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Dauphiné Libéré
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US Women's Cycling Development Program diary

Photo ©: Jon Devich

The US Women's Cycling Development program was founded by former pro rider, Michael Engleman, as a way to help promising young women cyclists reach their full potential as athletes. The USWCDP networks current and former women pro riders with up and coming athletes through mentoring and coaching.

With experienced mentors like Olympians Dede Barry and Mari Holden, along with current pros Amber Neben, Tina Pic, Kim Anderson and others, the USWCDP helps young riders like Mara Abbott, Katharine Carroll and many more to race better, find teams and become professional bike racers. The dedicated and well spoken women of this program provide thoughtful, compelling and sometimes hilarious anecdotes of their experiences in this diary.

For further reading about the program, visit the USWCDP website

Index to all entries

November 21, 2007

Cycling has taken another one

By Mara Abbott

Mara Abbott
Photo ©: Whitman College
(Click for larger image)

I came back from a semester studying in Mexico last December and I was in an incredibly foul mood. You can ask my parents – for the three weeks of Christmas break that they were blessed with my presence I spent the majority of my time experimenting with the theory coined by my dad and grandpa known as "transferring gnats."

Formulated after many Midwest camping expeditions, the art of transferring gnats involved ridding oneself of a cloud of gnats around your head by standing very close to your unsuspecting victim before running quickly away – hopefully leaving the gnats with the more stationary target. I tried to transfer my grumpiness by rubbing it off on other people, feeling supremely wronged by the fact that no one really understood my experience. Nonetheless, according to the warnings our program director had given us before we returned home, this was normal. It was culture shock.

Despite the fact that it was unpleasant, possibly even more so for the people around me than myself, it didn't seem that odd to experience culture shock coming back from spending four months in a foreign country. However, I didn't expect this feeling when I finally settled down into the rhythm of school after all of my cycling world adventures this fall. It actually required the astute observation of my swimming team-mate, Elizabeth, to help me realize, perhaps, the reason I had been grumpy for six days straight.

That is unusual for me because my freshman year I made a vow to myself that despite bad hours and moments, I would never again have a bad day. That was true up until this October. I was so in love with my life that I had gone four years without a single wholly bad day. Now it had been six days and counting and I couldn't figure out why, because when I think about it logically, everything just keeps getting better and better.

I think that is why I felt like it was time to sit down and write another journal entry. I sought some sort of connection with the world I feel so suddenly isolated from. I feel lonely. With Elizabeth's help, I realized that it all makes sense. I had been so excited to embed myself in my old habits, in studying and in swimming, but in execution the experience was sort of hollow. I had spent six months trying to achieve belonging in the cycling culture, and all of a sudden it had vanished. It is a little like the rug was yanked out from under me. I am so excited about next year and about my new future that I can't even stand it, but now there isn't really anyone I can explain it to.

Mara Abbott and coach Michael Engleman
Photo ©: Whitman College
(Click for larger image)

This is indicative of increased dependence on cycling, which irritates me because I have an evil independent streak, and I loved that I could say I was just a swimmer, and give others a hard time about having to do training in the snow because my winter training takes place in a very controlled environment. Much to my chagrin, so far swimming this year has left me feeling unfulfilled. That almost makes it hard to go to practice because the memory of how much I loved swimming is so tangible.

I think I cared more for the sport than a lot of other swimmers – I didn't mind morning practices or hard sets because I just loved the way that I felt when I swam so much. I loved the challenge and the improvement, and I just couldn't get in enough hours of it a day. It was not because of team-mates (although I was blessed with truly amazing ones) or success that inspired me. I just wanted to swim. It drove everything. Now, it is as if swimming and I decided that we should be "just friends," and I am thinking of cutting myself off completely to spare myself some heartache. Each practice that I swim ambivalently is too painful a reminder of our former passionate relationship. I am exhausted from too many 5:30 wake up calls for practice; rather than energizing and exciting me, inexplicably leaves me drained and questioning. What went wrong?

I would really prefer not to feel this way – my sadness and angst at this situation strikes me as self-indulgent and indecisive. On one hand, I don't know if my conscience would let me give up something I have loved so much for so long just because I have had a rough month. That is logic, and I love logic. The illogical part of the situation is the flip side: I can't control my mind, and all I have been doing during this off-season "break" is daydreaming about my recent past and immediate future – talk about self-indulgent. It turns out that to my surprise there is more than one thing that I can love as much as swimming, but the question seems to become can I love them both at the same time? I am beginning to think it is not possible, and that sort of terrifies me.

In a positive light, though, this could all just be kudos to you, the cycling world. I was arrogant in my ability to be detached, but that appears to not be the case anymore. Congratulations because I think you got another one.