Mara Abbott blog: Accepting help from others

Mara Abbott (Wiggle-Honda)

Mara Abbott (Wiggle-Honda) (Image credit: Tim de Waele/

One year ago, my March journal of 2015 discussed the concept of eating crow. To review: one "eats crow" when forced to admit the error of a previously defended belief. Twelve months in… the learning process continues.

Since I was kid, accepting luxuries or admitting I need help has never been my strength. To my mother's chagrin, “I can do it myself!” is somehow a much more instinctual reaction than "thank you". I struggle to admit that I could possibly need anything I can't make with my own two hands. This has carried over to my athletic career, where I've proudly done my best to play it old school. I scorn fancy nutritional aids, mistrust the support of compression wear and have a guilty desire to accomplish something after two minutes resting with my legs up the wall. On good, mature days I can graciously accept the gift of a premade sandwich.

Independent streak would be an extremely kind description.

As a professional cyclist, I do sometimes find myself self-conscious, imagining that the rest of the world must wonder why I don't just get a real job. A friend (herself a national champion open-water swimmer) and I recently reminisced wonderingly about just how much we had been able to accomplish in addition to training back when we were collegiate athletes. The guy who lives next door to me can train for an Ironman, and he is a father, and he works full time. I should at least be able to take care of myself, right?

Right. Absolutely right. That is, until I arrived in Mallorca for our Wiggle-High5 team media camp this spring. I hasten to imagine that my resolve was probably weakened from the jet lag. I worry that old age is making me soft. In any case, the Viva Blue Hotel was waiting to set up a serious paradigm shift.

Prior to the Viva, a hotel that claimed to cater to sports, or an athletic event conjured up memories of the Kansas City Hollidome, host to the 2005 and 2007 collegiate nationals. After the first year, they learned to leave welcome notes in each room, asking if we would kindly not use the hotel towels to clean our bikes. The Viva Blue had an indoor bike wash right next to a full service shop and over 300 bike hooks, each with an individual lock for safe storage. It housed a legitimate gym with spin bikes and TRX straps. For the triathletes, it had a 25-meter training pool. Perhaps most importantly, the accepted dress code was hoodies and stretchy pants.

An extended stay abroad for training and racing is generally an exercise in creativity and patience. I have always stoically taken that challenge on, claiming I prefer "real life". Yet, now I found myself in a place where there was someone there to fix my bike disasters, and I didn't have to worry about what grocery stores were open. It was athlete luxury. It was absolutely nothing like real life and here is the worst part: I loved it.

After team camp ended, I attempted a brief stay at a nearby bargain apartment I found on the internet. I will let you score the legitimacy of the excuse, but after several outlets smelled like burning rubber when I tried to use them in my new smoke detector-less abode, I found myself, "Me recuerdas?" back at the reception desk. This indulgence was unheard of and I was helpless to it.

There, I could let go for a bit of that worry weight that I was "just an athlete". Surrounded by triathletes at training camp and long distance cycling tourists, that was a very cool thing to be. I felt affirmed, cared for, and secure. I felt awesome.

I confessed to my coach bad news, I must be losing my edge. Coach Dean noted, astute as always, that accepting the help of others might actually help me to become stronger than I could be alone. It almost sounds reasonable. Perhaps (with a Spanish lit shout out to the host country) my reactive fight for self-sufficiency is just a whole lot of tilting at windmills.

In any case, here we go, 2016. It seems that there is still a lot to learn.

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