Courtney McFadden's first UCI podium, shown here on the right. © Andrew Reimann

Courtenay McFadden’s first UCI C1 podium, shown here on the right. © Andrew Reimann

Last weekend at Jingle Cross, Courtenay McFadden took her first UCI win. It was well-deserved and hard-won, and it should come as no surprise that the rising cyclocross star took a victory during the course of the season. After all, she’s dedicated, and comes out of the gates firing away as hard as she can, making her presence felt no matter the competition. Days later, she wrote a blog post about her weekend, but in the end it was so much more. She recounted the hardships she had going into the weekend, including a brother with the problem of substance abuse.

When we asked her if we could reprint a condensed version of her story, she told us that we could use it all: “I wish more people would talk openly about drug problems, because it’s an issue that I think this country, and I’m sure lots of others, has a problem with.”

And so we offer a diary entry, in its entirety, which must have taken a tremendous amount of courage to finish. Half-race report, half-deeply personal account, McFadden’s story reminds us that nothing exists in a vacuum, and we can use or be buried by what we bring with us to every weekend on the course.

Courtenay McFadden from her blog,

I know I’ve slacked on updating per every race, but that’s what happens when you’re me! I’ll update you with the other Mid-West races I did, but I want to talk Jingle Cross, because well I know you’re all dying to hear about it.

As you learned in my previous post, I’ve really struggled with what to write. I like my posts to have a reason; I like there to be something sentimental, funny, something to learn from. I haven’t been able to find that topic to talk about to wrap my races around. This weekend, I needed it and I wanted it. More than any racer, any reader, anyone could ever know. I’ve worked really hard the past 12 months. The past 3-4 months have been an emotional roller coaster and I’ve done a really good job to not show it. You know what, lets just say the past 4 years have been an emotional roller coaster. For the past…I don’t know, couple years I’ve wanted to write a blog post about this, but I never have, for fear that it will get read (ironic right)? But it’s at the point, where this is going to get written and the world can read it, and I’m going to try to write it without tears (failed so far).

I have a brother, and he’s a lying, manipulative, drug addict. My brother and I have always shared a special connection and bond. He’s 7 years older than I am, and growing up he always knew the right words to say to calm me down and lift me up. I love my bother, he’s my big brother and I’m his littler sister. We used to have a ritual on Thanksgiving that started when I was in high school, every Thanksgiving we would go to see a movie together. I will always remember this time together. Even if looking back at it, he was high for a lot of those times. My brother is in jail now. His drug of choice is Heroin. In 2010 he was on his death bed, and my family convinced him to go to treatment and his life was saved. Words can’t describe the horror our family was put through.

I don’t ever wish a drug addicted sibling upon anyone. He’s struggled since he got out of treatment, but it wasn’t until this summer that he truly relapsed back on the drug. He relapsed in July, he lied and manipulated us. At the end of August he called me asking for help, he wouldn’t go to treatment because he had “work”. He tried to detox himself and ended up in the hospital for 6 days because his kidneys are at 30% function from his drug use. Chris and I spent 12 hours moving him out of his apartment in the pouring rain while he sat in the ER, 1 week prior to CrossVegas. I slept less than 6 hours a night that week, between work, “training”, talking to him on the phone trying to calm him down from his panic attacks, and visiting him at the hospital, I had no time to myself. By Friday that week I was in tears, I was an emotional tired wreck. I kept telling myself I wouldn’t let him bring me down, the racing season was starting and I didn’t want him to be the reason I raced poorly. I keep telling myself I won’t let him bring me down. I won’t. But sometimes no matter how much you tell yourself something, it just doesn’t always happen. My phone is always on silent now, because of him, because I don’t want that phone call that causes the deep pit in my stomach, and I’ve decided if I just ignore my phone I won’t get that pit.

Once I left for Vegas and the season started he convinced me he was doing so well. When I got back from the east coast, I was ready for a nice mental break from racing and some time at home. I wasn’t home for 24 hours before he called me to tell me he was arrested for a DUI. He wouldn’t stop calling me that week asking for bail, convincing us that he wasn’t under any influence. My parents decided to bail him out after 4 days, then he went and served time in King County for 7 days (had a warrant for previous charges). He was released the same day I left for St. Louis. One week later when I was in Cincinnati I received word from his housemate (at a clean and sober house) that he was arrested for a DUI. He didn’t he even make it one week. One week and he was arrested again. I haven’t spoken to him since, I don’t even know when the last time we spoke was. He didn’t call anyone to tell us he was in jail this time, he knows we can’t help him. I love my brother so much, but this has to stop. I keep telling myself it won’t affect me, and when I’m around my CX family, it doesn’t. I know my brother is proud of my racing, I wish I could share this weekend with him, my real brother, not my addict brother.

This weekend taught me a lot of things. First off, this weekend showed me that no matter how emotionally draining your life outside of racing is, it doesn’t have to rule you. You can always stand on top of something that is trying to bring you down. Sometimes after a race when I’m lying in bed thinking at a 1000 thoughts per minute, I think about my brother. I think about addicts, I think how can I change the world, how can I increase drug awareness to those that think only homeless, family-less people do drugs. I wonder how can I race in honor of someone who has a big heart, but is so jaded and trapped in a substance filled life. Michael, I love you, I race hard for myself, but you’re always in the back of my mind. Your positive, manipulating spirit will always be there, whether you’re in jail or not, dead or alive. Thank you for giving me something to think about.

