I’ve officially publicly cracked. I can’t take where I’m at geographically, physically and emotionally. Maybe it’s been obvious to those close to me for longer than I like to admit, but I’m beyond overdue for a change. And I’m going to start changing right now. But first let’s address how we got here in the first place…
2004 – The year that the only international indoor velodrome in the US opened. Ironically, or possibly moronically, in Los Angeles – a place with the most steady, cycling friendly climate I’ve ever seen. Which also happened to be the same year I narrowly missed my first Olympic team only to be named as the alternate. With the shift of the World Cup calendar moving the to winter months, it was obvious that LA would become to the place to be in order to be competitive on the international stage. But in my youth, stubbornness and love of the east coast, I choose to stay in the Lehigh Valley and train where the best racing is and where I’m happiest.
Fast forward through over half a decade of turbulence in my cycling career and we come to 2010. 6 years that saw everything from a Bronze medal at the 2007 Pan Am Games, down to a suspension, 2 retirements, another missed Olympic Team, excessive weight gain and a 1.5 year stint in the working world as a restaurant manager. Now USA Cycling is in the process of hiring their 5th Track Sprint Coach in almost as many years. The recently retired 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Jamie Staff is their new hire and keeping much with international standards he stations the sprint program at our only indoor track: Los Angeles.
After spending 2 winters in Los Angeles crashing in friend’s spare bedrooms, and trying to make World Cup teams with no success. I finally come to terms with the shortcomings in my own dedication to my training and performance and turn over a new leaf. It’s too late for the 2012 Olympics, marking miss number 3 for my career. But I go on to have my best summer racing season of all time at my home track in Trexlertown culminating in being crowned Rider of the Year.
Then, just when it seems things are coming together and there is light at the end of the tunnel, I get to witness first hand the massacre of every top cyclist in every discipline at the 2012 London Olympics at the hands of the British cycling team. After 4 years of seemingly “human” performances by the Brits, they turn around and achieve seemingly impossible results and performances with the calmness and deliberateness with which one brushes their teeth in the morning. It becomes overwhelming obvious to me that if the best track cycling nations in the world are fighting with 1 hand behind their back, then I am essentially fighting with my hands and feet chopped off. The playing field is far from level and I feel as though there is no way to fix it.
I spend a few weeks feeling lost and hopeless. My training and performances suffer and my recently unstoppable momentum now feels as though it’s turned to stone. But, just as I’ve lost all faith in myself, those closest to me serve as a renewed source of inspiration. I slowly begin to see a solution to my problem unfolding before my eyes. I coordinate the creation of my own support “team”: nutritionist, sport scientist, psychologist, technology partners and the best corner man in the business. Motivation is high and everyone is aiming for perfection and nothing less. I push all in and load up my car and drive my dog and I out west. I feel unstoppable again.
Once in LA I’m 100% focused on Rio and nothing else. I forgo all the normal racing benchmarks for 3 years in order to make the performance gains necessary for 2016. I fall deep into an isolated training routine far removed from everything familiar. Changes I’ve never experienced before are happening to me. Everything appears to be on track. Then the national sprint coach is relocated to BMX and the track program is in disarray again. I think, “no problem, I’m self-sufficient”. But reality is far more complicated than that. All the members of my “team”, myself included, all have different priorities and expectations on my path to Rio. Every day feels like a 6 headed hydra fighting with itself, trying to go in 12 different directions. I begin to lose confidence and motivation. I feel lost and frustrated. I can no longer see my path to Rio. I’m losing my love for the sport and for my dream.
I go about everything on my own for a little while. Trying to blend the old with the new and find the form to prove to myself that I’m on the right path. Every turn seems to bring a road block and I only want to disappear and hide from the world and their expectations along with my own. I am dying to find a way out when suddenly I almost do die as I get my way out. While driving the motor in T-town, I have a terrifying accident at over 50mph. Thankfully I walk away with only a cracked scapula and heavy internal bruising. Although it could have possibly ended much worse, I suddenly feel incredibly relieved.
The accident gives me an excuse to miss World Cup selections and thereby through in the towel for Rio. I am finally ready to close the competition chapter of my life and move on to the next part of my journey: coaching. I shift all my focus and time to bettering my athletes and growing my business and brand. Things take off like a rocket ship and I once again have the thrill of success like I experienced at the top of my cycling game. I feel a sense of happiness and satisfaction again, but there is still something wrong and missing. Being where I truly belong.
LA is killing me. Slowly but surely, it is draining the life and happiness from me. I am finding much needed success in what I am doing, but I am cursing everything I see when I look around. It’s dirty and over crowded. Every time I have to wake up and plan my day around the traffic I can feel a day taken off my life. I miss fresh air, green grass and blue skies. I yearn for seasons again and a place where nature hasn’t been demolished then concreted over and disgustingly replanted. My love and appreciation of nature untouched by humans is beyond description and yet completely nonexistent where I live.
I never realized how important those daily sights and sounds are to my soul until I have been forced to go without them for so long. I guess I’ve always taken for granted where I grew up and the impact living life in a rural place had on me. Being in LA keeps me on the borderline of clinically depressed. Some days I can’t even move out of bed and nor find the energy to answer a simple email for days and even weeks at a time. So preoccupied by the feeling of being down, I go looking for happiness in the refrigerator and the local taco truck. Further neglecting my physical health and well being which only adds to the unconquerable unhappiness that I feel with myself. I feel lost and defeated at every turn.
I fully acknowledge that I have no one to blame but myself though. The people closest to me have done nothing but try to help and keep me going. I can honestly say that without them I would have cracked a long time ago and possibly to a worse outcome (I could be starring in an episode of My 600lb Life). I take full responsibility for not taking better care of myself physically and mentally and I know that the only person who can fix this is me.
And so beings my diary-esque chronicle on my journey to a healthier and happier place. I know there will be plenty of people who will criticize me and feel no remorse for their actions. To those people I say change the channel. My posts are a way to openly hold myself accountable the way a food journal or a training log works for my athletes. I also hope that perhaps even one other person in a similar situation to myself might find motivation to face their problems head on and make the changes their life needs. For everyone else, I say thank you for your support and I hope you enjoy the ride.