Change is good

Recently a reader commented on a story where I indicated that I was leaving the POA Cycling Team. He asked me to share a bit of my thought process in making that decision. I didn’t want to elaborate until I had notified all of my team members. It is officially done and I’m unattached for 2012.

Racing on a team – and a team at the level of POA – is a great experience. When I first started racing my bike, the thought of racing on a team with regional and national championship caliber riders seemed a pipe dream. However, the door opened and though my skill level was well below that of my mates, I was wearing the red and white kit.

As a category 4 racer, I earned my keep. I remember the early part of the 2010 season with great fondness! Every race I entered I knew I had a chance to make the podium and about 75 percent of the time, I did.

The success brought a change. I was bumped up to the category 3 level. Had you asked me a year before if I would move up to that category, I would have laughed. But I found myself suiting up for my first category 3 race in May of 2010. On that day, everything changed.

I don’t dwell on it anymore, but the fact is I wrecked and broke my neck that day. Laying highly medicated in the ER, I thought I had just strained my neck and jammed some fingers. I would shake this off just like other accidents and be on my bike in no time. It wasn’t until they began to move me to a gurney to take me to get an MRI that I had a pang of pain — and of fear — strike me.

However, by September I was out of the neck brace and my broken fingers had healed as well. It was time for the 2010 Ride for Mike. I was covering 700 miles in 7 days. Though it was tough, I did it. It left me thinking that I definitely had the accident beat. Looking back, I realize I was deceived.

I came into the 2011 season ready to race in the Masters category with my team. My fitness was not at the level of 2010, but I felt that I would get back to form soon. I tried to approach the races with the same confidence as a year ago.

I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — see it then, but looking back I realize that while my neck had healed, I had lost some of the fire. Gone was the abandon to squeeze through a hole and the feeling of invincibility. I had always had a view of myself that I could bounce back from about anything. Knock me down and I would get back up. I still felt that way, but now I had a different view of the process of getting knocked down!

My neck would still grow stiff in a road race. I was living with constant pain in my hip. I was training hard and the numbers showed I was nearing 2010 form, but I was getting dropped in races. I could go with the best for a short period, but I just could not sustain it. The more I got dropped the more frustrated I became. I was a mental basket case.

I’m ashamed to say there were times that I took that frustration out on some of my teammates. I was slipping into a pool of negative feelings. By the end of the season racing — and even riding my bike — wasn’t so much fun anymore.

It was at that time I began to contemplate leaving POA. At the same time I argued with myself that I would probably regret it in 2012 when I would perhaps be out of my slump. It is true that I was beginning to find myself near the end and in my final race, I rode better than I had in a while.

In the midst of this arguing, I received an email from our manager laying out for us the expectations for the team in the next year. There was a call for commitment that I realized I could not meet. To do so would take me away from things that should be much more important in my life than racing a bike.

At the same time, I was gearing up for the 2011 Ride for Mike. In training for it, I began to discover again the joy of just riding my bike. The old challenge that used to drive me to conquer a mountain or distance reawakened.

Also, while I was training, it gave me time to turn my mind from racing back to some dreams I had put on hold while trying to move up in the racing ranks. It was somewhere out there on a bike in northern Greenville County that my commitment to my family and my dream over-weighed my desire to race. At that point, I knew it would be wrong to race with POA because I would not be able to bring to the team the commitment it deserved.

So, I let Blair and the rest of the team know that I will race unattached in 2012. I have never intended not to race. I enjoy racing, but it is going to have to fit into my life and not me fit my life around racing. Ultimately, I think it will make me a better racer.

I love the POA Team. I’m sure I could find a team out there that would take me. At this point, if I’m not racing with POA, then I’d rather race unattached.

I’m looking forward to 2012 and all the change it will bring. Who knows, things may change again in 2013. One thing I’m pretty sure of — the future will include a bicycle.

2011 Ride for Mike update: We are now at $2,240 toward our $4,500 goal! Please consider giving today at RideForMike.com/pledge.