Not only did I need this weekend to pick me up from my emotional life outside of cycling, I needed this weekend to prove to myself that this is right, this is the right direction for me. It is. I know it, and the best part of the weekend wasn’t standing on top of the podium on Sunday, the best part was opening up my email this afternoon and reading this:

“Congrats on the great weekend in Iowa City. On Thursday night at the meet the pros night you said you wanted to be one the podium and I guess you succeeded in that goal since you were on each step of the podium!! My three girls had such a great time meeting you and talking with you. Thanks for taking the time with them as they were still talking about the lady in pink and blue clothes this morning. You definitely have a new family of fans from the Midwest. Good luck on the rest of your season and we hope to see you again next year at Jingle Cross!”

McFadden has been contesting the top five all season, and took a great win on Sunday. © Andrew Reimann

McFadden has been contesting the top five all season, and took a great win on Sunday. © Andrew Reimann

It’s the people you meet and influence along the way. The fans, your friends, other racers. If I can put a smile on someones face and make them feel good then I’m happy. If I can help support other racers just getting into their grooves, that makes me happy, help support them when they’re feeling down, and lift them higher when their feeling high. Or maybe it’s just giving the time of day to those most adorable little girls who just want to say hello.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and where I have come from. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I’m proud that I never gave up. I’m thankful for those that pushed me to do this when I wanted to give it all up. I’m so happy to have such a strong community of crossers at home that believed in me to get me where I am. Thank You. I know I have said it a million times, but words can’t express my gratitude. I will keep racing hard for you guys, I think it’s the best way I can repay you right now.

Onto the “Report”

Friday’s race was a cold one, it had to have been less than 20 degrees. As we know, I love racing in the dark, and it was a night race that was really well lit. We had a grueling run up (or ride if you chose to), with a fun decent, and then some frozen grassy turns. I had a good start, tried to remain calm, and found myself finishing 2nd and riding with Katerina Nash until the last lap when she decided she was done riding with me. Up until this day, I didn’t ever think that was possible for me.

Saturday morning my body was pretty tired from the Friday race, but who wasn’t tired? Saturday was the C1 and John Meehan wanted us to know it was the C1. So he decided we needed to go up Mt. Krumpit 2x. Up the run up from Friday night, down the same downhill, and then up the backside to the top top and down the face of Mt. Krumpit. No matter how hard this course was, I think it was my favorite configuration of all the times I have done Jingle Cross. The decent down Mt. Krumpit was really awesome, the best one, I loved it every lap, and I can’t lie when I say I was happy woe nay did 4 laps that day. I was holding strong in 2nd, until the last time up the climb and was caught at the top of the decent and finished 3rd. I seem to be really good at finishing 3rd in the C1’s. Just when we finished racing the snow started falling.

Sunday I woke up (really late, as in an hour before we needed to leave the house) to a couple of inches of snow on the ground and knew the day would be epic and all about staying upright. Sunday felt the coldest of all the days, I think it was because of the wet snow.

When I first rode the course it was pretty dicey in sections, and I was riding it pretty cautiously. An hour later I rode it again and realized it was thawing out a little bit as it was getting ridden on more. Being the third day I wasn’t very motivated to warm up, actually I rode the course for 2 laps and then spun on the trainer for 5 minutes, after all it was the third day of racing! I knew at the start I wanted a solid start with most of the start stretch being covered in snow. Turns out I had a pretty good start and took the hole shot, and then Meredith Miller quickly came around me.

I held my cool when I went into the logs about 4-5 people back. After all I just wanted to stay upright. When we hit the base of the climb I was about 3rd (i can’t remember perhaps it was fourth). Katerina and Magahlie took off and I did everything I could to try to catch up to them. Going into the next couple of laps Katerina continued to make a gap over the field and I progressively was catching up to Maghalie and trying to hold off the chasers behind me, all while trying to convince my shoes to clip into my pedals. On the third lap I caught Maghalie at the base of climb, she was really struggling to get her feet clipped in.

Now I was in the chase, actually honestly when you’re racing against someone like Katerina Nash, I kind of get it in my head that I’m just trying to hold onto my 2nd position, so thats what I did, after all she had over a 30 second gap. I raced to hold my position, until the final time up the climb on the last lap, when the crowds went CRAZY. I mean CRAZY. I can thank the crowds for my blazing last lap. At the base of the climb all of the sudden I hear:

“You’re closing the gap”

“She’s off her bike, she’s running, you can catch her”

I look up and see she is literally running her bike up the hill because she couldn’t get clipped in, I then dug that much harder. I look up again and she’s now riding her bike, so I figured she must had gotten clipped in. When I reached the top of the climb she was already on the downhill, being a World Class mountain biker I thought there would be no way to catch her now, she would rally the decent, so I did my best to “rally” as much as I could.

I got the last section of the decent and saw her seconds away from me, and realized at that moment if I caught her on the downhill there was no way she was in her pedals, so I put in a dig, and caught her at the top of the little rise. I had a moment of disbelief and realized at that moment I didn’t know what to do. Do I stay with her? Do I go? Then I came to and realized I needed to go. So I put in a really hard dig, really really really hard. I went hard, well Courtenay hard. When I passed the pits everyone in the pits started screaming “she’s pitting, GOOOO”. The spectators where going even more crazy at this point. I put my head down and did everything I possibly could to go fast, but keep it smooth to stay upright. One mistake and it was my race to lose.

The last twisty section on the far end of the course was not my forte, so I knew I needed to be smooth, but yet quick through those. Katerina was closing in really quickly, I just had to get through them cleanly and to the straight away and knew I could have it from there (hopefully). I pedaled so hard to the end, and since I don’t ride my bike well with no handlebars, and I was 100% gassed I had a 1 handed salute and huge smile. I can’t believe that just happened. I’m still trying to fathom what happened, and that it happened.

The race taught me, never give up in a race because you never know what might happen in front of you. Push through, always work hard, and keep moving forward. Thank you Katerina for racing bikes with me this weekend. To have the chance to race against such an accomplished rider is truly a privilege!