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Mara Abbott blog: Playing professional and my Olympic dream

After many years of playing “professional” at bicycling, the people, events and values that got me riding in the first place are not always as prominent in my daily consciousness as they were a decade ago. Bike rides become about training. Training properly. Races become about winning - and that can be even more consuming. I can’t really say that I would want it to be any other way - I will likely always be helpless to the call of an all-consuming pursuit. As such, pausing to look around and remember my roots will likely be an important life-long practice for me. Every once in a while at least.

So I try to keep it real. From Whitman College to Wiggle-High5, my teammates have reliably ridiculed the chainring mark that always seems to turn up on my leg. Typically (though inexplicably) it often turns up on both legs. At this point, I would argue that it must just be a part of who I am - so I wouldn’t want to change too much, right?

This year I’ve tried to make a point of keeping those historical-self bits as prominent in my own mind as my perennially blackened calves appear to be to others. Sometimes it is simply too easy to begin to regard the extraordinary as the everyday. I write today in gratitude for the traditions and support that got me into cycling - and those that kept me here.

I own one bike with which I have a true love affair. She is my commuter bike. Since I am a car-free girl, we go everywhere together. With a little help from my bus pass for the long hauls and my Burley trailer for the big hauls, together we can conquer anything. Childhood bike commuting was really where cycling started for me. My dad used to ride with me every morning to swim practice in the summer. It wasn’t a very auspicious beginning, as I was a fairly resentful participant. But the promise of a cinnamon roll cut in half to share (early mornings meant they would still be warm and gooey) from the Great Harvest Bakery got me through.

Last week, two days before my (strategically planned) pre-Giro flight to Italy, one of my best friends, Lindsay, and I properly celebrated the pinnacle of the bike commuter’s year: Bike to Work Day. “Properly” means we raced to as many of the free breakfast stations across the city as possible in two-and-a-half hours, filling up our backpacks along the way. This year’s highlight was free spoke decorations. I picked stars. Lindsay opted for the lightning bolts The Giro Rosa is starting, and it probably has to be my favourite race of the year - it has major competition from Bike to Work Day for “best cycling event”.

Motorpacing, without a doubt, had no place in my cycling lifestyle pre-racing career. It was certainly not a part of my original attraction to the sport, and it probably wouldn’t make a top-ten list for me today. That being said, I have now at least acquired the world’s greatest motorpacer. Bruce has known me from the very beginning of my sportswoman days. So early, in fact, that to explain properly will require a confession on my part.

You see, my first Olympic dream came after the 1996 games. After watching my new heroes, I was convinced that I too could win gold. Many people know that I raced in the pool before I got on the bike, but this was even before that. I was going to the Olympics in synchronized swimming. Bruce’s daughter, Lynn, was my duet partner. He and my father bonded over obligatory participation in the father-daughter routine at our annual end-of-season water show. Twenty years later, the two of them built me a bike shed in my backyard as a thirtieth birthday present. And it is Bruce, this longtime family friend, who enthusiastically undertook an education in motorpacing to help me out. He seems unaware of just how fragile my grip is to his back wheel when he waves his arm dramatically in front of him, inviting me to remember the splendour of our mountains. It’s a bit less like work with him around.

Parents are maybe the easiest thing to take for granted because they’ve always been there. Last week, I was given a solid reminder of what an amazing pair I have. A few days before my departure to Italy, I had dinner at their house and was seriously preoccupied with my abject failure to control the weeds in my garden and the fact that it was going to be even worse in two-and-a-half weeks.

The very next day, my mom organised a brigade to help rid the garden of weeds, and my dad showed up with a lawnmower. Unasked. They knew exactly what I would need to feel supported before beginning a big adventure. They always do.

I’m such a lucky girl.

I’m lucky that I was raised on a bike, lucky to be supported in all of my adventures and lucky to be here in Italy about to race again.

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