About a month ago I was waiting to make a big announcement.
A couple of weeks ago I watched my international race calendar fall apart. First, three stage races in China, then Italy. There was a small bit of hope amongst the team that the Tour of Thailand would still be on, but travel of any kind did not feel safe. I started focusing my efforts towards US races I could drive to, and I started accepting invites to ride for composite teams for upcoming stage races, building out a crit/gravel/MTB race season in my head to supplement until things were back on track. I competed in my first 2020 gravel race and won, then, as you know, all were cancelled.
With this news I went through a rollercoaster of emotions, but the one that sticks out and was the most surprising was a sense of relief. I had no idea just how much anxiety I had been experiencing around racing and training until racing was taken away. I have come to realize as I have had the time to process that my head has not been in a good place for a while.
Our family has been through a lot and I have spent the better part of 6 years feeling anxious, selfish, and fearful, that I would regret my choices no matter what path I went down.
To explain, my husband has a genetic disorder called Fabry Disease that is robbing him of his life. Fabry is the reduction of, or the total lack of a single enzyme in our bodies that breaks down lipids. Over the course of decades, the lipids build up in many parts of the body, and the kidneys and heart are most often affected first. He was diagnosed a few weeks before we met nearly ten years ago, and as the years have passed it has greatly effected his quality of life, and we have spent a lot of time in hospitals and a lot of time holding our breath waiting for the next blow.
In 2015 I was racing for Fearless Femme. We were sitting at a coffee shop having finished up a team ride, and were discussing team stuff. Phones were not allowed, but I had mine hidden in my lap receiving updates as Gino was going in for a kidney biopsy. I was upset with myself for not being there with him, and I was scared for him and for the test outcome. Eventually I had a meltdown and told the team what was going on, and apologized for not being present as my mind and my heart were with my husband.
This would be a common theme over the next 6 years. My head and heart have constantly been pulled in different directions, struggling to be present as I struggled to reconcile with the choices I was making.
As Gino’s body continued to be brutalized by this disease, decisions to continue to train race and travel became harder and harder to make. The conversation was to live a life with no regrets but this felt impossible, not spending every precious moment I have with Gino would lead to regret, not pursuing my life’s passion of sport would be a regret. It was a constant guilt-ridden battle to find balance. Together we made decisions, made sacrifices, and fought for Gino’s life.
In 2017, Gino’s kidney function had dropped to 9%, and while most people require dialysis at the 20% threshold, he fought through it and never did dialysis. Through reaching out to our network he was fortunate to receive the gift of life through a living donor kidney transplant from a coworker. Gino is a fighter, and an incredibly driven individual. Within a week after the transplant, he was back to running his company from home, and I was back to getting out for short rides mostly to allow myself to have a good cry, but also to create hope.
As we ticked off medical milestones things never got back to normal, but we had a new normal that was ours. We relaxed a little because we had to, and after encouragement from him, my attention and energy went back into training and racing for me, and continuing the success and growth of Gino’s company that provided security for us and his employees.
The stress, the worry, and the anxiety all had it’s effect on my training and racing, and for that I have guilt and regret, but I was doing the best I could at the time. When I was racing I kept telling myself to be present and in the moment, to make the most out of it because if I did not give it my all then this time away from Gino was wasted, all the sacrifices made leading up to this point, wasted. When things were not under threat and I was able to focus, I had glimpses of what my true potential could be. I saw what hard work and sacrifice could achieve.
In 2018 Gino was under great stress with work and was experiencing chest pain, after putting the company first for way too long, and days after his company was acquired, he had an angiogram and found that the main artery of his heart was 99% blocked, not because of unhealthy life choices but because the progression of his disease. They placed a stent that would fail a year later, requiring double bypass surgery.
Here we are today almost three months out from surgery. The world is in crisis and we are watching things unfold behind the relative safety of our devices. On a day-to-day basis not much has changed for us in terms of our health behavior. Ever since the transplant, we have taken all the necessary precautions of constantly sanitizing our environment, washing hands, avoiding crowds, and avoiding people who are sick, because Gino has to take daily meds that suppress his immune system.
We are both high risk. I have Asthma and an autoimmune disease. No one would know any of this by looking at either of us, and that is what is so scary about this pandemic. Everyday we see people choosing not to take it seriously or make the right decisions to protect themselves or the vulnerable in their communities. We are doing everything in our power to stay safe and keep others safe, so we are self isolating.
In this time I have gone through all the emotions for different reasons, as I’m sure everyone is experiencing right now.
I could go though the list of why I have fear, feel anger, sadness, frustration, and so on, but most of you are here because I am a cyclist and I share my experience as one. As a cyclist, watching the season crumble was really hard. Finding meaning in my training when I have no idea what I am training for took some time to reconcile, and looking at my bikes while not being able to ride them outside stopped me in my tracks one afternoon, and I just cried. I had to ask myself Why? Why do I train? Why do I compete? Those questions led me to here, to reflect back over my career, through all the struggles, sacrifices, and emotions.
Being an athlete is all I have ever wanted to be. From a young age I developed the mentality that I must push myself, and must achieve more than I could before, always growing, and never being satisfied with what I am currently achieving. That want – that need to be better is what makes me feel alive, and having the ability to keep pushing and fighting to achieve is what makes me happy, and grateful.
The feeling of physical or mental breakthroughs is unparalleled, pushing myself against my own goals to achieve or competing against others is a way to measure the work I have put in, but it’s also the relationships and community that comes with the traveling circus that is bike racing. Being an athlete has defined the majority of my life, so when I ask myself why, it’s because it is what make me feel alive, it’s what I love and without it I’m not sure who I would be. Professional athlete or not I believe I will always be an athlete, and will always strive to improve.
With no outside competition in sight, I continue to train because I love it. I love feeling fit and strong, seeing my body change, and witnessing what it is capable of achieving. I have given myself new goals and challenges all while staying the course for one day returning to the start line with my community.
The greatest thing that has come from this forced break from competition is the mental break and the anxiety of decisions needing to be made. Being away from Gino is gone since we are now together 24/7, and we are in lockdown. That has been fine, and good, and we certainly eat at home a lot more now.
I can’t remember the last time I felt this at ease around my training because it’s not tied to any upcoming races or travel. I am simply training again because I love it. My hope is that when competition does resume I will have a healthier mental relationship and preparedness with what I can take on, and be able to go into every race with focus not only for myself but for my teammates and all those who have supported me over the years.
Until then, I will be at home, riding indoors as not to take the risk of an unnecessary accident putting myself and family in further harms way, and putting unnecessary stress on an already stressed medical system. I will continue to support my local community by not going to scheduled appointments but still paying for them. We are ordering necessities from local businesses, and grossly over tipping those who are risking infection while shopping for and delivering goods to us at home. We are planting a garden to become more self sufficient, and running our dogs a lot so they let us sleep in longer. We’re cooking – so much cooking! We are reading actual books made of paper, and are facetiming with friends on the regular. I am coaching Gino back into physical health now that all restrictions from January’s open heart surgery have been lifted. He is on his MTB on Zwift, and even though he hates it he is doing it, we are also working on his functional mobility and working up to strength work. I continue ride on Zwift and am continuing with strength workouts as well, and have even brought back running in to the program. I’m avoiding time spent online, and focusing on being present and enjoying time with loved ones.
I hope you all can find a bit of peace in these turbulent times. Stay safe as you look out for the safety and wellness of your communities, understanding that things are not always as they seem. You never know who is vulnerable, or who is struggling. Be mindful, loving and caring because it will take all of us together to get through this.