Teammates

By Rachel Thody

Picture

I am lucky I get to use that word pretty frequently. I even apply that term to my people outside of the cycling community. ‘Teammate’ is a very valuable name for one to be referred as. It is a special bond that surpasses the cozy and safe features of a friendship, or a romance, or a family member. There can be affection and support, but there will also be prickly days and tough love. It is a voluntary relationship forged on the drive to reach a common goal for an individual and for their team, and doing so by a common activity. I know for many others and myself, that goal is success and that activity is cycling.
Teammates aren’t your best friends, but they can be. They might not be the people you hang out with, but they can be. They are the people you get through workouts with. They are the people that are also tired and cold and still holding out in a storm on a particularly rainy day in the saddle. They are the person that puts their hand on your back and pushes you up that hill. They are the people who stand next to you at the starting line of a race, thinking about roughly the same thing. Strategizing, planning re-fueling points, marking up riders to keep an eye on, and visualizing the last 200m of the race. They are the person you might be angry and jealous at as they effortlessly get through an interval or climb while you’ve drained yourself and yielded no progress.  They will definitely be the person provoking you to go harder when you’re tired and want to give up. You might even snap at them. I recommend you don’t. They are the people you collapse on the ground with after the race, either feeling elated or like there’s a vice clamping your guts. They understand when and why you’re upset or on top of the world. They are the only people that know what it’s like to hop on a bike, shoulder a barbell, start a timer, and go for it. A good day for me may be the worst day ever for my teammate, and we are able to understand each other in that same moment.
Collegiate racing is a whole other animal within competitive sports. Firstly, students already balance a mass of responsibilities. Classes (some can be terribly difficult), homework, jobs, studying abroad, taking advantage of internships, taking care of family, being a good friend, maintaining a relationship, taking care of our own selves, the list goes on. Cycling is one of the most time consuming sports, especially the further up you move in the ranks. Category C racers tackle about 25 miles, while Category A races about 60-80. Hence the time spent on training rides ranges from a single hour to over 4 hours. Not to mention the time it takes to stretch after a ride, clean the bike, and keep up with proper maintenance. What do you do in 4 hours? Some riders even supplement their cycling with gym workouts and cross training. Having people that live that similar lifestyle, who triage their lives on a daily basis and prioritize this sport is sometimes all you need as motivation to go on that long ride, or get the most out of an hour of homework time.

I guess what it comes down to is this: competitive cyclists are truly crazy, and it’s good to have people around that share that same type of crazy. Who else is willing to ride 100+ miles (for fun), throw down anaerobic sprint repeats, crank out a 6am weight lifting session, and bundle up when the weather is gnarly? Or satisfied with making personal sacrifices to attain sought out results in a race or goal? How about waking up in the morning with an itch to turn their cranks up a mountain and then listen to the mechanical purr of the hub spin on a decent?
The people that understand even when the gears on my bike stop turning, the gears in my mind continue to spin; thinking about training, upcoming races, and results. Seeing familiar faces, weary with sleep after being brutally awoken for a morning session, or bright-eyed and laughing because it’s a warm August day and the sun never felt so delicious, is a reminder that we want the same things. The days we sat on the floor of a homestay or in a rental van, glad we had someone to share that space with.

I can’t emphasize how grateful I am for this particular and weird relationship that I share with quite a few people in this incredible sport.  My teammates.

Thank you for pacing me during intervals that one Thursday.
Thank you for holding my helmet when I was blundering to zip my kit because I was nervous.
Thank you for agreeing to take the long way back home.
Thank you for riding with me.

Rachel Thody is a current member of the NWCCC and captain of the Western Washington University Cycling Team