by Lee Waldman
Between promoting a mid-week race series, completing my (hopefully) last year as a middle school teacher, trying to train and then race on the weekends, this fall has been nothing, if not hectic. Through it all I’ve proven once again, that maintaining balance in my life can be a major struggle. The downside of being a “grown up” is that every day is filled with competing demands, each one as seemingly important as the next.
And I’m sure it will come as no surprise that my last statement brings to mind the words of a song. Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” always reminds me of the poignancy of growing up. (Hang in there because there is a connection to cross, I promise.) The chorus of the song goes like this:
“And the seasons, they go round and round / and the painted ponies go up and down / we’re captive on a carousel of time. / We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came / and go round and round and round in the circle game”
The words of this song came to mind this morning as I was driving back from today’s race. I’m finding this year, more than in the past couple of seasons, that I’m noticing my age.
Even as a 60 plus year-old racer, I’ve stubbornly continued to race 45 + races for the last three seasons. Finishing in the front was out of consideration but I was competitive with the mid-pack riders and I felt that the speed and size of the fields effectively got me ready for races like Nationals and Master’s Worlds.
This year most of the guys I raced against for those three seasons finally turned 55 and, unlike me, they moved up dramatically altering 55+ racing in Colorado. It’s incredibly fast, fantastically competitive and I’m back to being happy with upper 30% finishes. As the song says, the seasons continue to roll by and I’m captive on that continually rotating wheel of days and seasons passing. And I’m learning to live with it rather than fighting against it. Why, because the challenge is in . . . the challenge. And, as the song goes, the seasons will continue to pass no matter what I think or feel.
One of the beauties of cross is how it helps me in maintaining a sense of balance. Working with pre-adolescents it’s rare that I receive much positive feedback. After all, they see me as their nemesis. I, on the other hand, see myself as the one person who believes in them, pushes them to their intellectual limits, and takes on the responsibility to help them become worthwhile young adults.
The one thing that eludes most of my students is success. And even though I see their eyes glaze over as soon as I start to talk, I’m hopeful that they’re listening to me and that some of the “wisdom” is sinking in. Most days, what I see in them is complacency and acceptance of mediocrity and, to be honest, it drives me crazy. What I’d like is to be able to channel into them the drive and the unwillingness that I have to accept less than my best. I share a lot of my life with my students though and they do know that I race bikes. Whether they understand what that means, I’m not sure. But what I try to model for them is a level of commitment to something that I’m not sure most of them fully understand. In a way, I want them to see that I’m not looking back but moving forward, something I’d like to see more of from them.
The other thing that I’d like them to learn, the lesson that I’m learning this year in cross, the lesson that I’ve danced around for the last couple of year is to accept yourself for who you are. We all have limitations. I want them to also realize that although we can’t all be world champions that there is more to life than that.
Now don’t misunderstand me because I’m in no way suggesting that any of us should accept anything less than our best each day, each time we roll up to the start line. But with the “benefit” of age comes a bit of wisdom and a healthy dose of acceptance. I’m grateful for the fact that I’m still competitive with men 7 years my junior. I’m thrilled that I can line up with them and still contest the hole shot. But I also understand that young legs climb faster than mine. I have to change the way I look at myself. Not that I have to stop trying, not that I have to slow down and say, “I just can’t do it any longer”, but that I have to reach a level of understanding that includes me realizing that there just are some things I can’t do as well as a younger rider.
That’s been a hard realization for me. I know I look older. I know that it takes me longer to work out the kinks in my neck, hips and back every morning. I see the pages on the calendar turning. They seem to flip from one to the next much more quickly now than they did a few years ago.
I also see a body that doesn’t necessarily look like it belongs to a 62 year old man. I see legs that can still attack on the hills, that can still put power to the pedals and bridge the gap to that rider who just passed me and that makes me proud. Proud of the dedication and the work that it takes for me to be where I am now. And I wish that I could take that level of single-minded focus and transfuse it into my students. But I can’t. And so, the words of Joni’s song again:
“We can’t return we can only look behind from where we came / and go round and round and round in the circle game.”
Enough, go ride your bikes. Find some mud and ride your bikes.