Give me something to believe in
My Olympic quest/UCI points debacle seemed to touch a nerve in the cycling community. A good nerve, apparently -- one that brought much support and positive feedback from fellow cyclists and cycling fans as I attempt to regain my UCI ranking and shoot for Olympic qualification.
It provided just the kind of mental edge I needed to regroup and move forward after a setback. A non-cycling buddy of mine asked if, in the wake of disappointment, it made long training days harder to deal with.
"All those hours on the bike, when you're out there for five hours by yourself, where does your mind go?" she asked. "When the odds are stacked against you, do the negative thoughts get in there while you're training? How do you kick them out?"
Valid questions. Every athlete in every sport has had a training day when their mind defeats them before their body is even out at the field, track, road, pool or court. It's part of the journey; so is flipping the emotional switch and finding a way to change the negative train of thought. Recently, I've found a great way to work around doubt and disappointment by doing something very simple: believing.
I don't mean believing in myself. Sure, an athlete has to believe in herself, but sometimes it's just too much to force-feed yourself another pep talk about how awesome you think you are, or how "you can do it" or how you're going to get up that hill. That's exhausting. On the days when you're feeling less than awesome, it is sometimes best to leave yourself alone and find something else to believe in. There's a lot out there.
During my five-hour training ride the other day, I took some mental notes on some things I currently believe or find inspiration in. In random order, here's a starter list of what rolls through my head as I cycle through the desert landscapes:
• I believe Tucson might be the greatest place on the planet to train in the middle of February.
• Like the old cartoon where the hungry, shipwrecked man looks at his buddy and sees a giant, dancing turkey drumstick I believe that every person ahead of me on our local group ride, "The Shootout," is not a person, but an animated UCI point I must chase down.
• I believe the UCI can do better for its female athletes and developing nations, and we must continue to speak out on injustices and inequalities until we get what we deserve.
• I believe there will someday be women's road cycling world champions who hail from Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean. It is a question of "when," not "if."
• I believe the Tour de France is missing an enormous financial, social and moral opportunity by not allowing a women's pro race to coincide with the men's event dates and distances.
• I believe, at 36, I'm stronger than I ever was at 19. Or 35. Age and athleticism don't have to be enemies.
• I believe the journey of U.S. pro cyclist Evelyn Stevens stands for something greater than we realize. Her well-known story of leaving a Wall Street career at 26 to become a pro bike racer -- after she got on a bike recreationally -- who won nearly every U.S. pro race that year and soon became a national champion isn't just a cool story. Her self-discovery proves an excellent point: Opportunity is everything. (So is having the guts to embrace an unknown talent and turn it into something greater.) I believe there is an Evelyn Stevens in every nation, and we can find her if we give women of developing nations a chance to ride.
• I believe my second-place finish behind Stevens at the Valley of the Sun time trial on Feb. 10 in Phoenix showed me this whole "believing" thing works.
• I believe it's time for a lifetime ban on the first offense for athletes who cheat with performance-enhancing drugs.
• I believe in stopping to fill up water bottles at a gas station mini-mart, and leaving with the entire Hostess cupcake display.
• I believe a long ride on a bicycle can detox the soul. Unless you have a saddle sore. Then, your soul kind of hates you for a few weeks.
• I believe the fat, old dude with the fluorescent vest, clip-on mirror and $15,000 Pinarello drafting off me while telling me I'm "pretty fast for a lady" should probably be thanked. People like him make it possible for bike companies to sponsor pro athletes and teams.
• I believe professional female cyclists need to champion each other by sharing race results, press releases and other greatness. (Even though, deep inside, we want to rip each other's legs off and it isn't always easy to salute the winners when we lose.) If one female racer is in the headlines, our whole sport moves forward.
• I believe Title IX was a great start, but until women's sports share the same media attention, salaries and social influence their male counterparts enjoy, we should not rest on Title IX's laurels, but instead seek our journey into Title Next.
• I believe that, even on the days when I don't believe in myself, someone else usually does. So I just believe in them.
• I believe no athlete will ever reach their true potential until they encounter hardship and learn how to come back from it.
• I believe I can get to London.
• I believe I just put my dirty jersey into the wash with a Hostess cupcake still in the pocket.
And that, I believe, is a good place to stop believing. But only for today.
Kathryn Bertine is the author of two sports memoirs, "All The Sundays Yet To Come" and "As Good As Gold." You can follow her on Twitter @kathrynbertine.