Quads and Identity

“Did the quads give it away?”

I said this at a Barre class last week as I struggled to walk out of the building. The Instructor politely complimented my attempt at 50 mini-bicep curls with 1-pound weights, 100 butt tucks, and thigh-shaking plies.

I watched the other women’s bodies bend gracefully, holding squats with their slender thighs. I looked at mine: tree trunks clunkily bending at the knee. I saw the dips at my hips and they resembled the ones I saw on my male teammates’ bodies. I instantly became self-conscious and considered tossing the pants that exacerbated my “problem areas.” My body, rigid like my carbon bike, shaking and about to crack under pressure. I tried focusing on my up-up-over-overs as drops of sweat formed along my forehead. I peered around through the mirror, in hopes of catching a glistening forehead, but I was the lone (sweaty) wolf. I could ride 100 miles, but 20 mini leg lifts and holding at the top? It seemed impossible.

I take pride in being a cyclist and an athlete. It’s usually the first way I describe myself when someone asks me, “tell me about yourself?”

“I’m a Cat 3 Road racer for a team called pedal RACING.”

And when they seem confused with a response like, “oh, neat,” I use it as an opportunity to describe how amazing cycling is and that they should start riding (or racing) their bike.

I’ve gone through phases in my life, as most of us do: there was my obsession with Spongebob Squarepants and dressing like Avril Lavigne, my skateboarder phase, my punk phase with heavy black lines encircling my eyes, my homemade tie dye and hemp necklace phase banning all makeup, my political punk phase, my drinking phase, my fuck-the-world phase, my feminist, women’s right, screaming-about-vaginas phase, and most recently, my bikes-are-everything phase.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with phases or focusing on one thing at a time. What I have noticed is that I can become one dimensional if I only ever do, talk, and think about cycling. Which is where I’m at right now: I’m Vice President of my bike team, I’m on the board of directors for the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado, I work at Strava, and I write about cycling in my blog and for 303Cycling.

I was just reminded of the 11-time World Track Champion, Kristina Vogel, who crashed during a training ride becoming paralyzed from the waist down. Her world with cycling has completely flipped. She is reentering the world in a whole new capacity. Barbie just recreated her as a Shero doll in a wheelchair. I tip my hat to Barbie for being a bit more inclusive, but it breaks my heart a little to see Kristina having to grasp bars to hoist herself up from her wheelchair, something with four wheels that is only propelled forward with her upper body. Her legs can’t move so much on their own anymore. Watching a video of this on her Instagram threw me into instant gratitude mode. I am deeply grateful for what my body can do. It forced me to rethink those “10 pounds I need to lose.” It makes me realize that those “10 pounds” don’t really matter. The way my body looks just doesn’t matter. The stupid beauty standards I’ve set on myself are bullshit.

It made me question what I’d have if I lost my ability to ride my bike. What would I put my energy toward if it couldn’t be riding my bike? What other activities do I enjoy that aren’t on two wheels? Thankfully, I still have my writing. I still have my unwavering urge to create and inspire and help empower women. Kristina Vogel has continued to remain within the cycling community, sometimes announcing races. She continues to give back to the cycling community. I think I would too. At least I’d try.

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