I am certain that all cyclists, at some point, get asked the question—“Why on earth do you do that?” To the inquirers, we are the “crazy, lycra-wearing, ride ridiculous distances in all sorts of weather conditions on skinny little seats” people and they are the “normal” ones. (who probably do something equally as crazy like Step class or Zumba—it’s all about perspective!)
In order to answer this question for me, we have to discuss “a-ha moments.” And, maybe to avoid being overly cliché, we should just call those “moments of mental clarity.” Some are trivial but all are great learning experiences. Some of these moments have immediately obvious repercussions—i.e. changing lines in the supermarket to checkout faster will always guarantee the Granny in front of you will end up writing a check, she’ll have 200 coupons and will need a price check. Others have, what I would call, “delayed gratification”, for example, a few beers followed up by a few tequila shots—yep—that’s a great idea….until the next morning. Others mark more important milestones in your life, like the first time you buy a house and realize that the signatures on the paper are yours and yours alone. It is scary, but in that moment, you feel like an “official” adult.
And then there are other moments that aren’t so positive, but end up changing you in a positive way. I am sure we all have examples like this. It is a fortunate AND unfortunate conundrum. As humans, we learn from these experiences and grow as individuals. But, that doesn’t always make them immediately palatable.
For me, the catalyst for multiple “clarifying moments” was April 27, 2010. This was the day that a physician looked at me and said, “I’m sorry Heather, but you have breast cancer.” I am not a person prone to the dramatic. I have actually been accused of being a person who holds too much inside, not letting the rest of the world see me emote. (You should feel sorry for my husband right now, because he gets to see what the rest of the world doesn’t.) But this experience floored me. It kicked me in the stomach with 2 humongous donkey hooves. It ran me over like a bulldozer. (I may not be dramatic in public, but I can give you some metaphoric drama like a champ!) I was 34 years old, barely married two years and THIS? You better believe I was pissed. I was scared. I lay awake at night and listened to my heart race. I made deals with myself—“once all the decisions are made, I’ll feel better about this.”, “once all the surgeries are done, I’ll feel better about this.”, “once I can get back to doing everything I did before, I’ll feel better about this.” Those deals got me through, but the “feeling better about this” part took a hell of a lot longer to sort out. (Some days, I am still sorting it out.) Some crazy part of my brain convinced the other parts of my brain that once I could get back to “normal life,” I could just shut the door on this chapter. It convinced me that because I was a physical therapist and worked in the medical field, I would be immune to all the weird things that can happen post-surgically and because I was in good shape, I would just bounce back. (4) surgeries, lots of restrictions and some left arm dysfunction later…I can tell you that shutting the chapter door has proven to be much more challenging than anticipated. Being limited in my exercise choices was only the tip of the iceberg; treating patients at work, making dinner, doing laundry, cleaning house, etc. were all challenges. I was told that my limitations might never get better. I suppose if my stubbornness could be advantageous throughout this process, it helped me at this point. I refused to believe what people were saying. I might have stomped my feet, cried and been a general pain in the ass about trying to get myself better, but feeling physically recovered was a big portion of my mental recovery, so I had to stick with it. I learned so much about myself through this whole ordeal—when previously I thought I knew myself pretty well.
So, how does this relate to why I ride my bike?
I ride my bike now simply because I CAN. Because there were times after my surgeries that I didn’t think I would ever ride it again. Because being able to improve inspires me to do more. I won’t say that having this experience made me braver or more fearless–because, honestly, I am still kind of a sissy. But, it did make me appreciate that I am tougher than I gave myself credit for and gave me the chutzpah to try something completely out of my nature like bike racing. It gave me a renewed sense of purpose and made me appreciate everything I could do even more than before. It makes me reflect daily on how far I have come and taught me to not be so hard on myself. I now regard the journey with as much respect as the destination.
I won’t ever be the best or most intrinsically talented athlete out there. I am OK with that. Every time I ride or race and I do something better than I did it previously—this is my triumph. I can also tell you that, even though I am still a “work in progress” in terms of physical recovery—I have emerged a stronger person—not only physically but mentally. And, don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have these “moments of clarity” without having to experience all the bad stuff….but that’s not how it happened. And I’m OK with that too.