Four years ago I decided it was time for a new challenge. I have never thought that I would be the best in the world (heck, the best in my age group) at anything and I was feeling like I had pretty much achieved most of what I could in the sports I was currently challenging myself with. I played on a nationally ranked college volleyball team. I completed two Ironman triathlons, and doing one is really enough in anyone’s life. I placed top 5 in an international marathon and went on to run the Boston Marathon. I rode my bike in a centurion on a team of highly competitive men.
Yes, I could have kept pushing myself within my comfort zone, but I wanted something new. I wanted something where I felt so challenged that it would frustrate me to no end. I wanted to be led by others. I wanted to suck at something again.
So, I bought a mountain bike. And the first ride my uncle took me on I looked at him, stunned after we finished our climb up, and said, “You want me to ride down that? On a bike? No way!” But I did, and I fell over and over again and I continued to fall, and break my bike, on every single ride I went on. I joined beginners clubs, hired a coach and I practiced and practiced and practiced.
The year I bought my bike I went up to watch a mountain bike race and as I was standing in awe, watching the competitors go by, I thought to myself, there is no way I could ever do that. But, the following year, there I was, out of my element, in the start line of a race I never thought possible. The only expectation I had that day was to finish with a smile on my face. I was terrified and excited at the same time and remained positive from start to finish. I signed up for the race again the following year, and trained harder for it then I had trained for anything, taking off over 30 minutes from my time the previous year. In two years, I was amazed at how far I had come.
This past December, I lost my dad very suddenly and unexpectedly. He was my biggest fan and supported me in everything I did. It was a devastating loss for my family, but especially for my mom, myself and my brother. My brother was, at one time, an avid mountain biker but since becoming a father he was spending less and less time on his bike. I needed him more than ever now and on Christmas Day I asked him to ride with me. From that day onwards he was hooked.
Over these past six months he and I talked about bikes, trails, training and when time allotted, we would hit the trails together. It gave us something else to talk about, and focus on, other than Dad. And when he wasn’t free to ride, I would hit the trails solo, giving me purpose and direction in my life as I tried to navigate through my ‘new normal’. Being in the forest was my escape and it was where I healed. It was where I celebrated my Dad and it was where I learned to be kind to myself. Every slip and fall I made on my bike reminded me it was ok to fail and that it was ok that I was sad and grieving. I could feel him with me in every pedal stroke.
A few weeks ago, both my brother and I were at the start line, together, of that very race I, at one time, never thought possible. But this time it was different. It wasn’t about winning, or beating my time, but rather recognizing where I had come over these last six month. It was celebrating life, and my Dad, and being proud of the fact that even though I had lost my rock, I kept on moving and growing. It was celebrating each pedal stroke that has carried me closer the other side of grief. It was celebrating my brother, my Mom (who was there cheering us on from start to finish, wearing my dad’s favourite hat) and recognizing how strong we all are.
Why am I sharing this? Because exercise isn’t just about being skinny, or looking great in your bikini. It can be a way of stepping out of your comfort zone and proving to yourself that you can do anything. It is about challenging yourself and never giving up. It is about not thinking you can’t do something but rather figuring out how you can do it. It is about overcoming battles, obstacles and adversity. Had I never stepped out of my comfort zone, and put myself onto a mountain bike, I don’t know how these last six months would have looked. So whatever your “bike” is, I hope you find it too.