I’ve read stories about this woman, Evelyn or something, who made this “amazing transition” from high powered business woman on Wallstreet to top level athlete with now Boehls-Dolman (or however you spell that). She bought her first bike in 2008 and trained at home on the turbo “every night” for a year, debuting in 2009 and winning the US time trial championship in 2010.
…or something like that.
It’s supposed to be even more amazing because she starting cycling at 30 — just one year younger than I did — and so she’s this ugly duckling story of being extra special because all the other girls on her team are half her age and have been cycling for three times as long.
Perhaps you can tell that there’s something about this woman that rubs me the wrong way? We women have it rough from start to finish and it’s particularly rough in cycling where we’re considered accessories to the bicycle rather than the other way around, so I don’t want to knock any woman’s achievements, especially another late starter like myself. The thing is, there’s just too much about this woman’s “amazing” break into the professional cycling world that just doesn’t make sense.
First, you have to wonder how anyone, anyone, could go from zero to national champion in only 2 years. That’s just mind boggling. Add to that the fact that she spent her first year on a trainer, not even on an actual road, and it’s even more mind boggling. Trainers don’t train your core or stabilizer muscles and they require zero balance and handling, so where did she get all the technique she needed to win? Logically there are only two possibilities: either technique isn’t that big of a deal, or she must have just trained her body into such fine condition that she could simply power through all the stuff that other women have to finesse.
So, suppose I’m willing to buy that she just powered through. How does a person in barely two year’s time go from zero to national champion level power? If she were a youngin with all the zippiness and springy resilience of a junior athlete I could believe that she just plowed through on youth, but she wasn’t. She was 30 when she started. So either all the stuff you read about the importance of recovery is bullshit, the claim that she spent every night “glued to the trainer” is bullshit, or else she had some kind of aerobic base already built up from another discipline. I believe that this last point is most likely true. This woman wasn’t just a full time employee trying to squeeze training in on the sidelines, she was a full time wallstreet type-A workaholic who regularly stayed at the office long past bedtime and then (as the media claims) came home to ride an hour or two on the trainer. You add up all the work that it’s claimed that this woman did, and she shouldn’t have made it to nationals, she should have dropped dead.
Am I whining and bitching? Yes. Am I saying these things because I feel threatened by this woman? Absolutely. That’s why she’s my un-hero. Her story as it’s presented in the media means one and only one thing: if your dream was going to work, it would be working already since this woman had the same dream but a deeper hole to dig out of to get to the top, and she made it by the time she was your age, so if you haven’t made it yet, then you’re not going to. Am I going to give up because somebody else is faster than I am? No. But I am going to lose a little hope. Without this woman I have a rock-solid story that weaves all my life experience and determination into a beautiful tapestry of suffering, passion, risking everything, and eventually achieving success. With this woman I have a claim to unrealized greatness and a reason to believe that if it actually existed then it would have been realized already.
I’ve always had trouble with people “star gazing” as I call it. Star gazing is when you gush about this or that person and how they’re “going to be a star” or they’re “the next rising star.” People will go on and on about how “amazing” this up and coming star is and how they are defying all odds and being better than anyone ever before them and blah blah blah. I never know what to say to these people. That person isn’t you and she isn’t me. We didn’t start in the same place and we’re not traveling the same path, so why should I care? Most of the time the gusher doesn’t even know the person they are gushing about, so I find it even less relevant.
Whenever possible I try to find a story to tell myself about how the “amazing” person in question couldn’t possibly be traveling the same path that I am on. If it’s a child prodigy being gushed about I say that child prodigees aren’t real humans, they’re the playthings of their parents. I’ll wait until they grow up to decide if I respect their achievements or not. In my job when people gush about the “star on the market” (this is an actual quote. Google it with the word ‘economics’), I brush it off saying that the rules that determine good economics are not rules that I consider in line with research of actual value, so I pay them no mind. I do this because if not I will lose hope. If that person really is the same as I am, if they really did have the same chances that I did but are performing better, then it’s proof that I’m doing something wrong, or else I’m just not good enough. My friends usually don’t get how much it hurts me. I guess they just don’t think that I’m the kind of person who would care about being successful.
Heroes, on the other hand, are people who are succeeding who are like me, but who also give me a reason to believe that I can succeed, too. I’ve mentioned several of my heroes here before: Iron Sally, Bridie O’Donnell, Leontien van Moorsel, Maryka Sennema, Molly Shaffer Van Houweling. I’ve made quite a collection. These are all women whose struggles and successes prove to me that I can do what I’m setting out to do.
Evelyn is my first un-hero. I honestly don’t know what to do with her. I can’t come up with a story that explains why her achievements don’t disprove my hope to one day become great, and yet I can’t learn anything from her either. This is very unsettling.