Olympic dreams and hard falls

October 26, 2007

In Cycling, I've always been the little engine that could. I always believed that through desire, hard work and determination one could do anything. Every year I've consistently improved. I have kept chugging towards my goals, but I have never really dealt with physical setbacks. I thought I understood the problems people faced when they were injured, but really, I had no idea. Little did I know that I would have a crash course in setback management. I would put that little engine to the test.

One of my dreams has always been to qualify for the Olympic Games. For the last four years I've decided to invest in that dream and make the Olympics a goal of mine. This year was supposed to be the key year, the year where I took my first concrete step towards that dream. I wanted to try and qualify for the 2007 Olympic Games talent pool. In order to do this, I had to be one of the top five American women in the UCI rankings by December 31, 2007 (which is essentially by October since there's no more international road racing after October). I had to chase UCI points. Since there weren't any UCI races that earned points in the United States, besides Nationals and Philly, I had to go overseas.

It was going to be a busy year…at least I thought it would. My husband and I were preparing mentally to be apart for extended periods of time. He had decided to help direct a local development team at the NRC races while I was away - he had to stay busy and happy for both of our sanities. I spent most of the off-season training on the track. My form was the best it had ever been for the start of the season and I was going to test it out in California.

My real goals were starting in April, when I was suppose to go to Europe for my first UCI racing block. It was to start at the beginning of April with the famous Belgium classic called the Tour of Flanders, before concluding with San Marino at the beginning of May. After this Europe block I would have 10 days home, fly to South America for the Pan Am Championships, have a go at qualifying for a worlds spot, then go to Montreal to get some more UCI points. This was only Part 1 of the race calendar, as a lot was on my agenda. I was excited to begin the process and I felt ready, but meanwhile my first stop was California. Let's win some bike races.

While in California, I saw my sprinting legs come around. I'm an all-around rider, not a pure sprinter, not a pure climber and not a pure time trialist, but I can usually do everything okay and support everyone. I guess you'd call me a domestic. My strength is giving lead-outs, so tactically I know what to do in finishes. My recovery from efforts is great because I'm use to covering moves and trying to be on everything. I had been working on my sprint in 2006 and I wanted to try it out more in 2007.

TEAm Lipton had an excellent showing in Pomona and podium appearances at the single day events that kicked off the California racing, but the real test domestically always begins with Redlands. We were missing our stage race leader - former TT World Champion Kristin Armstrong - so we had to go for a different game plan. We wanted stage wins and the sprint jersey and while our team didn't have the fastest sprinters, nor the best climbers, we did have the breakaway power. We knew we could win in these situations.

Outside of the prologue, we only had three days to get a stage win.

Day 1 - Oakglen. I won the sprint jersey thanks to the help of my TEAm but we missed the winning break... arghhhh.
Day 2 - Criterium, I was fully committed to the sprint jersey but in doing so set-up the winning break without our team. Another arghhh.
Day 3 - Sunset road race, sprint jersey was wrapped up but it's time to win a bike race and we were frustrated that it hadn't happened yet. We had to get in a break and we were determined.

Abracadabra a break forms and we're in it - viola. Finally, time to focus on winning that bike race. The break consisted of Kim Anderson, Mara Abbott, Amber Neben and myself. We were two opportunists and two general classification contenders - the break couldn't be more perfect. The four of us came into the finishing circuits together. I was so amped and so determined to win it for the team. Kim jumped early - before the third corner from the finish (at least 400m away) - and I knew I had to be first through the final corners. I was focused and did what I was supposed to - I kept driving it to the final two corners (200m from finish), tried to take the straightest line, when all of the sudden I was looking at the final corner from the ground.

In slow motion, I saw my three breakaway companions come towards me. They hesitated to see if I was okay and then rolled in for the finish. I don't know what happened; I went from turning the corner to being on the ground. I think it was the rough corner that somehow launched me in the air, but I do know that the first part of me to make contact with the ground was my left shoulder. My collarbone sheared in the middle directly on impact and there was no moving my left arm.

Our TEAm Lipton mechanic was right at the site of the impact. He immediately got me up, told me to get on my bike and finish. I knew instantly I broke my collarbone, but I managed to mount the bike and rolled through the finish line. There was no stopping, I went straight to medical. Time seemed to be standing still for me, I guess in real time it all happened in under 40 seconds, but it felt like hours. It's still hard for me to believe that the field was 40 seconds behind our break of four and I never once saw them in the whole process.

March 25, 2007, this was the date of my first real trauma. For most of the year I've been in denial and this is why my first journal entry regarding this injury is occurring at the end of October. I wanted to get out of the hole before writing about it. No use in reading about the hole if I never exit it.

This was my first injury (outside of my million concussions and road rash I have had from this sport), and I wasn't ready for the roller coaster ahead; nor was my husband- that poor lad. I didn't realise that I wouldn't see a race again until the end of May, nor would I experience success again until July. All I could focus on at that moment was keeping my body still and pain free.

The pain stands out like no other pain I've experienced before, but what I remember most from that day besides the pain and the support of my hubs was a visit from Amber Neben. She said, "Kori, focus on what you have not on what you don't have. Everything happens for a reason." In the upcoming months, I became fixated on these words. It was a time for self-evaluation and a real look at why I do what I do. The engine had to start chugging up that hill.

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