The engine of my ’94 Nissan Sentra sputtered as I turned the key. My $300 mountain bike was jammed in the back seat of my car (affectionately named The Tough Bastard) and I muscled my way through the turns up the switchbacks to Sandia Peak Ski Area outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. My car didn’t have power steering, but it took me where I wanted to go. I was about to line up for my first mountain bike race; never mind the fact that I had only started mountain biking 3 weeks ago. I labeled myself as a runner at the time and was excited to try something new. When I strapped that very first crisp number plate to my handlebar, I didn’t realize it would change my life. It’s now been over a decade since I started mountain bike racing and it still baffles me that I have made a career out of my passion and travel the world doing it. It’s the adventures and the long shots I’ve taken that continue to define me.
The Tough Little Bastard.
I started as an eager XC racer (that’s 15-20 mile total racing distance) and started racing in the “pro” category 2 years later. When I like something, I’m all in and I went head first into cycling (and tried to avoid going head first when I crashed although it happens on occasion). I enjoyed the competition but after several years, I grew bored racing for 1.5 hours in the same places and riding around in circles. I felt like there was something missing. It seemed that XC racing was more about beating other people and less about a personal challenge. 5 years ago I changed my discipline to ultra endurance mountain biking. The romance of long rides on the unexplored Rocky Mountain backcountry trails clutched at my spirit. I’d unsnap the lid of the black sharpie and trace massive trail loops on maps, load my pack with food and water, and set off to see what would happen and how long it would take. I was struggling with motivation to do the 1.5 hour short interval training rides necessary for XC racing because for me, they lacked substance. There wasn’t a lot of adventure in staring at my bike computer doing intervals on the same stretch of road or trail though it’s almost required if you want to get faster! With an unquenchable thirst for more, I started picking the longest and hardest single and multi-day events around the USA. I found my niche; 100 milers and stage (multi-day) racing. I was able to progress and start winning races around the world and racing across regions of countries like Sri Lanka, Haiti, Nepal, Mongolia, and Morocco and even winning a World Championship. I am hooked because it makes me feel alive.
One of my races through the Sahara Desert
Stage racing, particularly in third world countries teaches you more about yourself than you could ever learn during the daily grind. It strips you down to the essentials- food, water, basic shelter, and getting from point A to point B in one piece. You live like the locals. You learn the importance of community because that group of people you are racing with and against for a week is all you know. They become your family. Everyone has one and the same label: “mountain biker”; as opposed to the labels and expectations that society can place on us in a city. Rich, poor, big house, small house, CEO, janitor- none of those descriptors matter at a stage race. Dinners are spent sharing stories of what you saw or of personal encounters creating true camaraderie. To top it off, no matter what the fitness or skill level of rider, you are physically pushing yourself to the limit for days on end in foreign conditions. If you are not mentally strong, it will break you. I’ve learned some incredible life lessons from racing. Lessons that I use in my every day life, for work, and in relationships.
Here are the three most important.
- Attitude is a choice. We are lucky! We get to choose the lens for the world. Choosing to scan for the positive things around you instead of focusing on the negative makes you more successful and happier. Just ask Shawn Achor, Harvard PhD, author of “The Happiness Advantage.” When I see something challenging in front of me, I feel the apprehension, then laugh at it and kick its ass instead of withering and dreading how painful it’ll be.
- Be brave. It’s worth it. It takes courage to believe in your dreams and take the necessary steps to make them happen. It won’t always turn out the way you expected, but simply getting started when you want to do something will change your life. Overcoming the “what ifs” and taking action will change the way you approach all future challenges.
- You can do way more than you think. Anyone who has taken on a challenge can relate to this. You can think back and say, “Wow! I did all that!” It can be raising a child, running a marathon, or even taking guitar lessons. The more you do, the more you believe you can do.
If you live with these key points in mind as I do, you’ll find yourself doing extraordinary things! If you’d like to hear how I define success, watch my TED Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYiflJvxTac)
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