Alright, after the negativity in Part 1, this part of the post is going to be positive, I promise. I have my internal dialogue switched to puppies and rainbows so this should be good. Nearing the end of last semester, going into my finals, I was having the knee issues I mentioned in the first part. There were some moments where I wanted to just give in to everything. There were moments that I broke down and started crying and in one of those moments, I had an idea. I made myself write out a list good things that happened to me in 2016, so here are some of them (along with some commentary).
I started to believe in myself and my ability to achieve my goals
This is something that was brewing in my system for a while. In middle and high school, I was never anything special in terms of grades and I accepted the fact that I was an average student. When I started applying to colleges, my swim coach asked me if I was an A student who got Bs or a B student who got As. I responded that I was the latter and went from there in my college process by applying to a couple safety schools, a couple match schools and three reach schools – none of which I got into. That kind of reinforced the “I’m average” thought.
Getting to college, we’re encouraged to set our goals high and work hard so that we can make a lot of money upon leaving. As a fresh-faced bike racer entering my freshman year of college, I set the goal of qualifying the Richmond 2015 U23 time trial. I still have the piece of paper it’s written on at home. I’m not really sure how confident I was of that goal then because I did not really take it seriously. Improving at that rate would have required a lot of genetic luck and ridiculous amounts of hard work (which I did not stick to). When I didn’t reach that level, I reset my goal to just racing at the UCI Continental. Again, it was hard to keep myself on track.
Up until this past year, when I finally started seeing myself as an individual who had a unique life ahead of me. It’s kind of difficult to see when you’ve been following the same school path as everyone else for 16 years. But over the past year, I’ve been watching my strengths and weaknesses change and started seeing what I’m capable of when I apply myself. It’s something really powerful to discover that you can literally do anything with your life and it’s a sensation that I hope most people are able to realize in their lives.
I gained work experience at a major corporation
At times, this felt kind of like a negative thing but in the end, I found it to be a positive experience. Over this past summer, I worked as an intern at an unnamed defense contractor (UDC) in Baltimore. I was working with both new employees and people who had been there for 15 years and even met some people who had been there for 40+ years. Employment of that length is incredibly rare these days to the point that long-term employment is now defined as about two years.
Anyway, my experience was not all that different from working in a lab at a university. You do experiments, get results and send them to the people who want the data. At a university, the projects are usually much longer and you can get funding for new equipment much more easily. However, at UMD, I didn’t have to sit around and look busy for 8 hours every day like at UDC, I simply went in, did what needed to be done and left.
In addition to the shock of working a 40 hour week for the first time, I was dealing with injury that killed the vibe of my summer overall. It was really hard to continue going into 8 hours of looking busy without being able to reconcile it with a ride at the end of the day or a race to look forward to over the weekend. The experience was great and I appreciate that they gave me the opportunity to work, learn and earn but it’s not something I saw myself doing after school. So, when the full time offer came in October, I said no. I have a plan for the future but that’ll come in a later post.
UMD Cycling experienced huge growth and hosted its first race
This is probably the part of my UMD legacy that I’m most proud of. At an officers’ meeting last night, one of them told me that he couldn’t believe I would be graduating in May and practically begged me to stay for an MBA. I certainly want to be around for the team but I know that more school isn’t the way to do it, at least for the moment. The team has gone from 6 to 35 active members in the past three years and will potentially eclipse Virginia Tech as the team with most active USAC licenses in the ACCC this year. It’s so amazing to leave an active and powerful team behind and I can’t wait to see how the team does in ensuing years.
Rebuilding an organization is a serious labor of love and I really only recommend doing it if you really believe in the mission of the organization. Leading a group that you’re only in because it’ll look good on a resume is the path straight to burning out. But if you do find that you believe in the organization, there’s nothing like seeing it grow as you walk out the door. Satisfaction at a difficult job well done is one of the best feelings you’ll ever get and I look forward to doing it more as my journey in cycling continues.
I was able to pass off leadership of the UMD Cycling Team
On the coattails of the last point, I was a little bit worried I would have to continue leading the team this year. I made it clear that I wanted to step back starting in the spring semester and thankfully, I was succeeded and the team continues to thrive. And with strong leaders lined up for the next couple of years, it will continue to be that way for years to come.
I became a vegetarian
This is of controversial positivity to my family and friends but I honestly believe this is one of the better decisions I made this year. After seeing TED talks by Brendan Brazier and Rip Esselstyn midway through 2015, I started investigating the idea of being a vegetarian. There seemed to be a lot of potential benefits including improved athletic performance. With my lofty cycling goals, it seemed like a no-brainer to try it so I did a short-lived experiment that fall and fully made the transition in February 2016. It wasn’t a huge deal to me since I was really only eating a little chicken and fish at school anyway due to the limited dining hall options (and questionable quality of their red meat).
Before this, I was having a lot of trouble controlling my weight and was finding that I had plateaued at about 193 pounds and couldn’t get any lower. With the change, I quickly dropped to 187 pounds and actually improved my power numbers. My mom is constantly worried that I don’t get enough protein but I know that’s just because she loves me. For those concerned: I do eat a lot of protein, it’s just not meat. I drink almonds like water.
The benefits that I have noticed since changing my diet includes better recovery after workouts because I’m getting more vitamins and reducing inflammation more readily. In addition, I rarely get the bloated feeling of complete fullness and lethargy that comes after a large meal with a lot of meat in it. I’m not going to lie and say that I never miss cheeseburgers when other people are eating them in front of me but I think the benefits outweigh my occasional jealousy.
I competed in my first national championship event
This was kind of a biggie for me because my main goal for the season was going to nationals and getting into the final crit selection. Of course USAC decided to design a crit for climbers with an incredibly fast, technical, downhill, off camber corner in it and my fitness was where you would expect it to be after losing a month of training and racing to knee issues. The race was blindingly fast from the start and I literally got dropped from the front on the first lap. After a crash and a couple laps way behind the lead, I got pulled.
Either way, it was an incredibly fun experience because I got to be there for the last collegiate races of two teammates. The road race was one of the most gruelling things I’ve ever done because while I can ride 72 miles easily, I can’t do it at the pace the leaders could. Same with the time trial, where I finished 3 minutes down on the winner and less than a second behind the fastest female rider (which is insane). It was really inspiring to see how far I need to improve in order to achieve my goals
There was a lot of bad last year stemming from the injury but also a lot of good. When I’m not riding, it can feel like the balance in my life is completely off and I may never recover. But, the work I do when not riding is just as important and has resulted in a lot of great friends that I would never have had otherwise. So, now I’m looking forward to what I can accomplish in 2017.