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Words Of Wednesday: The Great Unknown...Again.

May 27, 2015

"I started riding bikes in the summer of 2001 at home in Berkeley, California. I first rode my dad’s old Fuji 6-speed, with down tube shifters and flat pedals. My dad told me if I kept riding all summer then he would buy me a new bike. I rode that thing up and over the Berkeley hills all summer, trying to keep up with my dad. I remember one ride I was breathing so hard as we climbed I couldn’t talk, with sweat pouring down my forehead and burning my eyes, while my dad and his friend rode ahead of me chatting easily the whole time. But week after week I got back on the bike, and week-by-week it got easier, and I fell in love with riding. You get a whole different perspective of your surroundings compared to what you experience from a car. That fall, before the start of my junior year of college we went out bike shopping. I came home with a shiny new Schwinn Fastback, a brand new nine speed that I rode everywhere. It didn’t take long to fall into the cycling crowd on campus at my college, UC San Diego. The cycling club had organized group rides and welcomed riders of all abilities. I felt at home with the group immediately, and rode with them multiple times a week. During rides, my teammates dispensed advice, anecdotes, and taught me the routes that I would ride over and over in the next few years.

That February, encouraged by my teammates, I signed up for my first race. I didn’t really have any idea what I was in for. I remember it was still dark when we lined up for the start. There were only three of us girls in the easier “B” category. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure how fast the other girls would be and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I was also terrified that I wouldn’t be able to clip in and out of my new pedals and would fall over at the start line. It was the great unknown.

I took off at the start bell and started to pedal. I got my feet clipped in and made it around the course, pushing a little harder with each lap. Eventually the other girls dropped behind and I was alone out in front. To the excited cheers of my teammates and to my own astonishment, I won that first race!

There were many races after that I struggled to keep up, where I had sweat in my eyes and my legs burned with every pedal stroke. But those girls out in front also motived me to keep training harder, and eventually I was able to keep up. By the end of that season I was able to upgrade to the faster “A” category races, which were longer distances and faster speeds. But I kept training! I kept learning about training, about strategy, and what to feed your body after pushing it to the limit.

By the following year, I was a lot stronger. When I was home from school I rode with my dad again, this time I was riding ahead while he was behind, breathing hard and trying to keep up. That season I raced hard, and finished well in several races against girls that were part of sponsored teams. Even though I didn’t win a race that season, I was placing well and was proud of where I had gotten with all of my hard work. That May, our team qualified for the 2003 National Collegiate Cycling Championships, which were hosted by UC Berkeley, and took place on familiar roads. I was proud to be there as part of my team. While I was strong, I was outpaced by many of the girls there, and struggled to even finish the races. However I pushed my hardest and completed the hardest race of my life.

After college, I moved to Colorado and decided that I wanted to take the scenic route, to go for long slow rides and enjoy the scenery rather than the thrill of a race. I started riding the in the mountains and foothills around Boulder, and stopped to take in the scenery along the way. I decided that it wasn’t the racing that I loved. What I loved was riding my bike. I rode everywhere, from school at CU Boulder, to the farmer’s market on weekends. Even prior to my injury I was riding the 9 miles each way from home to work and back a couple of times a week.

Fast-forward 12 years from when I first started riding, and I am back to learning to ride a bike again. I fell and broke my back February 22 and have had three months of pain, sweat, and tears in rehabilitation. I had just bought a new bike to use for a bike camping trip this summer with my boyfriend Jeff, and all I’ve wanted to do is be able to get back on my bike. But being a paraplegic that is impossible right now. So for me the next best thing was to get on a hand cycle. From my first days at Craig, not only has it been my focus to get back on a bike, it has been a goal for my boyfriend, my therapists, and my family as well.

They all knew how important it was for me to get back out on a bike, in whatever form that may be. Tom, my T-rec therapist, took Jeff and me out on hand bikes. I felt the wind in my face and immediately felt a sense of relief, along with a familiarity in what I was doing.

From that day on, Jeff and I jumped at every opportunity to get back out on the hand bikes. We did rides around the neighborhood, and around Washington Park. Our first trip to Wash Park, Jeff and I were the first ones on the bikes, and the last ones to get off. It was only the impending thunderstorm that got us back on the bus. By the second trip to the park Tom was asking me how many laps I was going to do around the park, so each trip I would push a little harder and try to add another lap. By the time I finished my inpatient stay at Craig I could do four laps, a total of about 9 miles, and the trip after that I could do five laps, more than 11 miles.

By the time I finished my inpatient stay at Craig, word had gotten around that I was a cyclist, and people started asking if I was going to do Pedal 4 Possible. I wasn’t sure at first; I don’t have my own hand bike yet, so training will be difficult, let alone needing to borrow a bike for the ride. But the wonderful staff at T-rec assured me that there would be a bike for me to use if I want to participate. I had already ridden more than 11 miles in one trip to the park, so the 10K course wasn’t going to be enough of a challenge. The next shortest route, 50K, about 32 miles is a huge challenge, especially this soon after my injury. Yet the ride is on my home turf with the roads that I love to ride around Boulder County. So with the support of Jeff, knowing that he was going to be riding with me, and that I would have so many wonderful people cheering me on, we signed up for the 50K ride.

Neither Jeff or I have a lot of time to train, I still spend my days at doctors appointments, therapy, running errands, and preparing to get back to work, so we ride as often as we can on weekends. But doing this ride will help me prove to myself that I have really started to recover from my injury. That Jeff and I are getting back to living life and doing the things we love. That I am still a cyclist, just a different type of cyclist. My dad is flying out that weekend to do the ride with us, and I already know that I will be pushing hard to keep up with him again, just like when I first started riding. Right now I feel like I am getting ready to race at nationals again, I will be pushing myself harder than I ever have, not really knowing if I am going to make it across the finish line. I am facing the great unknown….again."

Thank you to Megan and her family for sharing with us, her story of the great unknown.