for everyone else as well. It was easy to make that transition into the new mindset having supportive people around me.
The final morning of the world championships was my keirin. As I said goodbye to my roommate Kim, who was leaving for home, I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to sit in the room alone for very long, since I had a morning session. Brian and I rode through the frozen weather, dodging ice sheets on the bike path and spectators walking to the velodrome to watch that days racing. I was excited. I wasn’t nervous like the morning of the 200m. I was ready to line up and give it everything I had. Before I left the hotel, I posted, “Today marks the end of a very long season, and I’m going to give this keirin everything I have. I’m very thankful to be riding with all of you on my shoulders today”, and I meant every word of it. This was the last race of my season, and I wasn’t going to hold anything back.
My first heat included the 2014 World Champion, Kristina Vogel. Everyone expected her to come around towards the end, and drive it to the front, just like she had done the year before. But she didn’t. I waited too long instead of following my instincts, and ended up placing 4th in the first heat, with Kristina taking 5th right behind me. “What is going on?”, I remember asking myself. No one we expected to make it out of the first heats was making it out. Then I was up for the rep. I rode this one differently, I was more in control, I rode with confidence, and I rode my own race. And I missed advancing by .05 seconds, taking 2nd. I was smashed. Even though this put me in 13th place, like the flying 200m, I wanted more. I had bigger goals and bigger expectations, and they did not involve not advancing.
When I sat down after coming off the track, I was a bit overcome with emotion. The year was done. I had made it. But I was so pissed off, and disappointed. I wanted to make it through. I had pushed myself so hard over the past few months to make this happen. I was congratulated by the few USA team members and staff that were still at the track, and that meant the world to me, but there is no one who can motivate or encourage me more than myself, and at that moment, I was crushed. My 2014/2015 season was over, it was time to take off the star stamped skin suit, pack the bikes up, and get ready to head home.
As unhappy as I was with my performance, I was also incredibly motivated. I proved to myself and others this year that I can compete, and I can perform at this level. I’ve comeback from my injury, I’ve learned to deal with the pain of it, and I’ve accepted that it will probably always be there. But, I can still train and perform at this level, and I can be competitive at this level. When I met Chris Hoy at the London World Cup, he said to me how impressive it was that I was starting my very first world cups during Olympic qualifying. And that is something that has stuck with me, and will continue too. No matter what level I am expected to rise too, I will rise to it. I’m welcoming my three-year anniversary of becoming a track sprint athlete, and by doing so, I’ll be putting my head down with new goals, and a new direction. I’ve realized that you can’t be perfect every day, but I can be perfect when it really counts. Instead of focusing my season on being the best US athlete at every single event, I’m going to be the best when it counts, at the events that are going to qualify the first US female sprint athlete since 2008.
I wouldn’t have gotten to the worlds without my determination and perseverance. But I also wouldn’t have gotten there without my sponsors and supporters…starting with the man at home who knows exactly how hard I am on myself..Andy, Momentum Coaching Group and coach Travis, Atomic High Performance, Vie 13 Kustom Apparel, Recovery Pump, Spidertech Tape, Pyatt/Broadmark Management LLC, Coastherapy, ERO, Performance Fitness Concepts, Oakley, USA Cycling, USOC, the Koroibos Foundation, and now, where this blog started, the Foundation for American Track Cycling.
So, as I sat in that chair in front of 200+ people at the Personal Gold screening, I thought back to all the situations I have been in where I have been tested and put outside my comfort zone, and I felt confident sitting in that chair in my little black dress. As I sat there with the microphone in my hand, my breathing steadied, I stopped shaking, I laughed a little bit, and I enjoyed the moment to support a Foundation that has dedicated itself to helping me and the future of US track cycling.
You might ask, “What’s next?”. Well, my race schedule has pretty much been established already. My training will be built around that when I get rid of this illness that’s been holding a steady black cloud over me since the London World Cup, and it’s time to refocus onto a new season. Thanks to the donations that have been given, I’ve been able to purchase some new training tools and equipment that are going to help me continue the progress I’ve made over these past few months. I have a new-found motivation after coming back from worlds, with the help of a great team atmosphere, and encouragement from places I never thought I would get it. We’re already half way through the Olympic qualifying, and next year is going to be even more critical. It’s time to make it happen!
Thanks for following and thanks for supporting.