Written by Crystal Anthony
What do microwaves, “Stand and Deliver,” and Evelyn Stevens all have in common? Immediate results. Instant gratification is the appeal of a gourmet dinner ready in 3 minutes, a teacher who transforms an entire classroom of gang members into top calculus students by their senior year, and an athlete so talented she can be sitting behind a desk one year and standing on the podium at TT nationals the next.
Admittedly, these emotive tales tug at my heartstrings. For this reason, I refused to see the somewhat recent flick “Freedom Writers” anticipating I’d be pissed by the time the credits rolled at the end: no doubt the protagonist would inspire struggling students to sensational achievements despite all odds, with just a few hiccups thrown in for suspense. Despite being a teacher who smiles when one student (at a time) improves a few points on a quiz, and an athlete who enjoys gaining a fraction of a mph (at a time) in a TT, I readily buy into the idea that there are those who can succeed instantly on innate talent or charisma or instinct, I buy into it faster than my oatmeal cooks in the microwave in fact!
Ok, before philosophizing further I’ll get to the point, which I suppose emerged while tearfully sobbing out my disappointment to my friend Marti a few hundred yards beyond the finish line of TT nationals. Yes, it was nearly 100 degrees and humid, but those were tears, not sweat, and plenty of them. Nothing had gone horribly wrong during the race, I had just finished much slower than I’d expected. So much slower than the winner Stevens (5 minutes) that the difference seemed qualitative and not just quantitative.
When thinking about Nationals and ideas for writing about it, a quote by Greg Lemond (I thought) popped into mind about how he could count on fingers the number of days that he truly felt “in the zone” on his bike, when everything came together just right and riding fast was effortless! This perspective helps me both appreciate the days when this is the case and accept the days when it is not. Well, apparently it wasn’t Lemond who said that, but in googling quotes by him I came across another relevant one:
“I have always struggled to achieve excellence. One thing that cycling has taught me is that if you can achieve something without a struggle it’s not going to be satisfying.”
It’s not that the process itself is so valuable without the result (I find that kind of a cop-out and not very believable to be honest – winning is still the aim) but that it always takes a process to get any kind of meaningful result.
At some level, I know this to be true. I’m ok with utilizing the efficiency of the microwave to zap a quick bowl of oatmeal on occasion, but it’s pretty clear to be there isn’t an easier, faster way to get flaky apple pie crust. Plunking a prepackaged apple pie in the microwave doesn’t come even close to the product of picking apples, coring and preparing them, kneading a homemade crust, and baking the pie in the oven. And I’ve accepted that. However, with matters in which emotion is involved like teaching or racing, it’s tougher to combat the fear that not succeeding right away makes me less of a person.
At Nationals, I’d prepared for months, I’d planned and coordinated finishing my teaching job 2 days early, I’d invested in traveling. I’d executed my warm up and maintained my heart rate goal during the race. No, I definitely didn’t have one of those rare “on” days, but because it was my best at the time, I felt inferior and embarrassed that I had finished 27th. I felt silly, as if I were sporting a bowl cut and singing off key on American Idol and Ryan Seacrest was about to whisk me out of the audition room to the delight of Fox viewers. Had I done too much warm-up, had my heart race been too low… I wanted some explanation other than I just didn’t have what it takes! “You need to allow yourself a little bit of time to succeed at an elite level,” Lyne reminded me.
As I waded through my crying fit, I realized the feeling went deeper than a disappointment over being a few seconds or watts off. It wasn’t a matter of explaining by what percentage heat, humidity, stress, or nutrition may have diminished my power output. I’d let it get to the core of who I was, what I valued, what I poured my heart and soul into wanting and fighting for. So many people had helped give me the opportunity to race there by helping defray the cost, setting up my bike, lending me wheels, giving me rides to the airport. It seemed I’d let them down too.
I’m thankful to all the people who reminded me not that it was ok to be 27th but simply that I was ok in their book. Not that I had too high of expectations, but that my timeline just needed some adjustment. As uneasy as I may be disclosing this, sometimes, despite my confident demeanor, I’m just like anyone else and need to be praised and know people are rooting for me!
To rummage up an old Jimmy Eat World song:
Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just try your best, try everything you can.
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.
It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).
Hey, you know they’re all the same.
You know you’re doing better on your own, so don’t buy in.
Live right now.
Yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for anyone else, after sobbing ungracefully or throwing our bikes or sulking or whatever we need to do… we have to be the ones to strap the helmet on for another ride, fork over some more cash on bikereg, put the legs to another test. Incidentally, my mom will attest to the fact that I will always live to ride another race. Despite her best efforts and fervent prayers to steer me away from being competitive, I was just born that way (and yeah, I realize the irony…)
We’re in the middle of the ride, and that means, keep riding…
Elite Women – 30 kilometers
1. Evelyn Stevens 39:22.1
2. Amber Neben 39:22.3
3. Kristin Armstrong 40:39.2
27. Crystal Anthony 44:37
On a lighter note, here are some fun observations / anecdotes from Georgia:
Wrenchwork = mechanical adjustments on a bicycle, including those accomplished without the use of a wrench
*Crick = river
*Coming up = growing up
*Used in context by the nice man who came to fix my AC at the hotel: “You in the bike race? I used to ride bikes when I was coming up… used to race them down to the crick. I’d be the first one in too, ‘til one day and I turned around and there was a water moccasin staring at me. High-tailed it outta there and haven’t been back to the crick since!”
The airport in Atlanta greets you with an aroma food of food so thick you probably inhale calories just by breathing. Augusta is rampant with supermarkets and fast food joints like Waffle House, probably to support the size of the population, and by size I am referring to the weight not the quantity of the inhabitants.
Crime must be at an all-time low because law enforcement was frighteningly amiable. Two police officers scared the crap out of me one day as I was pulling out of my parking spot at one of the aforementioned supermarkets. They rolled up on bikes to my car and motioned for me to roll down the window. They were very confused as to why asking me where I’m from and poking around the back of my car would give me the idea I’d done something illegal and probably violently dangerous. Nope, they just wanted to chat about the race and check out my bike.