It was an incredible Canada Cup race at Hardwood Hills this past weekend. The end result…I won in my division and oh what a feeling it is. This win didn’t come easily and it took a massive amount of people to keep me driven. After recovering from a fractured toe and a pulled glute muscle a few weeks back that prevented me from competing in a previous Canada Cup, I wasn’t sure how the day would play out. The saying “it is never over until you cross the finish line!” couldn’t be more true!
The moment I arrived at the race, it began to spit rain, then it began to dump rain. After a deluge of the wet stuff two days prior, I was pretty sure the trails would be pretty interesting. Running into Jenny Grass Brown of Reactivated Training, who sustained an injury and couldn’t race, I expressed my concern about certain parts of the course, particularly “Bone Shaker!” With her warm Jenny smile, she gave me a hug, told me I would be fine, to just stay loose and to do her a favour and race for her. I told her I would put it all out there for her since she couldn’t and she left me with some added confidence that I needed.
Planning for the possibility of a rainy course, I brought a set of slightly more aggressive tires for fear that I may kill myself on my dry condition only tires. Popping over to the Opus tent to say Hi to everyone, Olivier, the mechanic, quickly switched my tires for me and I was thankful that he made my life less complicated.
I spent the next hour spinning on my trainer, rocking out to Rob Zombie and Ozzie Osbourne. Necessary tunes to get me pumped for racing. All the while the rain kept coming. One by one, I watched muddy riders returning after their race…now I knew what I was in for.
Finishing my warmup, I saw Mikaela Kofman, an incredible senior elite racer. Covered in mud she made it very clear that I need to be patient out there. She said, people are going to try and rush and the conditions don’t allow for that. If I ride smart and be patient, I’ll stay on my bike. She knows how to race and her advice always works for me.
It was my turn to race and I lined up at the start line with all the other incredible women. The skies had begun to clear and it was relief to many of us that at least the trails might have a chance to begin drying out. My dear friends, Lori and Peter Kofman, from Erace Cancer Cycling Team came to give their pep talk, hugs and take pictures of Rhonda and I. Rhonda is an amazing athlete who races for their team and has become an awesome friend to me. Their support is a crucial ingredient to starting off well. Before I knew it, the horn sounded and we were off.
The start of the race was a total lung buster. I timed three minutes of hammering up sandy terrain covered in wood chips and hay to get to the first single track. I quickly discovered that the terrain was very soggy and slow and there was a lot of humidity in the air. In those three minutes I knew that this race would fry my legs and make me feel like I was breathing through a wet blanket.
Finally into the single track and I immediately discovered how sporty the trails were. Squishy, slippery troughs of mud everywhere. I watched as some of the women ahead of me started sliding off the trail and started spinning out in the mud. Mikaela’s advice popped in my head and I knew that I had to start riding like I was riding in snow. The key was to keep the wheel straight up and aim straight…no off-cambering the wheel and use a slightly easier gear so I don’t spin the back tire. The snow surfing was paying off and I was feeling good about handling the conditions.
Noelle Wansbrough and I were playing cat and mouse through the first lap and part of the second. When one of us slipped up, the other would pass. Heading into a hill climb, Noelle passed me as she used her incredible climbing legs to jettison up the hill. I made sure I kept her in sight until I had another slip up getting into the single track.
Then I had a major wipeout unexpectedly near the end of the second lap. Picking up my speed, I slipped off a root, hit a stump with my front tire, launched over my handlebars and landed down the hill with my ribs hammered by a log. I looked up hill at my bike and saw it standing upright, resting against a tree as if I had intentionally placed it there. I had the wind knocked out of me but a quick assessment determined nothing was broken…time to get back on my bike. Running up the hill I was slipping on the mud. Eventually getting to my bike, I jumped on and fumbled trying to get my pedals clipped in since my cleats were full of debris. I used my ‘slamming my foot against the pedal technique’ and they eventually clipped in.
I passed the feed zone and heard the voices of so many friends shouting my name and my second name “Yawnee.” Lori Kofman, my fabulous feed gal, shouted “go get her, you can do this, chase her down!” I could hear her yelling at me as I rode into the forest and I realized, “Wow, I better do this or she’s going to hurt me!”
Trying to push up the long slog of the hill at the start of the third lap I couldn’t catch my breath. My ribs hurt and I needed oxygen. Helen Smith, who races in another category, came behind me and noticed me struggling. With a stern voice she said, “Jany, come on girl, last lap, you’ve got this, now let’s go!” I came out of my fog and followed her command. I told myself, “Yes, only 8 km to go. I can make up a lot in 8 km.
I hung behind Helen and kept telling myself “Be smart, it’s not over until you cross the finish line, never surrender!” I passed Helen on a hill then quickly slid off the trail when I entered the single-track. She passed by, asked if I was OK, then carried on. I hopped back on my bike and headed towards the open area and feed zone.
Lori was standing in an open spot as I came out of the woods. She ran beside me yelling, “Go get her, she’s right there, go get her now!” I nodded and began pushing the gears. There were masses of people yelling at me in the feed zone. Lynn Derrick kept yelling “Yawnee!!!” I had so many supporters screaming my name I felt like the entire crowd knew me. I heard a guy shout, “you crushed cancer, now crush this!” Then Lori’s voice shouted from the other side of the course, “Go Jany, go!” It was the punch that I needed and I got energized.
The gap between Noelle and I got smaller and with 3 km to go, I knew I had to accept the pain and give everything I had if I wanted to win it. I got closer to Noelle and then suddenly she stopped. As I approached her I asked if she was OK…she was OK, but sadly had a mechanical. I was bummed. She was riding so well and I didn’t want her race to end that way. I could only think of saying, “I’m so sorry,” then I carried on.
I didn’t know who was behind me in my category and reminded myself that the race isn’t over until the finish line so I kept the burners on. Entering the BMX section of the course, I was close to the finish and enjoyed getting some air time on the jumps. I rode down the log staircase to the final stretch. Just as I told myself, “This is it, Jany, now go!” I heard a fellow shout, “Hammer, Jany, hammer!” I thought, “oh shit, who is behind me?” I pushed my bike into my hardest gear and did the sprint of my life giving everything I had left. In between my hyperventilating, I could hear the crowd cheering as I crossed the finish line. I finished and quickly hunkered down at a tree. I couldn’t catch my breath and the tears were streaming down my face. I knew I had won the Canada Cup that has eluded me for some time and my vision of having my hands up in celebration of winning became real.
It was because of all of the incredible people I have become friends with in cycling that gave me so much power to keep pushing. I am living a dream as I have the privilege to be alive and ride my bike. I am thankful that I get to feel the pain in my lungs and my legs and I get to experience the belief that others have in me to push beyond perceived physical limits. It doesn’t get any better than that!