Heading across the Pond – Phase II

April 11, 2008

Off-season prep

The minute I signed my contract with Menikini-Selle Italia-Masters Color, I went to the store and bought lots of Italian books. I tried to teach myself the language. I even used the Rosetta Stone a little, but the process was slow. I wasn't really practicing the spoken language. Finally, I signed up for a beginner's Italian class at my local gym. Once I started the class, I spoke to the instructor, and we began private tutoring. This started in January, and I had five weeks where I took classes twice a week. If my instructor spoke slowly, I could understand her, but I was better at reading the language.

I'd try to email my director, but I was scared to pick up the phone and call him. Every time I tried to speak Italian, it came out as Spanish. I had studied Spanish for six years, and this language had become my default. Whenever I was in Europe, I would use it. If someone spoke to me in Danish, I would look confused and talk back in Spanish. Then, as if they knew, they would speak to me in English. I was pathetic. Spanish was a nervous twitch for me, and now, it continued while I began to study this new language. Whenever it was my turn to converse in Italian (in my classes), my heart would race, and I would have to calm myself down before talking. I had to force myself to speak!

That fear went out the door, the minute I stepped into Italy. Now, I'm reaching for any word I can think of to communicate. It doesn't matter if it's Sign Language, English, Spanish, French, Italian, or Grunting! Whatever is available, I will use it! Sentence structure is out the door. It's just words, and I hope somehow they make sense. I'm noticing that people understand what I'm saying when I'm rested. If I'm tired, and I try to speak, everyone is utterly confused.

I arrived in Milan on March 3, and Walter's wife (my team-mate) Sigrid picked me up. From that moment on, Italian was spoken for 48 hours straight. When Sigrid picked me up, they had me stay with them for a day, so I could get my new bike set up. Then they'd drive me east one hour to Sigrid's old house (she still owns it but uses it for the team now), our team house, in Bonate Sotto, near Bergamo. Their hospitality was amazing and they were encouraging to me. Their friendliness calmed me down some, and they said in a few months I'd be better at the language.

I was so happy I had studied the language some, prior to coming to Italy. I was lost and misunderstood but not completely out of it. I think the director was happy because I tried to learn the language beforehand. A lot of times, foreign riders come to teams and don't try learning the language before arriving. Then, it's so difficult for everyone involved to communicate. If anything, now we can at the very least stumble together to figure it out.

On the bright side, there's no chance I can get caught up in team drama because I can't speak the language. Actually, half of our team is stumbling with the Italian language, so it limits the drama in general. On the other hand, when it comes time for team tactics it's proving to be a challenge! Hopefully, by the time I go home, May 12, I'll understand more. So far, the experience has been challenging, but this is my cycling world. Cycling is what I now invest all my time and energy into. I'm passionate about it and it consumes me. It's what I do, and it's what brought me to this point of being in an unknown place, with unknown people, all in hopes of reaching for a dream.

Ciao for now.

Continue to Phase III: Stressed out!

Back to Phase I: Follow that dream.

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