Family is not only our direct biological relations. The people we surround ourselves with become our chosen collective to uplift us in any situation. Traveling as a cyclist, I have realized that it becomes natural to cultivate a community of those who gather at bike races. On a foreign and imposing start line, familiar faces and personas can give surprising amounts of comfort and joy.
Probably the entire women's peloton would agree that CJ Farquharson is on of those faces. She gained my trust and gratitude early on with a few sentences and gestures, and it never failed to calm my emotions when I saw her moto in front of the race or give me extra joy to see her camera lens below a podium. CJ retired this summer, and I only hope she knows how much she has meant to us. I offer this entry as a tribute in gratitude to her bravery, kindness and dedication. If you haven't ever before, look at her beautiful and tireless work on Cyclingnews and at www.womenscycling.net.
The family we create
I have had a bit of time off from racing in August. This has left me at home with time to revel in the company of my family (my parents and my bro) and also my family (the Rocky Mountains and the friends I find there).
The cliché is that friends are the families we choose for ourselves. Reality is that throughout life we create our own kin through marriage or deep friendship. The nomadic cyclist (and that includes our support staff!) is forced to even leave his or her hand-picked family behind in a different country or across the wrong side of an ocean. We then find ourselves in places of pressure and uncertainty, in which it is only natural to crave intimacy and support. I suspect that I am not the only one to create a collective "family" that greets me at each race.
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” -Richard Bach
Teammates assuredly make the cut, but they do shift with each year. The collective comes to include those kindred spirits found among former teammates, past mechanics, photographers, the official who started your first race or the owner of a hotel you find yourself in year after year.
This is how I found CJ Farquharson, our angel of the women's peloton, whose smiling face and constantly enticing "look hither" gestures was one of my favorite things to see from the top of the podium. Did CJ and I know one another's life story intimately? No, but from the comments that we shared over the years I learned without a doubt that she was a) a good person, b) truly cared for me beyond cycling accolades, and c) she would be there the next day on the start line. A loving constant. What we all need.
My biological family
We are not all born into the supportive family that we will later cultivate, but in my case, I am so grateful to think I sort of won the family lottery. Although there is not a competitive athlete among the bunch, they still form the perfect base from which to follow this dream. My dad would show up to my swim meets as a kid and watch me race. I swam the mile, so this in itself was an act of unprecedented love. I would emerge from the water to hear my father crying, "That was so great!", oblivious to the dissatisfaction clearly written across my face. "Daddy, I added ten seconds," I would say. Unfazed, "Oh, but you looked so great doing it!". My mom has always assured me of her constant support of my cycling career, but "only if you're truly happy doing it. I'll love you whatever you choose. Just be a good person and take care of yourself." For myself, this unconditional love and support without pressure is just what I need to thrive. To me, they are perfect.
Anatomy of a competitor
Interestingly, though I am the first Abbott to pursue competitive athletics as a career, if you look at the key traits of each member of my family, they have each taught me one of the elements of a champion. They are my archetypes, my parables. It would appear they have collectively shaped me, each unknowingly embodying a necessary skill as they live out their personal passion. In being their unique selves, they give me the space to be mine.
My dad is the adventurous spirit, unafraid, even perhaps unaware of the possibility of failure. As a retirement project, he taught himself to snow climb and glissade back down the mountains. His chief struggle with this new hobby is that both of his able-bodied adult children are too terrified to accompany him. He brings me the love of outdoors and movement--and perhaps contributes positively to my genetic coding as he is the most muscle-bound 60+ in known human history. I remember Easter afternoon my senior year of high school when he took me bike riding up Flagstaff, our back-door mountain, for the first time. We stopped twice to rest. My mom's fear of traffic had prevented me from solo forays, but with my dad, I was safe. Adventuring. Invincible.
My mom is discipline, goal-oriented and astute. She taught me to be focused and perceptive, tuned to changes and subtleties around me but able to remain focused on where I was going. She never learned to be an athlete growing up, and the bravery she has shown growing into that role as an adult is one of my constant sources of inspiration. I remember, under a year after getting her first bike that was not solely designated for commuting, she (after a bit of cajoling) fearlessly rode--in spite of traffic, altitude gain and the fact she was riding a hybrid while I was on my road bike--up to Jamestown with me. We have a picture to prove it. She is an inspiration in focus, intelligence, and never allowing past limitations to define my future.
My big brother is the competitive, our professional debater, always irritatingly better than me at everything. He is also the optimist, with an indefatiguable certainty that absolutely everything he does is "AWESOME" or a great adventure or the next best idea EVER. He is my partner in crime on the path to greatness. In 2006, as I was a college kid in Walla Walla, WA, just beginning to bike race, he was working as an investment banker for JP Morgan in New York City. On the surface, our paths were highly divergent. Nonetheless, as we chatted over a gourmet pizza one night while I was visiting him, he revealed that while investment banking might not be his passion, he had discovered a talent for it, a competitive edge, and that "there is something special about doing something to be the best in the world at it, whatever it is". That quote remains one of the most inspirational things that has ever been said to me. He got a bike while in New York, but never really rode it. Back in Boulder for a weekend, I tried to take him on a jaunt up NCAR, a one mile long local climb. He had to stop halfway up. Since then, he has returned to Boulder, gotten into mountain biking and last summer took me on a mountain bike trip to Steamboat with a few friends. I almost died. He bested me again. We jokingly called him "Nate the Great" growing up, but my big bro reminds me to never settle.
Spirit of adventure. Astute focus. A desire for greatness. They are exactly what I, and any aspiring athlete, need.
The gift of community
We all rely on intimacy and support that goes beyond matching kits. For those of us who travel--cyclists or otherwise, we must be creative and adapt, finding the solace in our own cast of characters or spaces. It isn't an easy lifestyle, but to quote Richard Bach again, "There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts". From the exercise of cultivating a community that allows us to succeed, we emerge more aware of our needs, adaptable to change and with a broad spectrum of family to support us. In the end, the challenge and journey is our reward.