Lee Waldman, looking ahead to racing but remembering to look at the simple joys of riding a bike. © Annette Hayden

Lee Waldman, looking ahead to racing but remembering to look at the simple joys of riding a bike. © Annette Hayden

by Lee Waldman

On the 9th of January, I would have raced in the 65 – 69 Masters National Championship race in Austin. It was a difficult day, marking the second year in a row that I’ve been forced to forgo my season-long goal of standing on the podium at Nationals. The first was due to three completely ruptured hamstring tendons; the second was the result of my being on the losing end of a hit-and-run on Christmas Day. By now that’s all old news. I’m left with aches, pains, bruises and breaks. But there’s good news too: I’m walking, talking, breathing on my own. It could have been so much worse, as I’ve since learned.

I’ve also learned a lot more from both of these injuries, lessons that I hope will serve me well in the future. Even writing that sounds strange considering my age, 65 in May. But I guess if we aren’t continually learning and growing from our experiences then we really aren’t living.

Most of us traverse our lives wondering how much of an impact we’ve made on the world. We see our sphere of influence as pretty limited. Perhaps you’re not someone who shares that world-view but it’s always been mine. The days following my accident changed that for me. It seems that there are a lot of you, both in Colorado and other places, who not only know who I am but in some small way have been impacted by either things that I’ve done or things that I’ve written. I’m honored to have been able to occupy even that small corner of your lives. I’m also humbled by the sincere outpouring of support, energy and well wishes that I’ve received from all of you. It seems inconsequential to simple say “Thank You”, but that’s all that I’m left with at this point. The cross community is truly powerful. Your energy will fuel my recovery and I’m so grateful for that.

Since I seem to have a lot of time on my hands I find that I keep on learning more so bear with me.

First lesson: Life is short. I just as easily could be writing this column from a wheelchair as sitting at my kitchen counter. Please, make it a point for yourself to enjoy the fact that every day is a day that you can throw your leg over the bike and ride. I’m limited to an indoor bike for now and it’s mentally challenging, especially on those Colorado days, like today, where the thermometer reaches into the 50s. We tend to take for granted the gift of movement and freedom. Don’t. I’ve experienced just how fragile that thread can be and how easily it can be severed. Never take for granted the gift that you’ve been given. Which leads me to the . . .

Next lesson: Winning isn’t everything. It’s not, as Vince Lombardi once said, the only thing. It’s just something. At every race there will ultimately be one person crossing the finish line ahead of the others. He or she will be privileged to raise their arms and bask in the feeling of being the best on that particular day. I would never minimize that experience. It is worth a lot and those times when I’ve been in that position, I’ve truly enjoyed it. In reality the feeling is short lived and I’ve learned that the very next time I race the pressure to perform at that same level weighs heavy on my shoulders. The important thing, really, is that we have the opportunity to test ourselves daily against our fear of inadequacy and of failure. There is no failure for any one of us when we accept the challenge, face the fears, toe the line and measure ourselves against our competitors and ourselves.

Third lesson: Be mindful and live in the moment. Let yourself feel how wonderful it is to be able to think about pedaling and then actually act on the intention. Our bodies are amazing things and we are blessed with an inordinate amount of control over them. When you rail that corner or recover from a skid, let yourself feel it. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the experience. Don’t ever take it for granted because it can, in an instant, be lost. Look around you when you ride. There are amazing things to see and feel but if all we worry about is our heart rate, cadence and wattage we’ll miss out on the real beauty of cycling.

Final lesson: “Sometimes the cards ain’t worth a damn, if you don’t lay ‘em down.” O.K. so the words aren’t mine, they belong to the Grateful Dead, but in the context of what we do, race cyclocross, they mean a tremendous amount. Yeah, I’ve talked a lot today about the esoteric joys that we all get from cyclocross and from riding bikes in general, but there’s also that element of just putting it all on the line, not only when we race, but when we ride. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way these past couple of years and although it might seem some days that it would be easier to just give up. I won’t.

I was hoping, less than a month ago, that today I’d be writing about my stellar ride in Austin. I’m not. Maybe that’s bad. I’m choosing to let go of what I’ve lost and look instead at the insights that I’ve gained. I only hope that my sharing with you is something that will help you if and when you’re faced with a challenge. In the meantime, I have a date with my spin bike. And you. . .

Get out there and ride your bikes.