“Flight 1333 to Albuquerque now boarding.”
I’m sitting with the rest of the Marian Mountain Biking Team at our connecting airport waiting to board the plane. The BMXers are snoozing on the floor, heads resting on their bulging Zipp duffel bags. The rest of us are sipping coffee or staring bleary-eyed out the window at the Denver sunrise. We’re all a little woozy from our 4 am departure for the airport in Indy. I look around at my teammates sleepy faces and smile- a few hours from now we will be shredding the gnar down a mountain in Angel Fire, New Mexico, racing other collegiate teams for the national title.
Some of these kids are going to earn themselves first place this weekend. Some have higher goals, like Worlds, or the Olympics. Some hopped on a mountain bike less than a month ago and are only hoping to make it down the mountain with all body parts intact (I’d like my pride to survive as well, but dignity is a luxury us brake-clutching newbies can’t always afford). A few of us freshmen fall into the latter category. After the past few weeks, I’ve realized the best way to learn is to just clip in and do it. Follow the lines of the best. Suck it up and just send it down that sick drop. Shred that gnar. Yeah.
I’ve spent the past few months watching, studying, asking, listening, cheering, and growing. Challenges, tips, and tricks are being thrown at me every time I turn a corner and I’ve hit the ground more times than I prefer to count. But I’ve absorbed more skill and knowledge and advice since I’ve been at college than I did all summer. Sometimes my head is spinning as fast as my pedals, but I’m improving.
About a month before Track Nationals in September, our mechanic fit me to a brake-less, shifter-less beast and pushed me up onto the velodrome. I practiced on that tilted cement track with some of the most powerful sprinters in the country, and the team that ended up winning the Collegiate Track National Championship. The 5 minutes I spent on the track at Nationals in Frisco, Texas to contribute to that win were definitely some of my proudest.
Sitting in the airport with my team, I feel at home. We spend just about every other weekend on the road, and these guys are the most hilarious, down-to-earth, supportive family I could ask for. We’re going a little faster and traveling a little further to do what we love, but when it comes down to it, were just a bunch of kids having fun and riding our bicycles.