Last year, at the same race, I exemplified the highest possible level of suck that exists in the universe. But I had a valid excuse: Mono. Low iron. Hypothyroid. You know, the ingredients for the ultimate trifecta of slowness. If you follow my blog, you’ve already read about “the dark days.” This year I thought, "Well, I know for a FACT that I’m going to do better than last year! Without a triple threat of slowness plaguing my body, imagine what I can do when nothing is wrong with me!” I had nothing to base my expectations on, but at least I had the comfort of knowing I would surpass last year’s performance.
On the line, my body was filled with that terrible heaviness and weak feeling that only comes from nerves. I thought to myself, “There’s nothing to be nervous about. No one expects anything from you. Heck, no one is even paying attention to you because you’re not on the “Ones to Watch” page of the race brochure! Who wants that kind of pressure anyway?!” The gun went off and I was towards the back within seconds. I tried not to let this discourage me so early in the race, so I reminded myself, “Race your own race. Use the first lap to warm up and pick off girls one by one.”
For half a lap, I followed a fellow American, glad to have someone to pace me since no one else was in sight. She eventually put another rider in between us and managed to get away from me before the end of the first lap. From that point on, I rode alone. I experienced a lot of different emotions during the last two laps. I was frustrated and angry that the race started exactly the same as last year. But I didn’t give up because I still had the power to make it end differently. It’s not over until it’s over. Anything can happen, right?
I wish this post was leading up to some miraculous comeback where I turned into a rocket and plowed through the whole field on the last lap (like Sonic the Hedgehog.) BUT, life does not grant us turbo boosters when we ride over a sparkling, golden root or blinking rock. Nor does it bless us with Pocket Rainbows.
When I crossed the line, I pulled off and tried to stay composed, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. Sobbing to my mom, “It was last year all over again.” I couldn’t say any more. I tried not to think about how I just fell below my absolute lowest expectation.
On the 6 hour drive home, I fought as hard as I could to keep it together. But the dam broke and I felt an emotion that I’ve truly never felt in my entire life. Defeat. We’ve all had our fair share of bad races, but this was different. I just kept thinking, “I can’t do this anymore.” In the heat of the moment, we all tend to say things we don’t really mean. But this time, I can honestly say I meant it. As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt this huge pang in my chest and a lump in my throat. And it stayed there because I believed those words for the first time.
I really thought this race was going to mark the beginning of a comeback 3 years in the making. After recovering from a back injury, autoimmune disease, and mono, I thought nothing could stop me. I 100% believed that I would be back on the podium in no time. I never doubted that. I thought, “I’m healthy, I’m doing the training, I have loads of motivation… There’s no way I can’t succeed.”
This mindset can make or break you, though. In Canada, it broke me. Telling myself that I couldn’t fail because I checked all the boxes set me up for huge disappointment. All athletes know it’s not that simple - there’s always something. I underestimated the time it takes to bounce back from my illnesses. I shouldn’t have expected to be at the top of my game after a summer of no physical activity.
What has bothered me the most these past few seasons is having to say “I CAN and WILL be one of the best” instead of “I AM one of the best.” I know that tons of athletes experience this – the struggle to reincarnate the champion you used to be OR to reach a previously unknown, but believable potential. For me, it’s both. Earlier this year, I had my national champion jerseys tucked away in my closet, out of sight. Looking at them didn’t make me feel like a winner. It made me think, “I went from THAT to THIS.” And not just in terms of results. I’m also referring to the kind of racer I was then and how I FELT. I want that feeling back more than anything. The snap in my legs, the hole-shot sprints, the aggressive riding style. THAT is what I’m fighting to get back. But who knows? Maybe I’m not that kid anymore and I’m evolving. One thing is for sure: I’m not giving up on past Veda, but I’m also not writing off future Veda, either. As for present Veda… I think she should cut herself some slack.
I recently put my national champ jerseys back up on my bedroom wall with two wall decals that read: “She believed she could, so she did” and “Set goals, demolish them.” No one said how long it should take to demolish a goal. I suppose the longer it takes, the more satisfying the demolition. Well, mine has been a long time coming, so I’m practicing my best “I came in like a wrecking ball!” I’m not writing myself off just yet and you shouldn’t either. Thank you to the people who support me as a person first and athlete second. In times like these, that keeps me going and reminds me that I still have something to offer. Special thanks to the guys at DNA Cycling. Their unwavering support & kindness has added so much positivity to my life.