Breakaway

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Image     We sat in the small café, candles on the table, our hands around our drink glasses.  Our coach moved my beer and the others’ wine glasses in a line.  He told us how to do a breakaway.  His hands shifted the glasses and my mind flooded with happiness.

All of us were sweaty from the training—four women with peach stung faces and two men: our coach and a teammate’s boyfriend who offered his helpful advice about his own racing experience.

We sat in the glowing café on the dark street.  Someone walking by would see a bicycle team: a group of women who have come together to try and ride bicycles as fast as they can.  They would see our faces change from serious intent then broken by bursts of joyful laughter.

Our laughter echoed throughout the small café.  As others worked on laptops, we talked politics of there being a women’s criterium race this summer.  In my understanding, a crit is racing around a circle at top speeds.  I have never been to a criterium, let alone raced in one.  Ironically and pleasantly surprisingly, our male coach is fighting for there to be a women’s criterium this summer at Larkinville.

I was not so convinced. It seems odd that I am not fighting for the same cause as our coach.  I believe women and men should strive for equality—especially in cycling.  However, if there is a women’s crit, this means I may be in it: something I’m not sure I want to do. I don’t mind doing things outside my comfort zone, but I don’t like doing things that are dangerous.  I have yet to determine whether me racing in a crit would be a good challenge or just broken collarbone, traumatic brain injury, bloody arms and legs dangerous.  However, I learned that there are crit practices for men and women when the weather breaks.  Perhaps, I could learn how to ride safely in a criterium.

I left the café with the taste of beer and possibility on my tongue.  Were we just talking about bike racing or are we actually in a much larger discussion?

“So you’re all about it if it’s for equality?”  My coach yelled to me as he walked across the street.

I smiled, “Yeah.”

Perhaps, this discussion—this moving of glasses across the table, showing us how to do a breakaway–isn’t just about learning the subtle art of bicycle racing; perhaps, it’s about a much different kind of breakaway all together.

Weigh-in

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Thighs.  Calves.

Abdominals.  Biceps.

A road.  A race.

In middle school, I was always one of the skinniest girls: a peapod with a floppy ponytail.  My shirts were too big.  My legs were straight lines.  My wrists could break off at any moment.  I was a small kid.

In high school, I tried drinking whole milk.  I ate a ton.  I wanted curves.  I wanted a body that moved, that swayed, that wasn’t so string bean thin.

Then, I went to college and my body changed.  I gained weight—maybe twenty pounds from my high school years.  I gained mass, but I wasn’t strong.

Now, I am thirty and this Monday at training we were asked if we wanted to do a weigh-in.  Some women wanted to and some refused (weight is such a delicate issue).  I opted for it.  In this setting, with my fellow teammates, I figured, “It’s a team.  They aren’t going to care and I’m not going to care.”  However, my reaction to my weigh-in was odd.  It was a mixture of embarrassment and pride of how much I weighed.  In high school, I felt like I was nothing because I was so thin.  In college, I felt I had substance.  I weighed something.  However, this isn’t good enough.  The point is not to just be heavy; the point is to be strong.

Women are often prompted to be skinny.  This is the goal: thin.  But is it?  What about weight that is powerful?  I want my body to weigh whatever it will weight but move like a horse, every muscle working in motion to propel, faster, and faster, and faster.

I want legs that will carry me through.  I want calves that will take me down that road faster than I thought I could go.  I want to be sleek but muscular.  Racers are muscles working together, legs churning, moving, digging in deep; they are bodies in motion, powerfully soaring across that beautiful finish line.

 

You are Me.

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Image            She is slow.  Her legs don’t move fast.  She bikes like a sloth climbs.  She’s no fox, no gazelle, no panther.  On turns, she tightens her body and is scared.  On sprints, she can’t quite make it.  She’s outrun by the third minute. 

            She is me and I am her and you are me.  In some small way you are me and one day, one day, I’ll be you.

            There is not as much separation as we think.  I learned this when I was studying Islam at my old job.  A professor used to talk with me at the end of the day.  He used to say something like, “Alexis, we aren’t separate.  You.  Me.  Humans.  There are all these things connecting us.  Molecules of space are between us—we do not just stop flat.” I even heard it today at my café job.  The chef said to a manager, “I am God,” and she replied, “Oh really?” and he said, “Yeah.  But so are you.” 

            So things can’t always be qualified in some hierarchy.  There is not as much good and bad as we think.  Things just are.  There are no Kings and Queens, only hearts beating, yearning, yearning, yearning.  I’ve never road raced before but my heart wants it.  I want to climb up hills, to move as fast as I can, to be liquid energy propelling forward.

            January marks the start of my intensive training for Nickel City Racing.  I know I won’t be the best, but I hope improve.  I haven’t had an official team since I played lacrosse (I play soccer in the summer, but it’s not the same).  The women on Nickel City are truly athletic.  For the most part, they are older than me and in terms of sports, they are who I want to be.  They push their bodies to the limits. 

            So why compete then if there is no hierarchy—no fast sprint to the end to say “I am better than you?”  Isn’t the fundamental idea of competition to see who is the best?  My high school self never would have played lacrosse if she wasn’t trying to be a top player.  I was on varsity.  I was a captain.  I won awards.  The news interviewed me and gave me an award.  I talked to college coaches.  They wanted me to play for them.  But, then I didn’t do any of that.  I gave it up.  My heart wasn’t in it.

             But, my heart is in this and maybe precisely because I constantly fail at it.

            With cycling, I am the one struggling.  I am the one who doesn’t do it smoothly, who doesn’t win, who it doesn’t come easily to.  I am the one who falls. Back in my lacrosse days I had ego but not strength.  I had hubris but not confidence.  I lacked depth, compassion, patience.  Now, I see I am here for the journey.  This is the same reason Buddhism appeals to me.   It is walking the path. It is the small moments.  It is riding your bike and clearing your mind.  It is nothingness and everything-ness at the same time.  It is your legs moving, churning, churning, pushing through moments of space and then you realize you haven’t thought about anything else but how that willow tree looks as you approach it or how the wind feels on your face or the rain drops melting on your hot skin.  You realize you are that tree.  You are those raindrops.  You are forward motion, potential and then kinetic energy. 

            I am you.  You are me.  I am her. I am my past self and my future self.  I am two states of being.  And, January is Janus’ month.  She is looking forward and looking back.  Two directions at the same time.