Sue Butler chases her dreams both on and off road
As a high school counselor, I was always telling kids to follow their dreams. To dream big and follow their passions. What good was I doing sitting behind a desk preaching this if I wasn't practicing what I preach?
In August of 2005, at age 33, I didn't go back to my office in the fall. I set out to be an example. Most thought I was crazy, questioning what I would do if it didn't work out. I figured after a one year leave of absence, if it didn't work out, fall 2006 I'd be headed back to my office. It's August 2010, and I am still not back in that office.
It has been a bumpy ride, which started with spending my leave of absence rehabbing my left knee after surgery in February 2006. I decided I needed one more year, but my position would not be held for me, so my only option was to succeed. Have I succeeded? How is success measured?
As a female in the world of competitive cycling, it is not easy. If success is measured monetarily, I have not succeeded. It is rare to be able to make a living racing your bike, and even rarer for women. The cash pay-out for women at races is less, the sponsorships are harder to come by. Luckily, I have support from my husband Tim, not only financially, but also emotionally. He was the one that told me five years ago that it was now or never, that I wasn't getting any younger and I shouldn't live with any regrets. I didn't want to think, 'what if' down the road, knowing I had been given this opportunity from him. I was lucky.
If success is measured by results, I have had some great wins, some good results and some memorable moments. I do not believe, however, that success is all about winning. There is much more to how I measure my success. My success to me is inspiring others, giving them hope and showing them that it's not too late and if they really truly want to race nationally and internationally against the best in the world, it can be done. I have done it.
For anyone reading who thinks they missed their opportunity, it is never too late. I did my first beginner mountain bike race in 2003 at the age 31. In 2004, my husband Tim and I decided to race the Trans Rockies. We finished still married, so we considered it a success. Then at age 33, it was time to make the decision that changed my course in life. If I was going to dream big and follow my passion, I was going to do it 100 percent.
In fall of 2005, my new office was my bike and I hired Kendra Wenzel as my coach. When I met with her, I had seven races on my 'race resume'. I was a true neophyte with no real racing background, but had big goals and aspirations. To this day, I am not even sure why I thought I could accomplish what I had set out to do: I wanted to race my bike professionally.
Just months after that meeting, I was told I needed knee surgery, thus I would not be racing 'pro' in 2006. I still found success that first year with a mountain bike national championship in the expert 35-39, a win in the Trans Rockies, participation in the world masters championships, getting 2nd in the combined 30-39 field. Perhaps knee surgery was a blessing in disguise, because since my mountain bike season was cut short, I decided to take on cyclo-cross. I had one local season under my belt, so when Wendy Williams asked me to do the USGP series with her, I figured why not.
That led to an addiction. I was hooked.
In 2007, I took my racing internationally and was also selected for the Worlds team. In spring 2008, I ventured to Europe to experience mountain bike World Cups and then back in the winter for cyclo-cross. 2009 started with the cyclo-cross world championships, summer was filled with epic mountain bike stage racing with the Monavie-Cannondale team, winning the Intermontane Challenge and a $10,000 cash prize! Things were looking good, but winter of 2009 provided me with a set of new challenges, developing exercise induced asthma and struggling with low iron issues. I ended my cyclo-cross season earlier than expected, but I was already looking forward to 2010.
2010 has been a phenomenal year. With the health setbacks, I was unsure what the future was going to bring and then in January 2010, I found myself without sponsorship when my team folded. I could have easily given up, but I put back on my River City Bicycles kits and decided this was an opportunity to set my own schedule. I knew that limited funds would mean racing closer to home, but my winnings from 2009 allowed me to at least travel to the US Pro XCT races in Fontana and Sea Otter.
Then I set my sights on the Cherry Blossom Classic, a local road stage race that was a qualifier for the Nature Valley Pro Ride. Granted, it would mean missing one of my favorite local mountain bike races, but it was an opportunity to get myself to Minnesota in June. I love stage racing and since I couldn't afford the mountain bike stage races without team support, I got my fill on the road.
Cherry Blossom did earn me a spot on the Nature Valley Pro Ride. I also raced the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic and before heading to the Midwest, I made a trip to Austin, TX for another mountain bike race. 2010 was turning out to be a nice mixture of mountain bike and road racing.
Racing as a member of the Nature Valley Pro Ride was a highlight of my season. Although I had done two NRC races in 2008, I had never raced as part of a team. I had never had support or a director. Nature Valley Pro Ride provided this experience. It was the first time in my career I could just show up and worry about racing my bike, like a real pro.
Working with Michael Engleman was an invaluable experience. Not only did he give great advice, but he also found pins for me. A man with many talents. It was the Nature Valley Pro Ride that made me decide road racing could be in my future. Nature Valley was fast. It was hard. It was exhilarating. It was an opportunity to race against the fastest women in the country and some of the fastest in the world.
The Nature Valley Pro Ride allowed me to experience road racing in a whole new way. I actually enjoyed road racing, but of course, my first love is the dirt, so the weekend after Nature Valley, I headed to Wisconsin for another round of the US Pro XCT, getting my first national podium in short track. It was a solo effort, unlike the week prior, being part of a team, working together, supporting each other. I enjoyed the team road experience so much, that I decided to do it again at Cascade, guest riding for Touchstone Climbing. Our goal became to keep Emily Kachorek in the top 10. Mission accomplished. She finished 9th and my results became secondary.
Being a mountain biker and cyclo-crosser, it is a hard concept to grasp and another part of my development as a cyclist. It wasn't long before I was back riding dirt for myself. I even did something crazy and raced the High Cascade 100, a 100-mile mountain bike race, and to my surprise, I won the darn thing. 2010 has been a great year with success in road and mountain biking locally and nationally.
So, what does this all mean? Why do I continue to do something that I am not getting paid to do? It all stems from that passion, that dream. I won't have regrets, nor will I have to ask the question, what if? I am living the dream and I will continue racing as long as I am improving and having fun.
I truly love riding my bike and racing is a great opportunity to do something I love. It has introduced me to amazing people and provided me with amazing experiences. My goals for the future? I would like to find a sponsor for 2011, mountain or road. I am currently gearing up for the 2010 cyclo-cross season and will ride for the Hudz-Subaru team out of Colorado. I plan to be on the podium at cyclo-cross Nationals in Bend in December and my goal is to participate at the world championships in St. Wendel in January 2011, representing the U.S. again.
I want to continue to inspire those who wonder or question if they should follow their dreams and passions or if they can take it to the next level. I don't think it is a question. It is a decision. And it is never too late.
- US Women's Development Program
Follow the program's young female cyclists as they embark on their journey to the top of the pro ranks The US Women's Cycling Development program was founded by former pro rider, Michael Engleman, as a way to help promising young women cyclists reach their full potential as athletes. The dedicated and well spoken women of this program provide thoughtful, compelling and sometimes hilarious anecdotes of their experiences in this diary. For further reading about the program, visit the USWCDP website.
- December 16, 2010, 19:16 GMT
Lauren Hall falls in love with the track
- October 13, 2010, 17:15 BST
Missy Erickson's tales from US collegiate and elite track championships
- October 11, 2010, 21:04 BST
Sue Butler chases her dreams both on and off road