One of the strangest thing about sport is that so much of it comes to be defined by a simple number. We finish up in a certain order, we earn a medal that corresponds to our place, and we stand on a specific box on the podium based on where we crossed the line. All of these things paint a picture that comes to represent our performance on the day, and really comes to shape a lot of the perception about what we do.
But ultimately, it says so little about how we actually ended up in that particular place, and what’s really driving us to get there. The number next to your name doesn’t tell the story of how much you put into earning it, and much of the time it’s not even really an accurate reflection. The box you stand on at the end of the day doesn’t say anything about what you may have experienced out on the course — or, more importantly, away from it. It doesn’t tell anyone about the day-to-day experiences of your life as an athlete, or the challenges faced and lessons learned along the way. It doesn’t provide any context on the “stuff that really matters.” After all, it is simply a number.
But the longer I race, the more I understand just how much more important all that other stuff is than the numbers could ever be. The more I understand the value of the real stories, and the more I want to continue to tell them.
I traveled to 6 countries for 9 races this year in my pursuit of a Pan-American Tour title, and while I didn’t get it, I gained so many other things in the process that a number could never capture. And I gave more of myself to that task than a number could ever define either. There is SO MUCH that happens “behind the scenes” and under the surface that doesn’t get shown in the shiny podium pictures on Instagram, and so often goes untold.
Just completing the series this year was absolutely not without its fair share of challenge, and it took a lot to make it happen. Very few could really understand the extent of the energy and focus required to get through a seven-month race season and all that comes with it. I can’t say I didn’t question my sanity multiple times as I woke up as early as 1:45 AM to make the 3.5-hour drive to the airport before spending 10+ hours flying, or as I found myself back on the road at the same hour just a few days later driving in the opposite direction, fighting off complete exhaustion as I scrambled to make it home for a few quick hours of sleep before heading back into work the next morning — only to get ready to do it all again the following weekend or just a few weeks later. The schedule was certainly not one for the faint of heart, and while all the racing is a massive effort in itself, it’s the travel and the logistics and the endless mishaps and the working-full-time-in-addition-to-the-professional-racing — in order to actually make it feasible! — that really starts to add up and tests your passion for it all.
But at the end of the day, and now at the end of the year, the passion continues to override the struggle for me. And as I think about each stop on the tour this year, while the challenges are there and have their rightful place as an important part of the journey, they are offset by the incredible highlights of completing another Pan-American Xterra adventure.
And as I contemplate a “recap” of my season, I find myself once again reflecting on the things that really stood out to me, and the things that came to mean the most. In essence, those things that went “beyond the numbers,” and really beyond the races themselves. Because sure, each race is a story in its own right, but ultimately it is all the moments that surround it that come to be most meaningful for me. They are the “things I will remember most.” It’s become an annual end-of-year tradition for me to share these things, and this time as I take a deeper look back on the season behind me, I want to take it race-by-race, beginning where it all kicked off: Uruguay.
The very first thing I’ll remember about Uruguay is the friendliness. From the moment I landed there, I felt welcomed. It felt like the whole country was holding out its arms to give me a giant hug, and to greet me with a smile. IT WAS AWESOME. I’ll remember how uplifting and comforting that feeling was for me, especially coming in to this first stop of my season with such a sense of unknown, having so little time to really recover from my injury before jumping straight into racing.
I’ll remember how all of Punta del Este just seemed to GLOW from the moment we arrived. It was unbelievably beautiful, and the whole vibe there just felt radiant. I’ll remember running and cartwheeling along the beach with Kelli, and soaking up its early morning rays. I’ll remember the joy of reuniting with many of my friends on the circuit after a winter apart, and so easily picking up right where we left off. I’ll remember the laughs we all shared as we tried to navigate the course in our pre-rides, each time seeming to go a slightly different way, but somehow always making it back to where we needed to be. I’ll remember the hilarity of Kelli and I trying to squeeze two mountain bikes into the tiniest rental car I’ve ever seen, and how we had the puzzle down to a science by the end of the trip.
I’ll remember how it was so hard for me to want to get to bed each night –even the night before the race — because I was just so excited to be out exploring and soaking in as much of Punta del Este’s magic as I possibly could.
I’ll remember how thrilled I was that two dear family friends from back home in Truckee who now live part-time in Uruguay, Beth and Bob Cushman, took the time to come out to the venue to watch me race and cheer me on, and how it made me feel so supported even SO far away from home — and served as the coolest reminder of just how the small the world actually is.
I’ll remember the exhilaration of leading the race from the moment I got on the bike, and truly understanding for the first time in my professional career what it feels like to have a win right inside your grasp. I’ll remember all the emotions that went through my head as I set the pace out front for the first time ever through the entire bike course and through more than 10.5 of the 11 kilometers of the run; feeling my grip on that win get tighter and tighter, and fully ready for my big moment to actually come to life that day. And I’ll remember the heartache that came next, as I found myself watching that moment slip right out from my fingers in just the very final steps of the day, simply unable to respond to the incredible and completely unexpected charge from behind as I lost the race by mere seconds after spending nearly two hours at the front.
I’ll remember how utterly devastated I felt in those first few minutes after I crossed the line, and how it felt like I would never be able to forgive myself for letting that moment get away from me. But I’ll remember how quickly those bad feelings seemed to vanish as soon as I was able to share a hug with Carolina, the race winner, to congratulate her on a tremendous performance, and bond in our respect for one another after each laying it all out on the line that day. I’ll remember how genuinely excited and proud the Cushman’s were of my effort, and how the place on the podium couldn’t have possibly changed that for them. I’ll remember how good it felt to be able to celebrate another race finish with friends, even if we didn’t all have the day we’d hoped for.
Most of all, though, I’ll remember what happened after we left the race venue, and how much my buddies picked me up and helped remind me of what is actually most important. I’ll remember how Laura, Kelli and I decided to hop back on our bikes for a little adventure, and made our way through the city on a mission to take in all the sights and find the very best bakery. I’ll remember how vibrant and incredibly delicious those treats were, and the pure joy and contentment I felt as we sat there together feasting on chocolates and tarts and custards and cappuccinos, savoring every bite and every last laugh, as if time was frozen for just a bit and the only thing that mattered was that very moment we were in — until the sun went down and we found ourselves riding back to the hotel in the dark, but could not have cared less.
I’ll remember how we went back out for Round 2 the next day, my last one in the country. How the three of us once again cruised around like the goofy, eager tourists that we were, snapping photos and singing and dancing and laughing our way along the coastline. I’ll remember how lucky I felt to be there, and how I wished it was a place and time I could go back to again and again.
And I’ll remember how those experiences put things back into perspective for me after the race, off-setting the bitter disappointment I’d felt after my finish, and how even against the sting of that closest “near-miss” I’ve ever had in my Xterra career, these moments still stand out far-and-away as the ones I will remember most — and set the stage for the kind of memories I wanted to continue to collect as I made my way through the rest of the season.
Mil gracias, Uruguay. Fue una experiencia inolvidable!
Up next: Brazil!