by Lee Waldman
My mom and dad are both gone now, but the gifts they left me survive. My father modeled kindness and unconditional love. He worried too much and so do I. Like my mom, I have the tendency to be shy and introverted. Both of my parents valued friendship. They had many acquaintances but few true friends who they would move heaven and earth for. I’m the same.
The one gift that they left on their passing, was enough money to allow me to check one item off of my bucket list. This week, I boarded a Lufthansa flight to Brussels and then a rental car to Mol for Masters Cyclocross Worlds.
I rode Worlds in Louisville the first year that the race was held there with less than stellar results. I lost track of the times I fell in the sand and frozen ruts scattered over the course. I did finish, with two broken shift levers and about 20 pounds of mud. Not the results that I had hoped for.
With those memories still clear in my mind, I’ve spent the bulk of this season preparing physically and mentally for Mol. Colorado weather hasn’t helped. Climate change is real here. I don’t recall the last truly muddy cyclocross season. This season I’ve ridden one muddy race.
The default for Colorado cyclocross these days is dry, dusty and bumpy. Not the kind of prep I would have preferred heading to Western Europe. The weather forecast for my race day is rain. The forecast for the days leading up to my race is … rain. I’ve also heard from people who raced in Mol last season that there will be sand, lots of sand. Cold, wet, sandy … sounds like cyclocross.
The problem is that I’m not used to it. A few years ago, it wouldn’t have been a issue. We raced in those conditions a lot. I hope I haven’t forgotten how.
That’s one of my worries. The other big one would be racing against the Europeans. In Colorado, I’ve raced against these same men for a long time. Some of them have lined up against me for thirty years. I know their strengths and weaknesses. I know how I stack up against those in my age range.
Now I’m going somewhere when I don’t know the riders. I’m not sure who is a good technician, whose strength is on the climbs, on the corners, in the sand; who puts out the most power. I don’t know how physical it will be. Will there be lots of elbows thrown? Those unknowns make me more than a bit nervous.
I try to tell myself that I have nothing to prove, that I’m doing something that’s been on my bucket list since Louisville, and that they are 65-year old men like myself. They also grew up racing cyclocross and have been exposed to courses and riders who are probably much stronger and more practiced in the skills of ’cross than I am. And the one thing that I really don’t want to do is to embarrass myself.
There are so many intangibles: jet lag (I’ve never traveled overseas), differences in food, the language barriers, simply finding the venue and the list goes on from there. If I let myself get carried away, I can totally and completely convince myself that I don’t belong there. That would be easy.
But I’m not letting myself go there. I think back on what I’ve overcome in the last four years: ruptured hamstrings, broken ribs, cracked sternum, broken neck. It took a tremendous amount of discipline, focus and hard work to come back. This past season has been my best since my first injury. I finally feel like I’m connected to the bike again and riding relatively well.
So, instead of dwelling on the things that might hold me back, weather, the course personality, the other riders, I’ve decided to concentrate on the thing that’s most under my control: my mental attitude. I know that I’m nothing if not mentally tough. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t still be racing. It would be so easy to have packed it in.
When I was recovering from my last injury, the broken neck, I promised myself one thing. That every day, and every time I lined up to race, I’d smile and I’d remember how fragile life is and what a gift I’ve been given to be able to continue to challenge myself this way. I learned then that the victory is not necessarily where you place when the racing is finished, but in the simple fact that I have been given the gift of being able to participate. My race in Belgium is, in so many ways, my way to honor all of the people who believed in me enough to help me get there.
I promised myself long ago that as long as I could ride across the finish line confident in the fact that I Raced with a capital ‘R,’ that would be enough. That and finishing with a smile on my face. I’ve trained as hard and as well as I could have. I’m packed and ready to go. Now it’s about the experience. I’ll let you know how it goes in a few days.
In the meantime, go ride your bike.