As a writer, I pride myself in choosing wise, insightful words when putting my life into paragraph form. But then, there's my inner athlete; she prefers the more direct approach. So I'm letting her write this piece about our recent encounter with disappointment, struggle and heartache as we attempt to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics: I just got kicked where the sun don't shine.
At least that's how it feels. Female athletes aren't supposed to talk that way. But for an athlete, male or female, sometimes that's exactly how disappointment feels when it comes on the heels of unfairness -- like a kick to the most vulnerable part of our being.
Before we get to the kicking part, some background ...
Last June, I won my third straight time trial and road race national championship for St. Kitts and Nevis, the country of which I am a dual-citizen and represent as a cyclist. The latest win at nationals was important in a pre-Olympic year, especially for a small nation like mine which has not yet earned an Olympic berth in cycling. As the winner, I received 10 Olympic qualification points in the road race and three for the time trial, as allotted by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport's governing body.
These points are very hard to get. Racers all over the world value them like Golden Tickets. If I earn enough UCI points to rank within the top 100 by May, St. Kitts and Nevis receives a cycling berth for the Olympics. I have been chasing this dream for six years. Between my national championship points and the eight points I won during a UCI race in Venezuela, I had 21 UCI points. It was enough to rank me at No. 125 ... a very doable position for reaching the top 100 by May.
So, when I went to check the UCI standings a few weeks ago and see what my competition was up to, I got a little confused when I didn't see my name where it had once been. Had I slipped down in the rankings? Oh well, it happens. But I read through the entire rankings of more than 400 women who had earned points, and my name was nowhere. Typo, my inner writer thought, as I composed an email to the UCI to inquire. There's no typo, sweetheart, my inner athlete intimated.
After weeks of badgering, the UCI eventually returned my emails. It had taken away my points. Even though the Venezuela race was listed as a UCI points race and the points had already been given out, the UCI ruled not enough international teams had participated and rescinded the eight points I won there. (Apparently, what the UCI giveth, the UCI taketh away.)
I winced at the reality. It's strange how so much is out of our control when it comes to our very own dreams. My disappointment was overwhelming, but I consoled myself with one reality: At least I still had my national championship points.
Then, the really big kick: The UCI would no longer count my 13 national championship points because the St. Kitts and Nevis federation sent the results in two days late for a deadline unknown to it. Our federation is new, small and humble, and still learning the intricacies of the UCI. It was unaware of any deadline and had not received an email or letter stating such a rule. To this, the UCI responded, "Well, you're not alone. There were plenty of other countries that didn't get points for the same reason."
Not exactly comforting. Not exactly right. A national champion potentially not qualifying for the Olympics because of an email mistake doesn't seem fair.
I argued. I fought. I got nowhere with the UCI. Then, I did what anyone does when a dream is rendered nearly impossible. I cried. Dry heaved. Cried some more. Wallowed in the disappointment. And then I did what any athlete does when they hear the world "nearly." I used it to rebuild. Nearly impossible is not the same as impossible. It's time to start again. Not at No. 125 or even No. 400. I'd have to start from nothing and travel the world for the next three months attempting to regain what I'd lost.
This year, there are no national championship points to bolster my ranking; that race falls after the Olympic deadline. It's a daunting road, navigating this physical and emotional path through "kicks" and "nearly."
My husband, George, brings much-needed comfort. Slowly, he puts up emotional scaffolding around my Olympic dreams and reminds me there is still time. He reminds me I am riding and racing stronger than he's ever seen; a setback doesn't mean game over; lost points can be regained. It is up to me now to get past the pain and believe in myself again. This seems like a job for my inner athlete. I ask if she knows how, exactly, I'm supposed to get back on track.
You got kicked in the ...
"Yeah, I know. Not helpful."
Let me finish. You got kicked in the heart. You got kicked in the head. You got kicked in the soul and in the spaces where disappointment hurts an athlete most. But you still have your legs. So kick back.
The switch flips. My sadness turns a corner and runs smack into self-reliance. No matter the mental obstacles, an athlete is still in control of her body, and that has to be enough. I do have my legs, and should the UCI ever rip them off, I've got plenty of duct tape. So, here and now, I'm kicking back.
On the bike today, I kicked out the last of the sadness. I kicked out the burden I cannot control. I kicked myself into a reestablished dream. I kicked out higher watt averages than I have all year. I knew nothing good would come from kicking the governing body of my sport. What's done is done. So instead, I kicked Doubt where the sun don't shine. And laughed while it cried.
So go ahead, UCI, take my points away. I'll get more. And while you're at it, take my disappointment, my heartache and my frustration. I don't need those, either. Here are some other things you can take: take the high road when it comes to helping federations that are still growing in the sport of cycling. Take caution when taking away what an athlete's earned. Take care of your cyclists, fight for them and not against.
But above all, take note: Game on. I'll see you in London.