Excited to be racing in Boulder. Photo courtesy of Lee Waldman

Excited to be racing in Boulder. Photo courtesy of Lee Waldman

Our Masters columnist is finally on summer break from school, and he’s back in action.

by Lee Waldman

My students and I have been writing “This I Believe…” essays as a reflective way to end the school year. Those of you who listen to NPR will be familiar with them. For those of you who aren’t, I hope you’ll enjoy this rambling anyway.

I believe that pursuing a sport, any sport, is probably the most beautiful thing in the world. There is nothing that compares with the sense of well-being and accomplishment that accompanies playing a sport with distinction. What the sport is, is of little significance. What is important is that you do something, commit to it and give yourself over to the experience.  

In my case, as with the rest of you if you’re reading this column, the sport is cyclocross. Within the broad scope of racing bicycles, cyclocross is definitely the most “unique.” We not only pedal, but slog through mud, ice, snow and rain to carry a sometimes unrideable bicycle. And all of this is at a racing pace. The races generally last 45 minutes to an hour for a reason. To paraphrase my wife after she watched her first one, the sport is just “sick and wrong.“

But it’s beautiful as well. There’s beauty in the dance-like movements of a good rider stepping off of the bike and slinging it onto his shoulder without losing momentum. There’s grace in watching that same athlete transition from running to riding in a ballet-like movement launching himself from the ground, over the saddle and back onto the pedals. There’s even a breathtaking loveliness to the way that the best are able to walk that fine line of balance as they maneuver through slick corners at high speed as if they were glued to the ground.

I began racing cyclocross more than 30 years ago.  I saw a picture in a book and thought, “that’s the sport for me.” Now, some 30-plus years later, I’ve been humbled by the sport as a beginner and uplifted as I learned. As I vacillated into and then out of feeling confident, even almost proficient, I regularly felt joy. Joy in the fact that I can ask my body and my brain to do things out of the ordinary, and it responds (most of the time). Joy because every once in a while I can step outside of myself and feel the grace, the joy and the dance that is cyclocross.

We each have values that we cherish. Each component of our lives elicits different ones.  As a parent, teacher and friend there are values that I hold dear. As an athlete there are others. Because of cyclocross I’ve learned to value, among others:  patience, hope, self-control, dedication and self-honesty.

Patience with myself as a learner. The longer I race, the more I realize that I have a lot to learn. Each time I race, I not only experience success, but I am also faced with the realization that as I get better, I’m not the rider I’d like to be.

Hope is what gets me up in the morning to train, in my car to travel to races, and keeps me going afterwards. Because if it wasn’t for that deeply seated hope that I’ll continue to grow as a rider, there would be no reason for me to continue to put my body through what it takes to race cyclocross. Hope leads to self-control.

It’s easy to lose it after a bad patch. We’ve all been there. Sometimes there are just races and training rides where nothing works. The bike feels like an ill-fitting suit. Nothing is connected, and nothing feels “right.” Self-control is what keeps me from flinging the bike into the trash on those days. It’s also the thing that keeps me, when things are going right, from doing too much in training. It keeps me from burning the matches too early in a race,and gives me the best chance to show what I can do.

And then, there’s dedication. Dedication to continually strive to be the best.  Dedication to my goal of still being able to race when I’m 80. Dedication to simply live a quality life where I have the health and fitness to enjoy each and every day.

These are the values I’ve learned and practiced in my racing life. They spill over into my “real” life and make me, in part, who I am.

Thanks for reading.

I’m back now, and I’ll be sharing my thoughts (and opinions) with you every couple of weeks.

In the meantime, go ride your bike!