Lee Waldman stays motivated through life's twists and turns © Annette Hayden

Lee Waldman stays motivated through life's twists and turns © Annette Hayden

Cyclocross Magazine columnist and Masters racer Lee Waldman takes a moment to reflect on motivation in the face of uncooperative Colorado spring weather as well as what’s truly important in his life. In case you missed it, go back and check out Lee’s previous column, Age is a State of Mind.

by Lee Waldman

“There are places I remember all my life, though some have changed …” John, Paul, George and Ringo nailed it. People and places define our lives. They give meaning and purpose to everything we do. Without our memories, we would plod through our days, mindlessly placing one foot in front of the other. I’m not sure that’s effective in life, or in sport. The end result of simply putting in our time is mediocrity, and for me that’s unacceptable. I may not be the most gifted athlete in the world, but whatever limited abilities I have I’ll develop to their maximum potential.

This time of year, when the weather in Colorado is so uncooperative, I keep myself motivated and entertained through memories.

Thinking back to the races in which I performed well encourages me to climb back on the trainer one more time, dammit! Likewise, picturing myself helplessly watching the front of a race pull away makes it easier, relatively speaking, to apply that little bit more pressure to the pedals to keep my heart rate in the proper zone. If it weren’t for those mind movies, I’d probably spend my training time soft pedaling. I’d convince myself that with ‘cross season still four months away that there is plenty of time to get serious.

I’ve been trying for the last couple of days to write that “I remember” column. You would think that after almost 30 years as a racer I’d have a ton of memories stored. But thirty years of experience doesn’t necessarily transfer into clear memories. I’ve never been one of those people who can easily call up events from the past in all of their gory details. Instead I see bits and pieces, a collage if you will, of my bike racing past.

My first real road racing bike was an orange Flying Dutchman, purchased from Big Wheel Bikes in Denver. The owners of the shop were Dutch, the van Gent brothers. One had been a six-day racer “back in the day.” The shop was festooned with pictures of him in all of his glory. His brother and business partner was the mechanic. Both were crusty, gruff and very round – most likely the result of too many beers and frites. They were a bit standoffish until they got to know you. But if you were persistent and thick-skinned enough, they eventually accepted you. Then it was a joy to walk into the shop just to listen to them talk in their thick Dutch accents. It just sounded the way that bike racing should sound. And the smell … grease, solvent, tubular glue and new tubular tires. I would invent reasons to go to the shop just to listen to them and to soak in the atmosphere.

I bought my first real cyclocross bike in that shop, a Cornelo. Ever heard of it? Neither had I, and I’ve never seen another. It was blue and white, heavy as a tank, and it rode like one as well, but I loved it because it was so … Euro.

The shop closed years ago. I don’t remember what I did with the bike, probably sold it. All I’m left with is the memory of how it felt every time I pushed open the shop’s door. I was in a bike racing place; a place where I belonged.

On the days when I’m truly unmotivated, I remember my friend Karen Hornbostel, who died a couple of years ago after battling through four bouts of breast cancer. I first met Karen when I started racing. She was well-known in Colorado and on her way to being a force in women’s racing nationally. By the time she got sick she had won countless races, including more than one National Championship. Karen was a talented athlete but also so much more. She was a truly wonderful person: kind, loyal, passionate about the things she held dear – women’s racing, juniors, road racing. She never did race cyclocross, although she was most definitely tough enough.

To challenge herself, Karen would often race with the Masters men. She and I would hang out at the back, sitting on wheels and chatting. My job, at least I thought it was my job, was always to close gaps so that she didn’t get dropped. I think she actually let me think I was helping her because then she would come around me in the sprint.

It was a shock when she got sick. People like Karen aren’t supposed to contract life-threatening illnesses. They aren’t supposed to die before their time. People like Karen, truly good people, were supposed to always be there! And she was, for a few more years. But every time her cancer went into remission it returned with a vengeance. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with more courage. She fought back so courageously for so long. In the end the disease won out – it wore her down. Karen’s memory keeps me going when I’m struggling.

This time of year when the weather rarely cooperates, I need memories and daydreams both to keep me going. What are yours?

Thanks for reading. And thanks for the very kind comments on my other recent posts.