I recently competed in the Giro Rosa with my UnitedHealthcare team in hopes of defending my 2013 title. I finished fourth. Here is my story of the also-ran, complete with advice from swim coaches, yoga instructors, and little kids playing hide and seek, and with the conclusion that it's really quite a privilege to be the owner of a slightly broken heart.
Lessons of love and commitment
In the summer of 2004, my high school swim coach Grant, first taught me about what it means to truly devote yourself to a goal. Done properly, you run out of excuses because you genuinely attended to all possible details and did everything within your power to reach your mark. Clearly, this approach gives you the best odds for success--yet the peril of such a commitment is that should you not achieve your goal, you are forced to admit that at least for that one moment, you just weren't good enough. That particular summer, I devoted myself to getting my first Sectional cut in the mile freestyle. August closed with a lot of tears (just ask my poor parents) and no cut. I also finished that summer with no regrets. As much as it killed me to watch the other kids buy their plane tickets to Seattle, it freed me to know that I had truly done my best and it lifted me to realize that I had something in my life for which attainment was worth the risk of failure.
In 2010, I took a yoga workshop led by Shannon Paige and Meaghan de Roos in which we talked about root causes. Your root cause is the person, the thing, the moral construct that you would instinctively give anything for, perhaps without a coherent rationale. Sometimes you can only answer a "why?" about your root with and emphatic and unequivocal, "because". Shan and Meaghan helped us tease out our individual passions with the question, "what are the things in life that break your heart?" Like Scarlett O'Hara's Tara, those are the things "worth livin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for". We just have to figure out what they are.
In 2013 I gingerly began my comeback to cycling, and a lot of people asked if I would be doing the Giro that year. I initially refused to commit to it, saying I wanted to take the return to competition on a race by race basis. The funny thing was that even though I wouldn't say it, I somehow couldn't imagine the Giro happening and my NOT being there. It was inevitable. My victorious return that July filled me with more awe and joy than I had even thought possible.
And then it came to this summer. 2014. June.
The 2014 Giro Rosa
I absolutely adore June. June in Colorado. The days lengthen as they edge in on the solstice, and you can begin training earlier and earlier on sunrise rides. The hills are electric green. It's even warm up in the high country. Snow peas and cherries appear in the farmers' market. Flowers bloom overnight. And June holds the final weeks of training for the Giro.
I have only won the Giro twice, but it’s my belief that you could win it a million times and the experience would never approach normalcy. I can still shock myself by recollecting podiums, attacks and fragmented moments of victory, and reminding myself that they were reality. These previous successes have given me permission to train with the realistic goal of winning once again. I get to spend rides visualizing another win, feeling the strength in my legs and knowing that those are the legs, my legs, that could make it happen. I climb hills and imagine racing up them so soon. These final weeks of preparation burst with a paradoxically real and tangible potential of achieving the unimaginable. To be able to train understanding that something so great that truly MIGHT BE is an unprecedented privilege.
Overlay that on the early summer mountain landscape....June. It's magic.
I departed for Italy this year filled with that anticipation. I returned with new experiences, yes, wiser, yes, stronger, assuredly... but with no pink jersey.
It's sort of like being in love with the guy or girl of your dreams, shouting your devotion to the entire world... and then getting dumped. Publicly. As a defending champion, most everyone knows that you aren't really shooting for second place. As an individual, my aforementioned mentors have taught me to devote myself without excuse to the things that capture my heart. I'm committed. So then when you return without the feather in your cap, everyone gives you the "you doin' alright?" smile, or maybe pretends it's not a big deal. But they know it, and I know it. On this one, I'm the metaphorical girl that got dumped.
Before the race, my current coach, Dean, reminded me how lucky I am, how lucky many of us are in this sport, to stand on the start line and feel nervous. How blessed we are to have something that matters to us that much. You might win, you might lose, but you are at no risk for complacency. You have found something that can break your heart. I get to work for that passion every day. Dean's always right. I'm lucky.
When the dust had settled on the final stage of the Giro this year, I discovered what was truly best part of the team bus UnitedHealthcare had given us to use in Italy. The bus was spacious enough that I could lie down on the seat in the way back, beyond the bathroom, beyond the storage, and put a towel over my head. I convinced myself, like a little kid hiding in a fort, that because I couldn't see anyone, they couldn't see me either, and therefore, I was sure I could spend forty minutes entirely invisible. It was awesome.
When the transfer ended however, it was time for me to take off the towel, walk off of the bus, and smile. I was with the team that brought me to Italy and seven amazing teammates, plus countless staff, who supported me and one another through every moment of those ten days. I remind myself of the relationship analogy. I may have had my heart broken, but like every helpless romantic, I haven't given up on love.
I'll be back at the Giro next July.