Courageous Leaders

I am acutely aware that what I do for a living constitutes a leisure activity, or what some might call a hobby. Don’t get me wrong. I have worked very hard for a long time to make a career out of racing bikes. But I am lucky — privileged — that this opportunity exists for me and that I can earn a paycheck by pedaling two-wheeled racing machines.

Like many people, I want to believe my existence bears some meaning, to serve a purpose beyond myself in this life and maybe, just maybe, to leave the world a better place because I was in it. Sure, that’s probably ego talking, but it’s a ubiquitous and arguably legitimate concern. And let’s face it: racing bicycles doesn’t exactly eradicate world hunger.

Cycling holds great meaning for me, though that meaning can be difficult to articulate or defend (philosophically or practically). I often question myself. Am I wasting my time, my intellect, my energy on something totally selfish and devoid of real impact?

I don’t think so, but I’m not always sure.

This quote comes closest to capturing what cycling means to me:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
― Howard Thurman

Racing bicycles makes me come alive, and most days that’s good enough for me — most, but not all. When I hit setbacks or disappointments, doubt creeps in stronger than ever.

Two weeks ago, I raced the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. Building back after breaking my pelvis earlier this year required a reassessment of my original season objectives. I had time to build respectable form, and to get in a couple of races ahead of Pro Challenge — Cascade Cycling Classic and Tour of the Catskills — to bump up my top end. It would be tight, and the preparation would not be enough to render top form.

A crash at Cascade broke my bike, and while I was okay, it meant I would miss Tour of the Catskills, a key race in my preparation for Pro Challenge. This meant starting Pro Challenge with less than 4 days of racing my legs, while most of the peloton would be racing on nearly a full season’s worth of race intensity. It happens — the unexpected, the general chaos of life. Rather than fight it, I focused on controlling my controllables and reseting objectives and expectations.

All of this is necessary to roll with the punches, but man, does it ever do a number on one’s head! Even with adjusted expectations — sub-par performances tend to erode confidence, motivation, and, yes, purpose.

While in Colorado before the race, I got to visit with my nieces in Fort Collins. One of them, at 8 years old, had been reading about influential women in history, and had taken to calling them Courageous Leaders. In keeping with the theme of women forging positive change, my sister-in-law explained to her that previously, women could not race the Pro Challenge, but that we had convinced the organizers to include a women’s race this year. My niece looked at me with wide eyes and said,

“Auntie Amber, you’re a Courageous Leader?”

My heart melted. And suddenly I realized how important it really was to start this race, form or no form.

Symbolism matters. The women’s race and the teams, fans, media, and crowds who came out to support it — they all mattered in a big way.

with permission from Cathy Fegan-Kim of Women Race Bikes
Crowds at the women’s Pro Challenge race in Golden, CO. Posted with permission from Cathy Fegan-Kim of Women Race Bikes.

At the race, my teammates and I met a family who had flown out specifically for the women’s event, because their daughters race mountain bikes and because they wanted their daughters to see the pro women compete.

Regardless of whether my nieces ever race bikes, or whether that family’s daughters go on to pursue pro careers, this race meant something. And it means something to be a woman racing bicycles.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given a talk in a classroom, and after introducing myself as a professional cyclist, heard the young students say “I didn’t know girls could do that!”

Racing bicycles is not a normal profession. It’s not something most people think of when they consider potential career options. It certainly may not be a great option for a lot of people. But what I love about this job is that it might inspire young women to consider that possibilities exist for them that they haven’t even imagined, that the world offers more possibility that they previously believed.

Symbolism matters. And if racing bicycles as a woman can symbolize a world of greater possibility, then maybe this funny hobby career of mine means something, too.

Photo by Cathy Fegan-Kim
Photo by Cathy Fegan-Kim
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Courageous Leaders

8 thoughts on “Courageous Leaders

  1. Andy MacDonald says:

    Such inspiring words. So encouraging. I too broke my pelvis late last season and am now rehabbing a shoulder tendon repair which takes waaay longer than the pelvis did. I’m inspired by how you have rationalised your purpose….we need that for consistency in our day to day drive. It’s too easy to listen to the voice on your shoulder saving “what is the point of this? “. I understand that it must be hard to race in the shadow of male cycling (don’t take that as a sexist condescending remark) and I applaud your use of your positioning to inspire young women. I’m a 50 year old man and I’ve raced seriously most of my days…and a lot of those questions you’ve battled with I have to face. As an aging cyclist I also have to deal with not being respected or taken seriously any more on a bike. I just try and let the legs do the talking, but I think also you’ve shown me that maybe this is an important time now to encourage others feeling “written off” to keep going. Thanks for your words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andy thank you so very much for taking the time to comment! It’s not always easy to see the meaning in what we do, but it is so important to seek it out and acknowledge it. Sometimes we can’t see it for ourselves, but others can. What you do probably encourages many around you through example, even if you don’t know it. Keep fighting the good fight. You never know who you might inspire!

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  2. I continue to admire how you dedicate your body and mind. As someone who devoted her life to seaweeds (which my parents couldn’t understand for many years), I agree it’s about following your passion and that’s what gives meaning to our lives. Hugs to you from Monterey.

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  3. Amber, Hello. Thanks for sharing. Nick Traggis forwarded me this entry after talking to you today.Since my wife is not a cyclist, I had to share it with her so that she can better understand the purpose behind creating the Team Bold Type and how it can be used to give our daughters and others a different perspective on what’s achievable. Before she was like, “cycling, so what? What is the message and how will translate to positive change for young girls?” Reading your blog she was able to see what kind of passionate, empowered women will be relating to our girls with positive messages of greater possibilities and what happens when you work hard, make sacrifices, and achieve at something you love.

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  4. Yes, never forget or underestimate the inspiration you can be to others. And you don’t have to be a world top-3 to be one. As a matter of fact, two club riders are an inspiration to me. One, because she’s just a bit faster than me, and I’m trying to catch up with her. The other one is a young girl, who gets dropped just about all the time, but she just keeps on riding. I admire her tenacity. And when I rode my first time trial faster than 25mph, I found out I was an inspiration to someone else! Just goes to show, anyone’s actions can have an impact on someone else.

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  5. Shirley says:

    Great article Amber. You inspired me to not only get back on my bike, but you have inspired me to be a kinder person and you empowered me to work hard for my goals and to inspire others
    Safe racing girl
    Race on adreline, never fear

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  6. Amber, how you do something is more valuable than what you do. You’re cycling and racing with love, benevolence and kindness and we need you, as a strong female, to do just that, b/c how many of you are there? Keep leading courageously my beautiful friend!

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  7. Ron Manizza says:

    Amber. My friend and my hero. I will live vicariously through your adventures and stories. And I will always treasure the moments that you can find the time to ride with me on my favorite routes through Northeastern Connecticut. Your inspiration to cycling and your empowerment to women makes you a true hero in an interesting world right now. Pedal forward my friend and may the wind always be at your back.

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