The Man in the Arena
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
The past five months have been spent clawing my way out of a hole. Mentally and physically, I was drained. Riding wasn’t fun anymore. Getting on my bike in the morning was a chore. I’d flateaued*. Quitting cycling was on my mind but it wasn’t really an option. What else was I going to do? I love this sport too much to just walk away from it entirely. Something drastic needed to happen and it was up to me to make that change. I moved out of the training center, moved 1200 miles away (again), and changed coaches. Yes, it was a gamble, a huge one, and I was all in. Did I know what would happen? Not really, but I needed to try something. The way I saw it, there were two possible outcomes. First, I’d change everything and still be miserable as an athlete and retire but I’d be living in a place I liked. Second, it would work out, I’d like riding again, I’d get faster, and results would soon follow.
The UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships was the first real test, the first battle, after revamping my training regime. I felt good although a bit uncertain as to whether or not my changes would be effective. If they didn’t, then, well, I tried my best and that ‘failure’ would be on me. Like the man in the arena, I was prepared to fight.
The first event was the 500. Warm up went perfectly, I was totally relaxed, and ready to ride. The clock ticked down and it was time to go. Maybe it was Nanee’s holy card my mom had in her pocket because it felt like I had wings. It was effortless. I came across the line, saw my time-.02 seconds faster than I’d ever gone before- and was giddy. There were still three riders to go so I had a few minutes to wait and see where I’d end up. Second! I was pumped! I nearly knocked Craig over because I jumped on him in my excitement. (It was the most I’ve ever emoted in my entire life.) The first fight was won, in my book, and the week was off to a great start.
Saturday morning was pursuit qualification and I was paired with the rider from New Zealand. The ride was a PR for the track in LA and got me through to the gold medal final, against Great Britain, that evening. Sarah (GBR) isn’t even in the same league as the rest of us. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if, one day, news came out of her being a robot. After looking at the times from the morning, I knew that if I rode my ride from qualification that I’d get caught and finish second. Race over. Finishing second was the worst result I could get at that point so I had nothing to lose. The clock ticked down and I went out like a bat out of hell. My plan was to attempt to catch her, or at least shake her and drag the ride out longer. I wasn’t going to just roll over and hand her a gold medal, she was going to have to work for it. The opening kilo was the fastest I’d ever ridden. Shortly after that it was like an elephant lounging on top of a piano was attached to the bike and I started slowing down. Fast. Sarah ended up catching me and the race was over. Second, again, but I went down swinging.
The next afternoon was the scratch race. It was the first time a mass start race was held at a para-cycling world championship. Everyone was excited for it and it was shaping up to be another great event. After the previous two days of racing, I was on cloud nine. I was a gladiator and the track was my arena. The race started and everyone was watching for someone else to make the first move, waiting to react. I took matters into my own hand and made the first move. My teammate, Jenny, went with. Shortly after that, we were joined by an Aussie and the three of us worked to stay away. Our attempt was unsuccessful, the field regrouped, and the pace lulled for a few laps. A few more laps, blah, blah, blah riding in circles. At this point we were getting down to the end of the race. With the field together it was do or die. At the bell, with one to go, I made a move through the front straight, got a gap and was able to stay away for the W.
The weekend was successful on the racing front and I’m very pleased with the results. The week gave me a taste of the triumph of high achievement. That said, I’m not satisfied. There is still a lot of work to be done to continue improving. What was good here won’t mean anything in 187 days at the Games.
The dust, sweat and blood on me already is nothing. I’m ready for the war.
*Flateau |fla to| noun. figurative A state of little to no activity following rapid regression. Her athletic ability flateaued and she became stagnant, stale.
By Greta Neimanas
Photo © Pat Benson