A bun in the oven? Or is that a bike?
I’ve got an announcement to make, and it’s a biggie: I’m at some unknown number of weeks gestation, with approximately five months to go. I’ve lost about five pounds, which my doctors say is within the healthy range. I can’t help but anticipate the joy that is sure to arrive on the big day, even though part of me knows – KNOWS! – there will be disappointments and challenges, including, probably, post-partum depression. But it will be worth it – the most rewarding experience of my life, right? Right?!
For the past few years, via my Facebook news feed, I have been inundated with photos of friends doing things I would like to be doing. Oh, look, there’s a friend cuddling with toddlers who’ve just (mis)pronounced an adorable sentence. Like. (And dislike. Grumble. Come on people, post some sleep-deprived food-throwing tantrum photos, huh?) Hey, there’s a friend waving flowers from the podium of an elite international bike race. Awesome. Ass-kicker. Like. (And dislike. That could be me, except I got hit by a car, crashed out at the track, squeezed by stupid politics, argh! Please people, post more rainy crash photos, ‘kay? Grumble.) And thus begins my daily debate of the pros and cons, the tradeoffs of getting off the fence and just committing 100% already to one path or the other. Because perhaps my multi-faceted life is the reason I currently have neither of the things I’ve always dreamed of: babies and gold medals.
Finally, this week, it’s become high time to decide whether I’m going to follow the Working-Mommy Path or the Bike Path.
I can’t help but think it’s a cruel irony for a still-childless-wanna-be mother that the end of her prime reproductive years roughly align with the prime of her just-budding cycling career. (And by her, well, ahem, I really mean me.) It is probably no coincidence that the majority of elite women cyclists all around the world are mostly between the ages of 30 and 35. I think I know, thanks to my superficial understanding of human physiology, that this is something to do with the fact that it takes 10 years to peak in an aerobic sport, and most women don’t pick up cycling until their early- or mid-20s. But I also know what my cousin the nurse told me some time ago: “Elderly motherhood starts at 35.” It was conveyed like this was good news (Hey, previously it had been 32!), but it doesn’t feel like good news. Anymore.
I am now 35. I will be nearly 36 when the Closing Ceremonies for the London Games occur. And I have installed baby-proof measures on my bottom cabinets only because of my curious cat. It’s more than a little unsettling: the two things I’ve wanted most in life are on a collision course.
If I pursue one of my dreams with total abandon, I either eliminate or seriously reduce the likelihood of getting the other. And no matter which I choose there’s still the risk that the one I choose won’t work out at all, thanks to things entirely out of my control (a crash, a badly written last-minute change to a team selection procedure, infertility, some other elderly-pregnancy complication, just to name a few). But then again, staying on the fence seems the surest way to get neither, doesn’t it?
Of course, all of this obviously begs the question: why didn’t I just get pregnant in high school? (Just kidding, dear high school readers!)
No the real question this begs, which I’ve been asking myself of late: haven’t I accomplished enough athletically? Indeed, I’ve done a lot. And yet, when I watch my power meter on my training rides, I am shocked at how far I’ve come now that I’ve had a solid two years – and what an incredibly imperfect two years! – of training. My brain and my heart churn with the excitement of what I might accomplish in only my second year of bike racing now that I have the support that comes with being on a professional team.
When I picture what’s keeping me in racing, I can almost feel the thrill of being in the “zone” on the Big Race Day. Perhaps this is what heroin users feel – we just want to get there one more time, to actually experience that amazing, time-bending, out-of-body-yet-totally-gounded feeling. Preferably on the biggest stage in the most important race of the quadremnnium. Just. One. More. Time.
I am, by every single measure, stronger than I have ever, ever been. And until somewhere mid-season last year – I thought my dream of being an elite, professional athlete was a pipe dream because my funny little arm is a huge disadvantage in the vast majority of sports. But in cycling, my disadvantage is minimal, and in a lot of ways, thanks to cool technology (electronic shifting!) and innovative thinking on the part of my friends/coaches/supporters (my custom, carbon handholds!), the disadvantage is largely mitigated. To the point that, about a year ago, a very well respected former-pro said to me after I obliterated her training ride, “Don’t take this the wrong way, I hope I don’t offend you, but you can do normal bike races. You don’t have to do Paralympic racing.”
Right. I know! But Paralympic racing seemed, until recently, the easiest way to keep one foot on the pedals and one foot on the pool deck, securely on the path to the “mommy-coach-philanthropist” phase of my life, which is what I’ll do when I’m done pedaling. After all, I’ve been doing this athlete thing for a long time now (a decade, to be exact), and the thought of retirement – of less pressure, of more rest, of more time to say yes to the things I WANT to do because I have fewer things I HAVE to do – has far more pull than it used to.
So, this has been my debate – for many, many, MANY, moons now. Two feet in? To coaching and mommy-ing? To bike racing? Keep one foot in each camp? For my entire Paralympic career I’ve been haunted by the opposing questions, “What could I accomplish if only I didn’t have to work?” and “How would I keep my sanity if I didn’t have this job?”
Even on the days when I stand shivering under five layers of winter clothing to get race splits for a nine-year-old who doesn’t follow directions or a race plan, I know there’s no other way I’d rather spend my time. (Except maybe possibly working out.) I love my job. I think this even on the days when dealing with a troubled young swimmer means I have to stay an hour late and miss my gym workout.
My coaching job, believe it or not, is daily mental respite from the pressure of coordinating and executing a 4-year-long inherently-selfish project, complete with budget-overruns and critical deadlines that move and change unpredictably. My job is the only reason I’ve stayed sane as the political machinations of a stodgy bureaucracy have recently chewed me up and spit me out, and left me, on the good days, mentally frayed and wholly discouraged about my ability to control the success of my own project.
No matter how much I wish I had all my weekends free, how much I know it would be better if I didn’t spend two to four hours of my daily recovery time on my feet in the cold and rain repeatedly reminding kids to streamline, I’ve wondered how I could succeed as a professional cyclist without my coaching job. (And trust me, this has nothing to do with the income.)
Coaching makes me a stronger, more “mentally-fit” athlete. And being an athlete makes me a better coach. When the kids start to groan, “My legs are tired, Coach Kelly,” I can smile and say, “I KNOW! I know. I told MY coach the same thing today. But I finished my workout, and you can too.” They always push off the wall again.
But, I’m finally at a cross-road, the breaking point really, and I’ve decided, “I’m out.” As the political machinations of the USOC and the UCI have slammed door after door in my face (after many, many assurances that no such thing would ever happen), I simply have no choice. I have energy for only one facet of my life anymore.
As the final Trimester begins, I’ve made a very difficult decision: I’m going out on extended Biketernity Leave. That’s right, I’m going to be a stay-at-home cyclist.
Biketernity Leave is going to be a transition to a whole new way of being an athlete. I’ll fill up my free time, certainly, but with my own agenda items. Finally, I can fulfill my longing for days spent largely at home, doing endless loads of laundry, cooking food, washing dishes, coordinating my workouts and massages and other appointments around those all-important nap times and meal times.
I’ll be honest: I fear somewhat for my sanity – who will make me laugh on a daily basis? But, well, actually, I think there is an app for that.
They say it will be worth it – the most challenging, rewarding experience of my life, right? Right.
At least, until I have kids. And until then, in the meantime, don’t worry, I’ll post plenty of photos on Facebook.