Becoming "An Athlete"


So the thing is: I’m not an athlete. One year when I was nine, my parents made me play softball on a team called “The Computer Recyclers,” and I wore an XXL green t-shirt and stood on the outfield repeatedly counting backwards from one hundred until I would finally be allowed to go and sit on the bench and count backwards from one hundred again. The one time that I made it all the way around the bases, I put my hands up cheering excitedly for myself--only later did I realize that this remarkable feat had happened only because I had gotten a walk and that’s why no one seemed interested in my remarkable play. My sister, on the other hand, was a champion swimmer, competing with those skinny and strong girls who wore matching swimsuits and were all training to be olympians. She had a shelf of trophies in her room and got to go to spaghetti dinners with her teammates. She was the athlete; not me.

So now I’m on a team! A real athlete’s team! Voluntarily! How did this happen?

Honestly there was a single moment where it happened--the possibility that I might actually see myself as successful in physical things. It happened biking. I was lucky enough to get sent away in high school with a bicycle touring company called Student Hostelling Program (incidentally, working there years later is where I met my partner). I biked and camped with a group of teens and with trip leaders who’d been doing it for a long time. As I was biking along at the beginning of the trip, this trip leader casually asked me if I cycled a lot. It took me a good few days to realize that his comment actually was relating to the fact that I was GOOD at it. This was the first time that I’d done something with my body that was moderately impressive to another human being and it changed everything! I was a biker!

When I was thinking about ideas for what to write for this blog, I started thinking about my recent cycling successes and especially about what it was like to start riding with this group of women who meet up each week to ride in a paceline. (That’s when cyclists all ride close together in a line; it makes them go really fast.) Anyway, I wanted to write about my experience with them because that was my most recent cycling breakthrough. I had gotten pretty settled with the fact that I’m a decent biker and that I can go long and hard--long distance touring and riding kind of became my thing over the last fifteen years, but this riding with the paceline women showed me that actually I’m kind of fast, too. And this was another surprise. See, as a self-defined Not-an-Athlete, being fast was especially curious and exciting.

I happened upon this group as I was looking for opportunities to train (not a word I was comfortable using) for a long distance ride. I brought my friendly steel bike and wore a tank top and went along in the “slow group.” I was shocked to learn that I (“Not-an-Athlete”) could actually keep up--I was so excited and surprised each time they told me “nice pull” when I finished being the paceline leader. The concept that I could actually do this physical thing was insane to me, and it felt really good. Later that summer I got one of those rainbow fish jerseys and gave into the fact that I might actually be a part of this cycling, athlete thing; I signed up for three long distance rides that summer and completed each one, not once coming in last!

So here’s my point and my reason for posting these paragraphs to the Hustle Hive blog (coincidentally also my first blog post ever): As a newly defined Road Cyclist, I’m excited to redefine myself as also an Off Road Cyclist, too. I’m coming to these rides with my new buddies on the HH team with that familiar feeling of “oh shit, I’m Not-an-Athlete, what am I doing here?,” but I’m also coming with this new feeling of “oh shit, I remember this being scary and hard and it came out pretty great last time.” I’m looking forward to those small successes (riding up a scary gravel patch with Hannah last week, for example) and I’m looking forward to scratching out that early-defined notion of myself as squarely Not-an-Athlete to include myself as actually kind of decent at physical things, or maybe even as “an Athlete.”