© Annette Hayden

Lee's competitive nature kicks in © Annette Hayden

Regular columnist Lee Waldman watches hole shot battles unfold in corridors of the middle school where he teaches, continues his own quiet, steady progress and gets ready for another cyclocross season. In case you missed Lee’s previous column about “The Most Important Thing” go back and check it out.

by Lee Waldman

The great thing about racing my bike is that there’s always another race – and another opportunity to be confronted by my strengths and weaknesses. There’s always another opportunity to take those lessons learned on the bike into the rest of my life. The beauty of sport is that it’s a much safer place to learn those life lessons. The risks are minimal and the gains so valuable. I think what I’ve learned over the years is that I need to be more attentive.

It’s beginning to look a lot like cyclocross! Not really, just wishful thinking. The season is just around the corner, but it’s hard to tell by the weather. My ’cross ride last night was in 90-degree-plus heat. The reality is that the first few ’cross races will be brutally hot here on the Colorado Front Range, although I did need to wear arm warmers the last couple of days for early morning riding. Leaves aren’t turning yet, but there’s that distinctive autumn feel. Do you find it interesting that the smell of death tends to get our blood flowing and raises our heart rates? Just another way to highlight how truly demented we cyclocrossers are.

After a completely unstructured summer (except for my training schedule) I’m back at work teaching middle school. The shock will persist for a couple of weeks until I readjust to the controlled chaos of a middle school. That in itself closely resembles the start of a ’cross race: at the signal, students pour out of classrooms, into hallways jostling each other for the “hole shot” to the bathroom, the locker, the next classroom. The strongest and most aggressive survive. In many ways what we do and who we are on the ’cross course mirrors who we are in our “real lives.” I wonder what the lessons are that we can learn from that.

The first thing that happens in every race is that the entire field sprints to be first onto the hard parts of the course. Wanting to be the alpha dog and make it through the first technical part in front, to distance themselves from the rest of the pack, there’s no lack of grunting, pushing, swearing and general pandemonium. The same thing happens in school, and I’m sure it happens in many workplaces. Things may not get physical, but I’ll wager that there is that same “friendly” competition that takes place to establish the pecking order. I suspect that it’s human nature; although some of us are more hard-wired for it than others.

In middle school you have those students who, for whatever the reason, want to stand out from the crowd. They are the aggressive ones and that behavior works for some. They are the loud ones, the ones you HEAR FIRST when they walk into class, the ones you see forging a path through the hallways and the lunchroom. They make sure that they are noticed. You see the same thing in ’cross. There are those riders who bang elbows to move up one place, who cut you off in corners, run you into the tape. Basically they survive by relying on the intimidation factor. My solution: wait until the right time, then drop them like bad habits after they’ve exhausted themselves fighting needless battles.

For others the key is quiet, careful, steady forward progress. The step-by-step process works for them. I notice the aggressive ones first but I look for the quiet ones, the ones who will slowly but steadily make their way through to finally shine in front. If you’ve watched Sven Nys ride, he rarely gets the hole shot, but by mid-way through the race there he is, relying on strong technique, strength, experience and fitness to take him to where he wants to be.

My favorite students are the Nys types, reminding me of myself. Steadily and consistently showing me who they are and what they can do, they may not be the loudest or the most outgoing, but they are the ones who are the steadiest. I think I like them because that’s the way I am in my racing and in life. My friend Bill reminds me constantly to “be a warrior” and I try, truly. It’s simply not in my constitution. Not that I’m not highly competitive – I am. But I tend to ease into it as a race progresses. Same in my life. I’m a quiet observer. Once I know the rules, understand the lay of the land, then the fierce competitor in me kicks in. Can you relate?

I wish I could talk about the genetic gift I’ve been given that makes racing cyclocross easy for me. It would be even nicer to be able to write a “hole shot for dummies” column on just how to make it through the start and be first onto the course. But I can’t. That isn’t me. I’m the teacher, rider, student who takes everything in waiting, sometimes a bit too long, to make my move and stamp my mark on the situation.

I’ve tried to change myself both in my work life and as a rider. It just doesn’t work. I’ve come to the realization that I am who I am. I’m hard-wired to be the plodder, the teacher and the rider who reaches goals by simple dedication and hard work. It used to bother me, but it doesn’t any more. Does the single-mindedness lead to success or does the success result in more of that single-minded focus? Does it really matter? It seems as if I’m talking, one more time, of the connection, the metaphorical connection between what we do on the ’cross bikes and what we do in real life. The longer I ride, the more I’m convinced that sport teaches us about life. I’m a better person because of what I’ve learned about myself as an athlete. Sometimes I forget and have to learn the lessons over again. Enough rambling. ’Cross is coming. Go ride your bike!