There is a constant hum in the wintery cold basement. A pool of sweat darkens the stains left from previous days emissions. Gold and bronze Canada Cup medals, covered in dust, hang in the window giving marginal anchor for the pseudo-home of the local spider. With the volume cranked high, the movie “The Mummy” is playing for the second time within hours. This is my life on the bike trainer pre-racing season and the start of 2013.
Pedalling furiously on my two-wheel indoor contraption for what seemed like eternity was in pursuit of the best wattage and increased power. This training can still be equivalent to watching paint dry….anyone who has ridden a trainer will agree! The only difference; you’re gasping for breath. The mission; to be as bad ass as I could on a bike…any bike because I was on an incredible team…Erace Cancer Cycling Team raising money for Camp Oochigeas. Of course, racing is realistically a personal quest at this point in my life as the prize purse is pretty much a Cliff Bar and possibly a plaque. The pummelling of my legs, lungs and brain for hours on end in the confines of a cinderblock room is really because I love to ride my bike, try hard enough to pretty much make my head explode and help out kids with cancer!
The one crucial ingredient that was different in 2013; my health. My post-chemo medical challenges had increased in quantity and duration. With each day and each pedal stroke my muscles burned from the searing pain that became as normal as breathing. Often crying during the workouts from the sheer discomfort, I refused to give in and persisted in cranking the pedals around. As the days turned to weeks, the tears also came from my heartache in realizing that my dreams for a big year were fading. This meant one thing; I may have to surrender…well just a bit…to my new reality and accommodate the very real fact that my goals had to change.
But, as always, yesterday was yesterday and each new day was another day of new possibilities. The winter eventually melted away and all the lycra clad pedalling fiends took to the race courses. I was no exception. Some were mountain bike races and some were road (terrifying). Going into many of the races, my body stayed at home but even then, the mind is a powerful tool and magic can happen sometimes. I got the taste of being back on the podium on occasion and it was delicious!
Leading into the prime part of the racing season, there were several pivotal moments that ultimately lead to the end of my racing season but there are two that truly left their mark. The first came after one mountain bike race; my husband had to help me walk back to the car and take care of my broken body and spirit for days that followed (and I hadn’t even crashed). I was fairly wrecked before the race but refused to give in and put everything into that 1 1/2 hours of hammering. Depleted of everything, reality kicked in the door I usually have locked in my head and took a rubber mallet to my stubbornness.
The other pivotal moment was at the Canada Cup at Hardwood Hills. The morning of the race I mustered up every ounce of stubbornness I built over the years and set out to whoop some ass even if it was somewhat delusional. One minute into the race, stars danced before my eyes but it wasn’t dark out. Gasping for breath, pain screamed from every muscle in my body and in an instant my brain said, “I’m done!” Immediately, my body relaxed and eased off on the pace. It seemed that within a nano-second I found myself deciding that I would try and help other racers instead by playing drill sergeant (all of you that know me know I’m good at it!). After all, it is still best to finish last than to not finish at all! Picking two racers in my category that have always put everything they had into their racing, they were about to be followed! The two became one as one fell behind and it was incredible to see my competitor adhere to my commands. She listened and pushed her limits all the while responding with, “OK, Jany, I’ll try.” It was a winning moment for me to watch her cross the finish line ahead of me. Without hesitation, she instantly stopped and turned waiting for me as I rode in. She dropped her bike and gave me the biggest and longest hug. Tears poured from my eyes as she made me feel so incredibly special. This experience was more valuable than any podium finish. There was no doubt in my mind that my very best in racing wasn’t always the racing part.
My tasmanian devil efforts towards the finish line were done, so now what? Being an adventure seeker and always searching for some other adrenaline, underwear filling kind of adventure….it was time to change gears to what I knew well…rock climbing. There are shorter periods of effort and discomfort in my vertical passion and there was hope that the natural movements would lend itself to being kind to my physical challenges. Ultimately, it was meant to keep my spirit fired up for the times that my body would fail to cooperate and I could only practice mental fitness and reflection.
Taking to the sharp-end of climbing where falling means butt-clenching air time…was the only way to do it and a guarantee for a few ‘holy shit’ moments. Let’s just say there was almost a need for a new pair of undergarments the first few times I took the plummet towards the earth with what appears to be dental floss keeping me from hitting the ground. Getting back to something physical after a hiatus only means one thing….you kinda suck at it for a bit. I’ve always said that it’s kinda nice to suck at something you use to excel at because you change your expectations and rules and get back to the true spirit of the sport. I totally sucked and it felt incredible and free.
The pursuit of that mental and physical freedom comes with a price…the usual one…it hurts physically and it turned out climbing wasn’t much different. But, since I’m stubborn, I decided the effort of trying to control that which ails me was worth experimenting on even more. How does one experiment? I entered a few indoor climbing competitions….that’s how! Now, these competitions involve only climbing approximately 15 feet up (called ‘bouldering’) and usually last less than a minute. There are no age categories, strictly gender categories. The median age of the women in the Women’s Open (Advanced) category is 20. I was that age way more than 20 years ago and knew that if I had an ego, it needed to retire because I was going to get schooled by 16 year olds who weighed less than one of my legs! Age, schmage, I told myself, this advanced-in-age chic (I refrain from saying mature since that is debatable) can bust out a few old school skills on occasion and maybe even have a fairy dust, low gravity kinda day.
There was a magical day that came and went as fast as a shooting star! Making it to finals and coming in 4th place amongst a group of extremely strong and much lighter-in-weight young women was mind-blowing. It was unforgettable and being called ‘a legend’…was priceless. That fairy dust magic got sucked out by some kinda high-powered Dyson vacuum cleaner and the comps to follow resulted in a 31st out of 33 and a few other in-between results. Entering comps under-the-weather didn’t allow for personal bests but the ability to encourage and witness true feats of strength and courage is worth the price of admission.
2013 by performance standards was far from a banner year. However, I did try road racing (still terrifying) and managed to come in 2nd (it was hilly and I love hills); entered a cyclocross race called the Steaming Nostril that took me back to a time before cars and carbon bikes; made it to finals in a climbing comp; got back on the sharp-end of a rope; celebrated another birthday (hell ya!) and reached another milestone in my 5 year anniversary as a cancer survivor. It’s been another year of making new friends, facing tough decisions and being creative on how to make the best of every moment. The foundation of which I built my life on had cracks form, some large. Regardless of the cracks, I found a way to take the dirt in my life, fill in the cracks and build a beautiful garden around me. My foundation will always have some weaknesses but it’s what I can grow from it that will make the difference.
What is on the agenda for 2014….I honestly couldn’t tell you. I stopped planning ahead most of the time since the privilege of being functional is like a surprise package that can’t be opened til the morning. That being said, regardless of my physical challenges (and we all have them), I will do what I can, it will be done to the best of my ability, a smile will always be on my face and just when you think I won’t whoop your ass…think again…I just might!
Wishing everyone a very happy, healthy and personally successful 2014. See you out there livin’ every day like someone left the gate open!