Wednesday, October 03, 2012

How I Became a Team LUNA Chix Gal

Patty was our coach, riding sweep behind me that morning as I churned and puffed my way up the hills, practicing the course of the Columbia Triathlon. We crested the first major hill about five miles into our 25-mile ride, and my heart sank. Rising in the distance was an even longer hill. I wiped my nose on my cycling glove, put my head down, and continued to pedal in silence. When I crested the second hill, all but ready to collapse, and saw the road descended in a smooth gentle slope as far as I could see, I burst into sobs and blurted out, "I will not die young and fat, like the women in my family!"
I continued to sob a bit as Patty rode up alongside me, and asked, "Are you OK?"
I wiped the tears from my face and told her I'd never been better. She replied, "That's like, the best thing I've ever heard on a ride in my life."

I had recently lost my maternal grandmother and great aunt to heart disease, diabetes, and personal negligence. My (yet unborn) children and grandchildren deserved better. That day on the hill, I chose to become an athlete and take my fate by the horns. Perhaps I wouldn't have complete control, but I could certainly guide it.

Me and my mentor Lisa (left) in Maryland, training for the Seagull Century Ride.

I first got into cycling the way I got into foreign language study: I saw it as a challenge. When I started studying Russian in college, I had no idea where it would take me, but it knew that it was hard, and I knew I couldn't fake the results. I would learn it and succeed, or fail by my own efforts. Similarly, I began cycling as a way of proving to myself that I could do something difficult: I wanted to do an Olympic-distance triathlon even though I couldn't swim a lap in a pool at the time. But I was teachable, and I would learn.

My first real ride with a seasoned cycling group came in Ellicott City, Maryland, on the hilly course that was the Columbia Triathlon course. I finished that triathlon, completing my goals: 1) don't stop, 2) finish 3) don't be in pain afterwards. 

One of the best things to come out of that triathlon for me was the knowledge that I couldn't have done it without the people around me who coached me, cheered for me, and helped me put one foot in front of the other when I thought I couldn't go any further. Now I HAD to get stronger and become a better rider, because I wanted to BE one of those people. I wanted to be a mentor.

The opportunity came three years later, when I met the San Diego Team LUNA Chix and applied to the team. When asked about special skills, I told them I could make complex ideas simple for people, and that I could kill snakes if need be. I was brought onto the team. 

Group ride with Team LUNA Chix San Diego to Cabrillo Monument.

Much of what we do as Team LUNA Chix members is fairly straight-forward: lead rides, raise money for the Breast Cancer Fund, support local events, etc. But a large part is never seen or really known, which is the mentoring that we are blessed with the opportunity to be a part of. 

On a recent ride, our major Breast Cancer Fund fund-raiser from Oceanside, we had a record-breaking 65 participants. As I looked over the crowd of 25-mile riders and started making announcements, I knew the group was too large to properly care for and sweep, so I had them count off, each calling out a number, "One, TWO!, three... Oh! That's me. Four!... etc." There were 33 riders assigned to four LUNAs. Knowing that we would be pressed to properly care for all of them, I encouraged them to introduce themselves to the person they would be riding next to, and to buddy up. I told them to look out for their buddy, and tell someone if they were going to ride ahead or drop back. Meanwhile, I rode sweep.

There were a couple occasions when I got to really use the knowledge that had been handed down to me. One was realizing the trouble the rider in the back was having on the hills. I employed a trick I used when I was riding a fixie around town: count the pedal strokes to the top of the hill. I got to be a fairly good predictor of the number of pedal strokes needed.

"OK, looks like you need to pedal about 35 more strokes to get to the top. Let's count them off: 1-2-3..." up to ten. "OK! Great Next set of ten! 1-2-3..." and so we rode up to the top of the hill. She told me later she thought she would not have made it if I hadn't been there. I smiled, "And that's why I'm here!" I told her.

A bit later, heading up another hill, her chain suddenly derailled to the inside, becoming jammed in the bottom bracket. We stopped, and after some tugging on the chain, and another cyclist stopping to assist, we realized her bike needed a mechanic and proper tools. I told the man who had stopped for us, "Well, I'll flag down a truck and get her a ride." 
"Oh," he looked surprised, "you have SAG?" he asked, referring to the motorized support some rides have.
"Well, we have SAG, but the driver doesn't know it yet..." I said with a smile, and stepped to the road. 

We were on Camp Pendleton, the USMC base north of San Diego. I've been a Navy wife since 1991, and know that most people on base are happy to assist if asked. I waited for a truck, then stuck my thumb out. Sure enough, the man stopped, then backed up to us. 
"What's your situation?" he asked in true military style. I was really glad for this, otherwise I might have launched into the story of her climbing the hill, struggling, then the trouble with the chain... but he helped me focus.
"Her bike is unrideable. She needs a ride to the gate or to Oceanside Harbor," I said plainly.
"I can do that. Load her up," he told me. I asked him if he'd like a LUNA bar, and he said that would be great, because his last name was Moon. Haha.
I made sure phone numbers were exchanged between the girl, Mr Moon, and myself, so we could all check in later. Then set out to catch the rest of my group.

At the end of the ride, the girl caught up with me in the parking lot, telling me how great it was that even though things didn't go as planned, she had a good ride and a very positive experience. She seemed embarrassed by needing special care, so I told her, "Trust me, there have been plenty of people taking care of me along the way. Some day you'll be able to do the same for another rider. You will." When this was told to me years ago, I didn't really believe it, but looked for opportunities anyway. They always present themselves.

I want to thank my mentors and teachers who have brought me to this point. There are more than I can name, but I will name a few: 
Grandmother Ann - thank you for teaching me to love people, to love work, and to love myself
Mom - thank you for being an amazing example of strength and compassion
Dad - thanks for the forced marches. I'm learning to appreciate them, and to value the athletic legacy you gave us.
CJ in Maryland - you're the best mentor ever. I'll always adore you.
Coach Patti - thanks for hanging in there with me on those hills and letting me ride at my own pace.
Coach Lisa F - thanks for encouraging me to do the Seagull Century. I couldn't have done it without you!
Chad M- thanks for not letting on that anything I ever did was impressive. It always made me try harder.
Nancy H- thank you for being the shining light of encouragement that you are, and inviting me to ride with No Brakes Racing.
Eric C- thanks for being a great example of what a champion should be, and helping me to finally make friends with my front brake.
And largely, big thanks to my husband Steve, who waited patiently for me as I eek-eek-eek'ed my way down the hills when I first started riding road bikes, then wordlessly took me to the ER when I started crashing mountain bikes a few years later. You're the best friend and companion a girl could have.