Lee Waldman wants us to avoid this type of thinking during a cyclocross race. © fuzzcat on Flickr

Lee Waldman wants us to avoid this type of thinking during a 'cross race. © fuzzcat on Flickr

by Lee Waldman

I believe that you should always finish the race, no matter what. Quitting unless there’s a broken bone involved simply opens up a Pandora’s box that should be left closed. It makes very little difference where or how you finish, nor should it. But…you need to finish.

I’ve defined myself as an athlete since I was in 8th grade. If my math is correct that was 47 years ago. A long time to spend viewing myself through a specific lens. Truth be told, I’m better, fitter, more accomplished and certainly more dedicated now than I was as a teenager. And not simply as an athlete, but as a person. I persisted. I never quit. Sport has been one of the singular most consistent themes in my life. Not due to stellar success. Mostly because of what it’s given back to me.

There’s a really good chance that most of you are not going to be contacted within the next few months by a team director with a contract to ride as a pro cyclocrosser next season. More likely, most of you are well into planning for next season; laying out your training program, searching for new equipment, looking at the race schedule in your district. I’ve been doing the same. It’s the reasons that we do it that are important. Are we already making space for the swag and trophies that we’ll win? Or, are we completely and totally immersing ourselves in the process because we understand that the process is more important than the product?

The lessons that I’ve learned since I began competing, as a swimmer, then as a skier and now as a cyclist have gotten me through more challenges than I care to even begin to catalog. Quitting might have looked attractive more often than I’d like to admit, but I didn’t.

As a swimmer, I never got out of the pool in the middle of a workout saying that it was too hard and I was too tired. As a matter of fact, my introduction into the harsh reality of what it meant to be an athlete came at the hands of my first real swimming coach. We regularly swam “underwaters” at the end of our practices. An underwater is exactly what it sounds like: one lap underwater, in our 25 meter pool. I was lazy and never made it from the full lap. One night, he wouldn’t let me leave! After five tries I was close to tears, and angry at the same time. Sixth time into the pool, fueled by anger and adrenaline, I made it! And I learned that my capacity to push myself beyond what I believed was possible was far greater that I had imagined. Looking back on it, it seemed like a little thing, but to me, at that time, it was one of those life-altering events. I don’t think I’ve ever faced a challenge since that I didn’t truly believe I could get through given enough time and effort.

And so I don’t quit bike races, or life, for that matter. Because I believe it’s a truly slippery slope and an easy one to start down, from climbing off of the bike because it’s too cold, too muddy, I’m too tired, it’s too hard, to giving up on the truly important things in life: child rearing, job stresses, marriage, you name it.

So here’s what I do believe. Put one step in front of the other and eventually you’ll get to where you’re going. There’s always a way to get to the top of the hill. It might not be fast, but you will get there, if and only if you don’t turn the bike around and head back down. Most of us will continue to toil in virtual anonymity as athletes but does it really matter in the long run? Isn’t sport, and life, about something more than winning? What about integrity, honesty, and persistence in the face of adversity?

That’s what I believe in, and I learned it by never allowing myself to climb off the bike and quit.

Agree or want to set me straight?  Drop a comment below.

This is column #11 from Lee Waldman, a Colorado-based Masters racer on a mission to win a National Championship. See Lee’s previous column reflecting on Nats and next season’s plans here.