Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Part of Something Bigger

Being part of something bigger than oneself can mean a myriad of different things. Clearly, it also means something different to everyone. My life is all but consumed by cycling and the pursuit of that passion. For years I searched, trying to find exactly where I fit into the cycling community. I'd progressed through a number of different fads and phases and in recent years,

I'd really focused on racing. A couple years ago I got so serious that I hired a coach, spent the season racing the elite MTB series and every elite road race I could find and really tried to give it a solid run. I also trained like mad, especially early in the season. The result was that I got really strong and had some solid results at first. By the middle of the season however, the results waned, I was really beat all the time and the fun started to fade. In the end, this resulted in me stepping back and taking another look at my objectives. Unfortunately, a really great cyclocross season once again lit a fire that carried into last season, with a record setting spring time training session and some more solid performances. The though of holding it all year long kept me motivated and cross started out great, but promptly tanked, really hard. This was the straw that broke the trend and this past winter I was ready for a break.

We were fortunate to have an excellent snow year and so I let the bike be and reached for the skis. We had a wonderful time and when the spring rolled around I was ready to ride my bike, albeit with a somewhat different view on things. I didn't let myself feel compelled to race or ride for that matter if I didn't want to and I was listening to what my body was saying, trying to rest and recover rather than just push through it. This has been working well and I have been able to maintain motivation, with the ultimate hope being that I can hold it all season long.

Enough about that though. Let's get on to the real point of this post. In recent years I've come to realize that no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't going to be the next, best thing on the race scene. The best I could hope for, which was really all that I have ever hoped for, was to be respected as a racer and I hope to be viewed as someone who works hard and really races his bike. I'd much prefer to be associated with that and not for whatever mediocre results I may pull in. It may be vain, but I think I've accomplished that goal. With that being the case, I then realized that my biggest contribution may be in sharing the lessons that I have learned over the years and trying to promote the sport and avocation which means so much to me, to others. This indeed, seemed to be the simple truth to it all.

I've always enjoyed promoting the sport to others and have, over the past few years, tried more and more to share my lessons and tips when appropriate. Again, I don't profess to know everything or be any great cyclist, but I have been riding bikes for some time and I have learned a few tricks, especially offroad, and I delight in sharing them. Last year, with the help of some friends and teammates, I put together a MTB clinics for NEBC, the club that we belong to, as well as a wildly popular cyclocross clinic that drew nearly 40 participants from the club. I also volunteered to captain the unofficial club cyclocross team last season. This was in some ways rewarding but in many other ways frustrating. The goal was to promote camaraderie and promote the sport within the club from a team perspective. What I found was that trying to get adults to do things, like write race reports and organize to do things as a team, was like pulling teeth. I'd invested a lot of my own time and didn't feel that the benefit was there. I was also getting really burnt out on racing in general at that point. All of this soured me on the club, the sport and on people in general. There were however, some bright spots. A very few individuals whom I could tell really saw benefit in the effort and appreciated it. They were enough to keep an ember of hope burning.

This spring, after some time cooling off, I was determined to stick with the club and once again try and do my best to help out whether they wanted it or not. I did however, decide not to volunteer as any form of team captain and I was not part of any organized team. The idea was to just sit in the background and look for opportunities to help out. Recently, NEBC was approached by a young man from outside of NEBC looking to form a junior team. He was asked to attend a board meeting so that people could get to meet him and hear him out. There had been some interest in a team by some NEBC juniors earlier in the season but the leadership and initiative was never taken to get it going, so the thought was that this may be a good fit. Even though I am not part of the board, I decided to attend the meeting, primarily because it was at Lester's Roadside BBQ, one of our club sponsors. I was so impressed with the young man that I volunteered on the spot to direct and coach (in the very purest sense of the term) the team so as to try and make sure they got what they needed, kept on track and that the experiment was a success.

One thing led to another and the kids came out of the woodwork. At present we have 8 on the squad between the ages of 15 and 18. I've spend tons of time going through NOS clothing from the club, which was the only inventory they had, to try and outfit the team as best we could. I've gotten the chance to learn about junior gearing and have been scavenging 52 tooth chainrings and locking out cassettes left and right. We have also been having a weekly team ride where we all get together and ride. My main focus is trying to stress what I consider to be good ideals on the kids. I want to make cycling, the sport I love, as fun and exciting for them as it is for me. I want then to be safe both in racing as well as in riding and I want them to be ambassadors or not only the sport but of themselves. We have a strict code of conduct on the rides, which I hope will be instilled within them in general. Our goal is to be better people, by being kind and friendly and humble, and through that, better competitors. Let us not be judged but by action.

So, for now, I've trying my hand at something very, very new to me. I have exactly zero experience with kids, save via introspection. From what I have seen so far, it is very different, but mostly in a good way. After years and years of dealing with gritty, miserable, self-centered, old people it is very refreshing to work with raw youth and enthusiasm. So far so good and despite a couple of setbacks like a complete physical meltdown at mile 45 or a 55 mile ride and an astounding faceplant into pavement last night, all is well. All that I can ask is that I can do right by them and offer them something of value.


C-BOMB said...

Great work Mike. I can't see many things that could be more valuable within the sport. Props.

CB2 said...

Chapeau MKR, Chapeau.
You are too modest about your palmares.
If only more would take the time or initiative to set a positive example for juniors.