domingo, 15 de mayo de 2011

Just Got Personal

The funny thing about a self-imposed blog is the lack of deadlines. By now I’ve had a week to process the PanAms experience, which, predictably, didn’t go exactly as planned. I’ll get the audience up to speed by backtracking.

Due to some UCI scheduling mix-ups, the dates posted for the PanAm Championships were roughly two weeks earlier than USAC had anticipated – April 30th to May 5 for the track competition, as opposed to the usual mid-May time line. It was decided that the sprinters would be selected for competition through a team camp, which was held from April 2nd to 8th in Chula Vista, California. Times were taken over the course of the week and a list of PanAm-worthy riders was compiled. I got the call from coach Jamie Staff moments before leaving for the airport to head back east: I was going to Colombia.

I was immediately hit by a combination of excitement and confusion. There may have been some panic mixed in there, too. I had no idea what the times were like on which the decision was based, so I had virtually no concept of how fast I actually was. I had been training through the East Coast winter of ice, snow and rain; this had kept me relegated on an ergo, rollers, and weight room as opposed to being on the track full-time. This, in conjunction with my writing internship and culmination of senior year at Kutztown University, made training tricky business. It was difficult. But I’d put in the work just the same and to the best of my ability; now I needed the international experience that I hadn’t been able to get during the past World Cup season. I had three weeks to make myself fast.

So I did the only thing I knew to do: continue to train. I wrote articles; I made newsletters; I compiled portfolios. And I trained, all with my usual tools and resources. My coach and I both understood that I was coming from an unusual situation; that didn’t change the fact that I didn’t really know what to expect of myself beyond getting international exposure and experience. Before I knew it I was on the ground in Medellín, at 10:00 p.m. after 22 hours of travel. I was packed into a bus with heaps of bike equipment and the Trinidad & Tobago team, en route to the hotel and the rest of my own team mates.

The following morning I was issued my Team USA swag: skin suits, jersey, bibs, jacket, shirts and a pair of pants. As an official team member and representative, this would be mandatory attire when at the hotel and track. I’m happy to say that  liked how I looked in red, white and blue.

The days before competition were reserved for pre-race training to get used to the track – which is a fantastic venue in its own right. The air about the team was light and fun and we settled into the space and rhythm that was Medellin. The city is a different slice of Colombia than what I had been warned about; unlike other places, you can go out on the town during the day without being shot or kidnapped, and the people are genuinely friendly if you can get through the language barrier. Yep, there’s a certain charm here.  

Once racing began, the mental tune changed. I was slated to race the 500-meter and the sprints, so I had to focus my energy accordingly. I approached the morning of my 500-meter just like any other race: roller warm-up, a couple practice starts, and an ipod play list (for sanity’s sake). In approach and procedure, it was just another race.

Actually, it was almost just another race. I was amazed at the energy of the spectators; they cheer for everyone, even through the most mundane events like the 500-meter and pursuit. Of course the Colombian riders were the most popular, but still. The stadiums don’t fill up at American races quite like they do abroad, and the crowds aren’t quite as loud. It was nice.

Latin America takes its track racing seriously, as evidenced by the security that was present. These were not navy-clad rent-a-cops or volunteers wielding MagLites. These were legitimate policia, from their green flak jackets to pistols to combat boots. They were perfectly nice to talk to – though it got weird when one asked if I had a boyfriend (that’s the last time I’d fraternize with the gestapos). I also noted the cement Jesus statue in between turns one and two. Even Our Lord likes bike racing! Between the small army and its own personal Jesus, the host track had its bases covered. Good to know.

But back to the racing itself: my 500-meter was a straightforward two laps and the time wasn’t that far off of what I'd posted at nationals eight months ago. My start is my Achilles heel and I wasn’t expecting anything big – I had to be happy with my time, and I was. Now I was preparing for the sprints, which I was feeling a bit more confident about.

Unfortunately, there was a change of plans. Due to an oversight during the pre-race coaches meeting, our team had not been informed that we could only field two women in the sprint tournament – up until this point, we were under the impression that there were three spots per team, the same as the men. I was given this news the night before the event. Times became the deciding factor; my 100-meter approach time, taken a few days before during training, was slowest by .03 seconds. I was sidelined while my other two team mates raced the rest of the week.

That’s when it got personal.

That’s not to say personal within the team. Everyone raced extremely well, and I’m especially proud of my team mates Cristin and Tela. They raced their butts off and had the great finishes to show for it. Between the team sprint, sprints, and keirin, our men’s squad brought home a handful of hardware. Team USA was undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. The crushing part was that for all my training and traveling and balancing, I myself wasn’t quite good enough. It was frustrating, and I grappled with my feelings of anger and incompetence for the remainder of my time in Colombia.

I like to think that out of disappointment comes energy and opportunity. I took this time to study the racing itself. So I wasn’t on the track myself. Okay, fine. That didn’t mean that I couldn’t observe and learn. After all, the basic premise of this trip and taking so many riders was so that those that were new could get experience. I’d be damned if I didn’t take advantage of that. I watched. I listened. I talked to coaches, fellow riders. There really is something to be said for absorbing the flavor and atmosphere of an event, if not just to get it out of your system. Next time, when I’m even stronger and more competitive, it truly will be just another race.

There’s always another race. And a rider who’s hungry for it is all the more terrifying.

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