After a one-year hiatus, the EuroCross Academy (ECA) returned to Belgium this week, with 10 junior riders from the United States embarking on a near three-week racing stint to get their first experience of European cyclo-cross.
As in previous years, Cyclingnews is running a blog from the camp, with riders contributing throughout their Belgian adventure. Natasha Visnack writes a fourth installment in the series. The 18-year-old from Bend, Oregon placed 11th in the Women's Junior 17-18 Pan-American Championships this year and was a solid 33rd in the Junior division of World Cup Namur earlier this month.
As I slid face-first down the 180-degree runup at the Namur World Cup, my mind was blank. My bike tangled with my legs as the crowd around me cheered (or were they heckling?) in a mixture of French, Dutch, and Flemish. The thick smell of cigarette smoke and rich mud met my nose as I tried to scramble back to my feet, slipping again as the girl from Luxembourg, whom I was chasing, rode away at full speed. I felt embarrassment and shame creeping in with the realization that I was losing time.
This instance of failure wasn't an isolated event. Throughout not only my race at Namur but this entire trip, I have failed regularly. Whether it be crashing until my legs turn to a patchwork of green and purple, or receiving my rejection letter from my dream school on the same evening, I learned I wasn't selected for the Dendermonde World Cup. I have faced numerous rejections and setbacks.
However, staying down isn't an option. As soon as I reached the bottom of the hill, I righted myself and remounted. My mind cleared as I attacked the flat, determined to put the recent crash in the past. Next lap, as I stared down the same steep, rutted hill, I paused to formulate a plan. Then, I made my way successfully down with my weight in my heels.
As an American racing in Europe for the first time, the opportunities for defeat are numerous. Here, competitive fields and the intensity of courses provide an unyielding challenge. For most, crashes are numerous in Belgium, a place where a crash could equate to a place or two lower.
As a high school senior in the middle of the college application process, the chances of rejection letters are also numerous. Even those not in the application process face setbacks in Europe, minds torn between school and cycling in an environment that pushes us to obsess over the latter. Even the most dedicated students can struggle under the weight of keeping up with a school thousands of miles away.
For American student-athletes, developing resilience is essential to our success. Each crash, each rejection letter, and each mistake we make on or off the bike provides us with a choice. We can either take our failures lying down, or we can adapt our approach. Instead of ruminating on our failures, we must adapt, finding new ways to get down the slippery descents in our lives.
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