I redefine loss. I redefine failure. I redefine losing, being last, being the worst. I redefine it as learning. I say in my head when I’m out at the Larkin Crits, “No. This is not me being terrible. This is me trying. This is me out here. This is me on a bike in a circle. This is pedals moving. This is my friends cheering. This is me smiling. This is me having a hell of a time out here in the sun and the cool breeze and Nickel City written across my chest.”
This is me winning against the self that said she wasn’t going to do crits. This is me triumphing over that person who would have cheered from the side lines in a pretty dress with a beer and a cute hat and clapping, clapping, clapping, but not doing.
This is me on the bike in my kit with the grease stain that doesn’t quite match because I got the tri shorts instead of the bike shorts. This is me not looking hot or cute or sweet. Definitely not.
This is me in motion.
At the crit on Thursday, I rode around in the practice laps with my team and I felt my legs getting ready. I can barely keep up with them when they are practicing, but I do it anyway. I take the risk because without the risk there is no reward. I am the kind of woman who expects a lot out of life and I’ve never been scared to try new things even if this means somewhat sucking at them. I’ll suck at it until I don’t. And, then when I don’t suck I’ll have a depth and a kindness to all those new riders who do suck because I’ll remember.
We are at the start and I see some of my cycling friends and I’m next to my cycling ally on my team and I look to my captain, the woman I had the conversation with on the phone two days before, “Is there any possible harm I can do to anyone if I decide to race on Thursday?”
“Absolutely not,” my captain says clear through the wire.
In my head, it clicks, I’m in. I’ll do the crit.
And my foot is clipped in and the man with the loudspeaker is yelling out, “Five, four, three,” and I can feel my heart beating. This is amateur racing but the feeling is just the same as if this were a race for money, for sponsors, for titles.
“Two,” I think about a song and it’s in my head. It’s Rilo Kiley’s “A Better Son or Daughter.”
“One” and we’re off and the song remains and we do the first turn and I hear it loud and clear, “Sometimes in the morning I am petrified and can’t move.”
I take the corner and I’m in the group and I’m in the middle and I know I really shouldn’t be there. I’ll be last. I know it, but maybe just for this moment I can dream. I can dream in this peleton of being better than my legs, of my lungs, of my head. I can dream this illusion for another corner or two and I do. I dream it so loud and I’m next to my friend from Emblem and I hear her breathing and I know she’s a better racer than me and it’s so okay. It is so okay.
And then we go on the quiet part of the street and the song carries on in my head and I stay on for a lap and there are no fans when we come around the first corner and that’s when they take off, “Awake and cannot open my eyes and the weight is crushing down on my lungs I know can’t breathe and hope someone will save me this time . . .”
And, they take the corner so fast and that one woman who is really good just attacks super strongly and we all breathe like crazy and it’s on and I’ve lost them and a guy yells, “Catch ’em. You’re close”
And I take the next corner behind and there is one woman behind me and I want to thank the world for letting me feel what it’s like to be a little bit better than someone else at this moment even if she passes me later because it does feel nice but it’s a strange feeling because it’s just riding a bike. It’s not worth of character. But, I’m riding fast and I see I’m going twenty miles per hour and I am doing well and then I am alone from the pack and I come up to the line and I wonder how this is going to be, going by all my cycling friends, everyone who has come here to watch this race and I feel it in my heart when they yell my name and the song sings on “and sometimes when you’re on, you’re really fucking on and your friends they sing along and they love you.”
And, I realize, they are giving me this love as I am riding by. I am riding badly; I have fallen from the pack but they are just giving me all this love in their cheers and I just smile.
I just smile because it’s all so nice.
And thirty minutes later I finish, last and I love it and I am so happy.
And, a red headed five year old kid I adore comes up to me after and takes my hat off and asks me about my team and he is so smart and interested in bikes and this is all I need. I need this bike riding and I need this interaction with this kid.
The next day I get a text from the kid’s dad, a friend I really like, and he says, “We were giving him things to dream about last night and we said, ‘You are riding a bike’ and he says ‘okay’ and we say, ‘Who are you riding it with?’ and he says, ‘Alexis.'”
He says, “Alexis.” This little five-year-old kid picks me to ride bikes with in his dreams.
And that’s about all I need in this scary, sad, painful, wonderful, hard and oh so beautiful life.