“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” is how the saying goes and it’s what I tell myself most days. My life has been a series of stacked hurdles since cancer and chemotherapy. As a result, it makes my days of wellness as unpredictable as spring weather.
Muscle pain and weakness along with migraines blah blah blah…is part of my life, the majority of days. No complaints though…I am alive and will always fight to make the best of it. However, this uncertainty of what the next day will bring means not all events are an option and if I choose to participate, it’s a guarantee to be a real character builder!
I was going into the Woodnewton Ocup feeling like I’d been in a boxing match and was obviously, not the winner! I get tired of feeling like crap and letting the pain control my days so I went to the race to try my best. Woodnewton is a fantastic venue, near Uxbridge, Ontario and the race is held by Superfly Racing which guarantee’s a coarse that will never disappoint.
My warm-up was a good indication that my body went on vacation and only my brain was at the race. Going into the line-up and watching the clock count down to the start was like being a kid in school waiting for the 3 o’clock bell to ring. After what felt like an eternity, the horn finally sounded and the adventure to “when will I crack, had begun.”
Within a minute of the sprint out of the gate, my gas tank blew up. I was seeing stars and my lungs were about to spontaneously combust. Slowing the pace down, one by one the women passed me and I couldn’t do anything about it. “Ride to finish Jany, just ride to finish,” I told myself. Blending in with a few riders near the back, I set my sights for doing what I could. After all, it’s never over until you cross the finish line and anything can happen.
With quite a bit of climbing in the early part of the course, my legs were slow and heavy. Invisible ankle weights made every pedal stroke an effort in perseverance. Looking ahead, many of the women were long gone and the few that were left, I enjoyed watching their speed ascending the mole hills that were mountains for me. Shortly after, a dear friend and competitor, Nathalie encountered a mechanical. Having to ride past her was painful. As a competitor, we can’t stop and help and I really wanted to help.
Finishing the first lap and passing through the feed zone, I could hear my husband Steven reminding me how strong I am. My heart broke hearing those words and my eyes became blurry from the tears. He has sacrificed many days to be at races with me and I realized his 100% support needed 100% return. I was losing myself to my pain and it was time to fight back.
The second lap was one pedal stroke at a time. Waves of relief, yet momentary, were great reminders of what it is like to be pain free and float like a feather in the wind. Adrenaline can do that! The second lap seemed to pass more quickly (not according to the results, but it felt faster). Hitting the feed zone with one more lap to go, I saw my friend Andrea (former competitor) and her huge smile. She knew I was in pain and shouted out, “one more lap Jany, you can do this!” Then I saw Steven hoping to pass me a new bottle to drink. I hadn’t even touched my original bottle and just shook my head “no!” As I rounded the bend and he was out of sight, I could still hear his voice and positive words.
The last lap was turning into more than a struggle. I needed someone to chase to keep me focused. I put Steven’s image in front of me on the hills. Chasing him gave me the kick in the butt I needed, even if he was imaginary.
Pain has a voice that screams its desire to win. It is the grim reaper that puts out his hand and tells you to walk with him. In my world, there is no walking allowed…not with my bike or with my life, so I kept pedalling.
The suffering of the hills was complete and the remaining, swooping to rocky single track was left. Knowing the area well, I let the bike fly and do what came naturally. There wasn’t much pedalling required until the sprint at the finish. “Ride smart and finish,” I told myself.
Coming into the home stretch, Steven’s voice echoed from the crowd. It was the push I needed to put what I had left into the final sprint. My legs buckled after I crossed the line. It took me a moment to compose myself. Steven managed to find me through the crowd and I had to hold him tightly. The resilience that it takes to stand beside me and watch me push myself to such extremes is a quality that is priceless. I could never repay him for his dedication but I can show my appreciation by always trying to be my very best.
I came in 5th out of 13 which is absolutely astonishing. It was a finish far beyond expectations. To top it off, I was ecstatic to find out my Erace Cancer Cycling teammates Lori Kofman, her husband Peter, Shannon Ford-Smith and Rob Sule all made it to the podium. I was particularly happy for Lori, who had a tough season last year with early injuries. She has worked hard to get back to racing and she royally kicked my ass at this race…I am so proud of her.
In reading this, you may be thinking…am I pushing myself too hard, or why would I put myself through so much pain…for what? Well, the answer is complex but a quick look at who I am…I am living my life to the fullest even when it hurts. I’ve already got a hole punched in my “ticket of life” and I’ll be sure to do as much as I can before that ticket runs out. There is also the “pain that hurts” and “pain that is hurting me.” If I ever felt that I was causing serious injury to myself, I would stop (well maybe…just not in Sudbury)! Otherwise, pain is just that…pain. Pushing my threshold helps me continuously discover that my well of fortitude to endure is deeper than imagined. I am driven to show people what is possible, when you’re willing to try. Lastly, even if “we are strictly racing for Cliff Bars,” as I often say to riders filled with nerves at the starting line…I push myself to find the best part of me which is never found in comfort.