Thursday, June 25, 2015

Don't Use Your Face as a Brake Pad

Read Alli Palmgren's column in the June 25, 2015 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. Alli is the Technology Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library.

Bicycles are my thing. For years, I raced almost every weekend from April to January in whatever discipline that season offered: road, cyclocross, XC mountain biking, and track. Racing has given me my friends, my health, my identity, and my husband (we met at a bike industry Christmas party, but that is a story for another day).
After meeting my husband, racing every weekend just didn’t seem as appealing as exploring the roads and trails of New England at a more leisurely pace with him. Andy opened my eyes to parts of the sport that I never thought would interest me. He encouraged me to begin leading group rides and helped me to switch to an all-women’s team that focused on the competitive aspects of the sport, but also performed outreach to help get women involved in the predominantly male sport of cycling.

While I still raced now and again, I spent an increasing amount of time on my mountain bike, riding with our dogs instead of standing on a start line waiting for the whistle to blow. Almost nothing beats picking your way up a climb with your 4-legged friends showing you the best line- except standing on the top step of a podium. That feeling is incredible.

Winning is like a powerful drug. Once you get a taste, you are always looking for your next fix. After a long winter stuck inside, I was itching for another chance to get that feeling again. So in the dark depths of a snowy February, I declared to my husband that I would begin racing downhill mountain biking.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, downhill mountain biking (DH for short) entails riding down a course that is littered with large natural and manmade obstacles on bikes that closely resemble motocross bikes, but with the rider supplying the motor. My husband (a former DH national champion himself) took it upon himself to bring a few things to my attention that might hinder my progress: DH bikes are extremely expensive and I didn’t own one, I also didn’t own the right safety equipment, and I have only ridden DH a handful of times. I was still undeterred.

Fortunately, my husband saw that I was serious and in true Andy style, he set to chipping away at the things standing in my way. He sold some bikes to pull together the funds to buy me a new DH bike and every gift I have opened since my pronouncement has been something like a full-face helmet or a pair of pedals. Now the only thing preventing me from achieving DH mountain biking glory is me.

It is going to be hard on the ego to take that first fall, and the many that will surely come after it. Bumps and bruises heal quickly, but once shaken, confidence is slow to recover. I don’t expect to win anything this season; I’m just hoping that I can follow my husband’s advice, “Don’t use your face as a brake pad.”

With that in mind, I headed over to the 796’s to see what inspiration I could find from other cyclists that have overcome challenges to achieve their athletic goals.I picked up “Major” by Todd Balf on a whim and was sucked in by the incredible story of the rise and fall of Marshall “Major” Taylor, an athlete that was for a time, the world’s fastest man. As a black track cyclist racing at the turn of the 20th century, Taylor had to overcome poverty, racism, and family struggles to eventually set numerous world records. While the story is incredible on its own, I was also drawn in by the Massachusetts connections. Major Taylor relocated to Worcester as a teenager and was known as the Worcester Whirlwind. A statue commemorating his life stands in front of the Worcester Public Library.

After reading this well-written account of Major Taylor’s life, it is hard not to be inspired to take on this new athletic challenge. As I stare down at the course from the top of my first training run this weekend, I hope I can remember Marshall Taylor’s words, “Realizing full well that fine condition and confidence will not in themselves make a champion, it is my belief, however, that they are essential factors.” I will make every effort to take that first pedal stroke with confidence and give a silent salute to the Worcester Whirlwind.