Mara describes the power of positive thinking
Every season begins with Redlands. There are earlier races here and there, but for the North American road racer, Redlands is the official beginning. Since 2006, when I participated on a composite team during college spring break (with the exception of 2012, when bike racing and I were on a ultimately unsuccessful trial separation), Redlands is the only race that I have never missed. When I reflect on my experiences at this race, they represent a “connect-the-dots” of my entire cycling career – each marks a distinct phase or landmark along my journey. This retrospective glance at my life on the bike allows me to see how I have developed and grown over the years. It also reminds me of the people and circumstances who have allowed that evolution to occur. And for that, I am so grateful.
Grateful – for Redlands.
Bike racing is not always easy – and often it is too easy to find things to complain about. But when I think about all that I am grateful for, I realize how just powerful a tool gratitude is.
The ability to cultivate a habit of honoring the small blessings in life changes our mood and attitude and focusing on the positives rather than the negatives can transform one's outlook. Redlands reminds me that I am lucky. This race has given me eight years worth of gratitude and has helped define my career.
In 2006, I showed up to Redlands on a composite team. I was invited by Michael Engleman to participate alongside three of the Ford mountain bike team riders who were using the race for early fitness. I am grateful to Michael for his perennial devotion to finding opportunities for new riders in the sport. Grateful for my first home-stay as Redlands has the most welcoming community I have ever experienced at a race. Each year they are thrilled to give over their roads to us, and every single team is given a home-stay to stay in. It is an amazing community and I am so grateful to be accepted by them.
Redlands has a pretty technical criterium on Saturday afternoon, and as a new cyclist, this was my first big criterium. After we finished, I sat on the couch and held my teddy bear for an hour without saying anything, amazed I was alive, and yes, thankful my parents gave me that teddy bear!
Grateful for new opportunities, to the towns and communities that support the activities we love.
In 2007, I returned to Redlands on Webcor Builders – my first professional team. There had historically been a mountaintop finish stage at Redlands – Oak Glen. In 2007, they brought it back, and I won my first NRC stage. I was so new and thrilled I didn't even know to raise my arms on the podium. I am thankful for and appreciate Oak Glen and Webcor for giving me the opportunity for the victory and for podium flowers. This was the first time I truly realized I could be something in cycling... I was walking on air for probably a month after the victory, unable to believe.
I truly appreciate life when it is beyond our dreams, appreciate the support needed to compete, and appreciate Cyd Breyer, the Redlands home-stay icon who baked us fresh pastries in the mornings.
Grateful for the constant ability reinvent and rediscover ourselves. Grateful for the generosity of others in paving that path.
In 2008, I competed for High Road. I was in thankful awe of the orange orchard that backed up to our home-stay. I wore the leaders jersey for the entire race and lost it in time bonuses on the final stage by ONE SECOND. Afterward, a journalist asked how it felt to win Redlands to which I believe I maturely answered.... "you'd have to ask HER", indicating Alex Wrubleski, the ultimate winner. I had never let a team down in that way before. I was beyond devastated. I spent the entire flight home staring at the seat in front of me, and then forgot the bag with my SRM, my i-pod, my telephone, and my wallet in the overhead compartment. I am so happy that I have never felt that way after a race again, and I appreciate the flight attendant who saved my bag for me.
Grateful that defeat or a single error will never define us.
In 2009, I was still with High Road, then newly sponsored by Columbia Sportswear. We won the race with Ina Teutenberg, and I got to play defender rather than attacker on Sunset Loop, the final stage, for the first time. Grateful for Ina as a teammate, whose honesty and fearlessness taught me the value of existing with truth and without drama. I remember she took us on a pre-crit spin that took too long and we had to race back to not miss the actual race! I am REALLY grateful that we made it in time.
My family also came to watch this year, the first time they had seen me in a big race. My brother still talks about how much fun it was! He also still talks about the orange trees. (I’m still grateful for the oranges, and still thankful for a family that zealously supports me in whatever makes me happy).
Grateful – for those who support us unconditionally. For the power we gain from our families – biological or chosen, and the people who bless us with their support.
In 2010, I raced on Peanut Butter and Company. After two years of trying to race in Europe, I realized how much I more I thrived living at home, and the team was willing to support me racing domestically and allow me to travel with the National Team for projects in Europe. I was so thankful to find a team willing to accept me as a bit of a "flawed" cyclist. Incredibly grateful to find those willing to have such faith in me. We got second that year (to Ina) with Kat Carroll.
I was so appreciative to find lightheartedness in cycling again and begin a rebirth without pressure. When I checked in for my Southwest flight going home that year, I was assigned boarding position A1. I am still grateful for A1. (Southwest Airlines boards by numbers rather than assigned seats, the A1 ticket gets the first pick of seats on the plane. -ed)
Grateful for new beginnings and for the terrifyingly large decisions we squeeze our eyes shut to make that end up being dead on.
2011 was a struggle. I raced for Diadora-Pasta Zara in Europe, but I was given a space on a composite team so I could still compete. One of my composite teammates, and my generous host was Joy McCullough. It was Joy's first big stage race and she was so delighted. I was undernourished, physically and emotionally, and on the cusp of quitting cycling a few months later. Joy's optimism helped remind me of what was fun about cycling, and helped me to mitigate my jaded and self-destructive mood to finish the race. Gratitude for optimism and generosity, for the Meyer Lemon tree in her backyard.
Grateful for those who uplift us when we are falling, for the angelic strangers who appear at the right moment to give us a boost.
In 2012, I didn't race. Cycling and I had broken up, and I was at home in Boulder, nursing a broken heart and trail running induced Achilles problems. I was grateful not to be there. Grateful to be living with one of my best friends and another former racer, Rebecca Much, who implicitly understood my sorrow. Grateful to be supported by a coach who told me I could always change my mind and return to the sport, even when I told him that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard.
Grateful to those who unconditionally love us when we hit the bottom and disappear, grateful for those who obstinately hold out hope for us when we have lost it for ourselves.
In 2013, I was back at Redlands. The breakup had been tough, but ultimately cycling and I realized we still loved one another. Grateful for the community that took me back. I was racing for Exergy, directed by the perennial Engleman, and managed by Nicola Cranmer. Grateful that Nicola took a chance with a roster spot on letting me try to return, and for the teammates who still believed in me. I won the Sunset Loop that year in a solo breakaway -- something I had wanted to do since the first time I saw it. Grateful to be allowed to ride hard and take a risk. Grateful to remember what it felt like to cross a finish line simply astonished by myself.
Grateful for second chances, for settling unfinished business, and for those who hold inexplicable amounts of faith.
This year, 2014, I returned to a race that had even added a fifth stage. Thank you to all who have supported this race we love and allowed that growth. I'm riding for UnitedHealthcare, a team that is professional in every sense of the word from management, to staff, to riders. So lucky to be supported by an elite team off the bike as well. I found myself surrounded by teammates who were passionate, strong and motivated to succeed. And I was staying with the homestay coordinator for all the riders at Redlands, which means I have really reached the pinnacle in experiencing the hospitality of the town.
Grateful for the present moment, for acknowledging all the blessings that surround us.
Thank you to Redlands... to my team and those who have supported me in my past... to learning, to adventure... to Cyclingnews for offering this platform, and to you for reading it.
- Mara Abbott
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