Change: Senior year starts and I’m ready for something different, I don’t want to run Cross Country anymore. I explain this to my parents, and they cheerfully force me to pick a new sport. Somehow I choose mountain biking.
First Day: I bike to school and after class I nervously change in the bathroom and head out to meet the team. Immediately I feel at home, everyone seems down-to-earth, carefree and adventurous. I’m thinking that I might actually enjoy this, but then the biking begins.
I’ve always liked challenges, but this was turning out to be more than I could handle. I’d grown up on a bike and prided myself in my abilities to jump up curbs and speed down hills. Yet these root and rock filled trails, steep descents and huge drops were throwing me viciously out of my comfort zone.
Not being one to quit and not wanting to disappoint my parents, I kept with it. One month in, the time came for our first race. Now at this point I already knew I hated racing; in the final stretch of EVERY one of my cross country races, I vomited. Not from pushing myself to the limit but from the pure adrenaline and stress that tore through me the minute I saw the finish line.
Race Day: After spending a sleepless night in a tent, the time comes. Let me take a minute to explain here, mountain bike races are like nothing else. They happen in the mountains, so we camp. The team gets to the location the night before and we ride the course and have a family dinner.
This is the part I love: bonding with everyone, riding with no pressure and carb-loading to my heart’s desire. The course itself is around 18 miles, taking about 1 hour to complete, and full of technical (aka scary) parts. Most of this time you are riding alone, no one to pace or push you.
So imagine terrified me on race day. I’m in the chute with the other 44 female riders and all I can think is I’m going to be sick…then POW we’re off. I start and the hill I biked up the night before looms in front of me, I’m starting to panic and my feet stop pedaling. The irrational fear that I’ll fall backwards shakes me to the bone and I get off my bike to walk up the hill. I reach the top planning to get back on but then I see the downhill and continue walking. Race volunteers come up to me and ask if I’m alright. My cheeks are burning with shame when I claim to have asthma and say I just need a minute to catch my breath.
I continue on, processing the fact that if I don’t get back on my bike, I’ll be walking 15 miles or quitting. I force myself on but still dismount for every intimidating spot. At this point, all the girls are done and the boys have started. They begin to pass me, I’m asked by another volunteer to get off my bike and wait on the side for the boys to go by. Again my shame’s almost too much to bear and I’m considering faking an injury, a flat tire, anything to get me out of the race and facing my team when I cross the finish.
2 hours 15 minutes later, I do it. The applause that comes from my team, coaches and family is deafening. I’m overwhelmed by the pride they maintained in me and begin to cry.
Aftermath: Finishing that race was me at my most vulnerable. But the joy and pride that my team had in me, just for finishing, made it all worth it.
I managed to complete the season and never came in last again. Now whenever I talk about my time on the team, I humorously relive how I was awarded most improved player and how I got 36th in state for girls…out of 45. This experience taught me to not take myself too seriously, take risks and to be vulnerable because in the end, people appreciate that the most.