You know that feeling when you have something about to happen that you want to happen so bad it makes you nervous? The kind of not-being-able-to-eat nervous that has you running to the bathroom every 15 minutes? That kind that makes your stomach do flip flops? That was me today. I didn’t start getting nervous before a race until last year, leading up to Rio. I was a wreck the morning of the Paralympic trials. And the first day of racing in Rio. And today.
I woke up to the first of three alarms feeling good to go physically, but not so much mentally. Trying not to think about the race day ahead, I went through the mechanics of making coffee. Water in kettle, plug in and turn on. Filter into cup, hand grinder on top, beans, arm workout. The smell of coffee filled the air as I changed and went downstairs to meet Andrew, who’d stayed at the same hotel to watch my races. I tried to eat to get proper fuel, but really could only stomach about 1/3 cup of yogurt. “Good thing I don’t need much to race on,” I told myself as I made another cup of coffee to go. We loaded up into the truck 15 minutes later for the velodrome.
“I’m going to go to Starbucks. Want anything?” Andrew said as he dropped me off at the bottom door of the velodrome so I didn’t have to walk down the slanted slope of the road leading to the infield door of the velodrome. “Blonde roast with peppermint.” Hopefully that will settle my nerves.
It did. But not by much. I pinned my number and taped my knee with RockTape. Normal bike race stuff. I tried to get more food in, eating a little bit of a Lenny and Larry’s complete cookie in between sips of coffee. The minutes seemed to fly by for the qualifying races and before I knew it I was on the rollers. “I can do this,” as I wiggled my fingers. It was my mantra for the rest of the warm-up.
15 minutes before my scheduled start time I got off my road bike, did some activation and walked over to the peace and quiet of the back straight. Jenny was just into her pursuit; Anna and I would be qualifying next. Breathe. Wiggle fingers. “I can do this.” Breathe. Wiggle fingers. “I can do this.” My bike and I summoned up the steps as the start gate is rolled across the apron of the track to its position. With one last swig of water I walked up the steps and placed my pedals, left forward, so my bike could be put in the gate. “Here we go.”
The official waited for me to signal I was ready to begin my pursuit. I nodded and the 15 seconds displayed on the clock began to tick down. Ten seconds. Deep breath and a little more finger wiggling. Five seconds. Up and back as far as I can go, hamstrings just getting a stretch, knees bent, arms locked straight, all of me ready to go.
“Four-one” as I zipped through turn one after completing the first lap. “Not bad. Breath, get your rhythm.” “Seven-nine.” “Damn, that was faster than I expected. Guess we’re going for it.” By six laps my lungs were beginning to burn and the lactic acid in my legs were building, but I had Anna in my sight. That meant I was up on her by at least four seconds. I was for sure qualifying for the gold medal round, so I let myself fade just slow enough that I kept Anna in my sights until I crossed the finish lap. I looked up to see I had qualified first by three and a half seconds.
“Could this really be happening?” I tried to keep the visions of rainbows out of my head as I spun out my legs on the rollers and ate the rest of my complete cookie before going up to the stands to say hi to Andrew, his parents and uncle, and my friends who had come to watch me race. When they asked if I wanted anything to eat all I could think was liquid. I wasn’t as nervous as I was at the beginning of the day but I was still nervous. “Hmm, how about a berry upbeat smoothie with whey? And more blonde roast with peppermint!”
I repeated my morning warm-up, activation and routine to the start gate, this time mounting my bike on the home straight. Really deep breath. “I can do this; all I got,” I told myself as I clipped into my pedals and signaled I was ready.
Five, four, three, two, one, beeeeeeeeeep!
I had another pretty good start, but my second lap was an 18.1. “Okay. Not as fast as before, but that doesn’t mean anything. Just go.” I don’t remember what lap I got into the same straight as Jenny, but once I saw her I knew I had won. Whether I caught her or not, I was going to be a world champion at the end of the race because I wasn’t going to let her out of my sight.
My grimace turned into a smile by the bell lap and when I crossed the finish line I couldn’t help by pump my hand in the air. Or wipe the smile off my face. I tried to slow myself down enough to stop at the stands on my bike so I could give my husband a hug. I was going too fast, though, and instead had to resort to high fives again. “Oh man, I’m a WORLD CHAMPION! Oh man, my legs hurt.” Once I was stopped on the apron, I dismounted and somewhat-slowly made my way to laying down on the apron. “I just need a second.”
I made my way down the stairs and to the massage table. While Linda flushed out some of the lactic acid I redid my hair for the podium. I spun around in the infield for a minute before our podium was being called. I walked up to that top step giddy, emotional, in shock and trying to catch my breath.
As I listened to the anthem play and our flag raise in the air, I couldn’t help but think about everyone who’s supported and believed in me along the way, the list of my number one fans growing over the years, my sponsors, Uncle Bill (who I dedicated my weekend of racing to), those that sacrifice so that I have the freedom to ride my bike, and even those that have doubted me. I couldn’t help but how much better gold and rainbows felt than the nerves of the morning; I didn’t want to ever take my new favorite jersey off.