Generally, I like to get to know people. Or in the case of this trip, my first international competition, it’s getting to know places. I like the idea that in order to do well on a new track in a new setting, a rider should give herself the opportunity to ogle at the environment. Get that sense of wonder out of the way so that rolling to the start feels like just another race.
I was notified of my selection to the PanAm squad in mid-April, and subsequently met with gasps of concern upon telling family, friends and professors where I was headed. Medellín, Colombia, while apparently considerably safer and well-off than other areas in South America, is a place where you need to play heads-up ball – especially if you’re a woman. The rules our team was given were pretty straightforward in terms of roaming around town: tell the coaches and team manager where you’re going; use the buddy system; ladies, take a male team mate with you if possible; don’t go out at night at all.
Naturally, I wanted to go out and see some of the city. I’d have to do this before racing got under way – I might not get a chance otherwise.
Rule number one of foreign exploration: don’t look like an American. Nothing says “kidnap me” like a blonde-haired, green-eyed gringa in a USA kit. My team mate, Cari, and I decided to go for an adventure to find fruit a few days before racing started. We threw on neutral colors (i.e. black and grey – without a trace of stars and stripes), plus face-shielding sunglasses, and hit the sidewalk.
Rule number two: look like you shouldn’t be messed with. This is straight out of my mother’s playbook (after her own experience of living in Philly while attending Temple in the ‘80s – not a nice place to be at the time). Act natural, not nervous, but not careless. Carry yourself strong and confidently. Friendly but terse smiles are perfectly fine at 11:30 a.m. in Medellín.
These guidelines can get you some kick-ass fruit: mangos, strawberries, and guavas are fresh, delicious and readily available for a couple thousand pesos (the equivalent of a couple bucks). Bueno!
The city itself is pretty incredible. It spans the bowl of a gigantic valley nestled amid the towering Andes. It’s surprisingly humid for about 5,000ft in elevation; the tropical climate is welcome for those of us who have been training at sea level and aren’t used to the typical dryness associated with altitude. The face of Medellín is all red brick walls and tile roofs; neighborhoods and tight streets are interrupted by green spiking rises of mountains. A collection of corner cantinas and small markets make up the area around the velodrome and our hotel.
Then there’s the track itself, which is a whole different set of introductions. The Martin Emilio “Cochise” Rodriguez Velodrome is 250m meters of outdoor painted concrete – a very distant cousin of the ADT center in Los Angeles. It has the same familiar surface of my home track in Trexlertown with the same distance and speedy 45-degree banking of ADT. The combination of these traits makes the track a brand-new animal. But if our times during training are any indicator, it’s going to be a fast and fun week.
Cinch those toe straps extra tight, kids. Medellín’s been waiting.