Some people are jumpers. I’m definitely a wader. My whole life, I’ve never been one to jump into anything. I’ll test the water first; scope out the destination. I’ll gradually wade out. Sometimes, if it feels right and I’ve considered other options, then I’ll jump. And the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the ‘high’ of achieving my goal will make me think…hmmm, maybe I can go just a little bit deeper.
So here I am sitting on a plane, ‘wading’ myself to yet another race. We’ll see how it goes, no pressure. After over 5 years of racing bikes, I’ve still not committed myself to being a “bike racer’ on the National circuit. I do the races I can, gradually picking ones that are more and more competitive. Each year I’ve swum out a little deeper; trained a little harder (and smarter!), taken a few more risks, made a few more sacrifices. And, happily, each year I’ve gotten faster. This year, for the first time, I stepped it up and did my first European World Cups. It was just a few years ago that I scoffed at the idea of ever even qualifying to compete at this level. Yet, here I am. I’ve waded myself into International competition and I wonder if I could do well here.
Would I love to just let go of the rope and cannonball myself onto the Professional Mountain Biking race scene letting go of all distractions and commitments outside of being an athlete? Yes! Well, partially yes. It’s not that simple. See, my parents raised a very responsible and driven daughter…I guess the term is Type A (my husband says it’s more of a Type E which is something else entirely). I’ve always been athletic; but never a stellar athlete. So being a professional athlete of any sort never even crossed my mind. I worked hard throughout school and have had to fill out a W-4 since the age of 15. In high school, I was good in math and science. I enjoyed physiology and wanted to help people…without actually having to communicate with them overly often 🙂 So, my elected major in college was naturally Engineering. After having several internships throughout school, I was able to step into a job right after graduation. And, what does a responsible young adult with reliable job prospects do when on her own for the first time in her life? She saddles herself with a mortgage, of course! I had a partner in crime in all of this as well. A handsome, quick-witted, and kind man who I am now lucky to call my husband.
So, you can see that it’s not so easy to let go of the rope swing when you’ve got a job you love, a mortgage (in Boulder no less), a car payment, a couple of mischievous dogs, and a patient but non-bike racing husband. I’m no spring chicken, but I haven’t reached my prime yet either. So far, I’ve been able to balance being an Elite XC racer while also being a full time Project Manager. But, I know that in order to be the best I can be at either of these things, I will have to put the other on a slightly lower step. The pool of Elite Racing is calling to me, enticing me with images of myself being a successful mountain bike racer; representing my team and my country at the International stage. And so, as I sit on this plane, thinking about the race I’m going to…I still toy with the thought…what would happen if I let go of the rope swing? Would the life I’ve built over the past 10 years, a life I love, would it still be there waving and cheering from the shore, waiting for me to swim back to it? What would it be like, out there? Would I be able to swim? Would I find out just how deep and far I’m capable of going?
I wrote this over two years ago and I realize it’s time to update my story. While I can’t say that I’ve let go of the proverbial rope swing and flung myself willy-nilly into the depths of being a bike racer-no, in more typical Erin style, I’ve gradually left the safety of the shore and have swum deep enough that my feet can’t touch. Sink or swim. I’ve committed myself to becoming the best mountain bike athlete I can become. And I’m determined to swim.
To be honest, I love it here. And, I got here with the gentle nudging and encouragement of my support network. Through negotiations with my employer, I’ve decided that my career will take a temporary back seat. I’m still working the same job, but at reduced hours and an increased flexibility. It’s a relief to not have to sacrifice a job that I enjoy and find to be very rewarding. In this I am lucky. It is still a balancing act to juggle time and priorities which can be stressful. But, ultimately I think the balancing helps to, well, keep things in balance. You know, not become overly consumed with any number of things that can consume a person focused on physical performance day in and day out. I’ve also been fortunate to sign my first contract with a professional team. For the 2015 season, I will be a member of the UCI team, Scott-3Rox. There are many reasons why I am looking forward to this opportunity. I think one of the biggest benefits will be having a team to travel and race with-the companionship and logistical support will be huge. So now I can officially call myself a professional bike racer. Look at me, just splashing around in the big kid pool! And even though I didn’t jump per-se, it’s still pretty thrilling to just be here- to be committed, to believe in myself enough to give this bike racing thing a real chance. The questions still remain-can I swim? How far can I swim? Are there sharks? But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. Taking the risk to devote yourself to something that scares you and challenges you, that’s what it’s about. Because when I decide it’s time to get out of the water, I know I will emerge as a shimmery mermaid…no wait, that’s a dream…I will emerge as a stronger, more confident, more complete person, grateful for my experiences and those around me who patiently love me and are hopefully waiting with a warm towel.