I followed her wheel up the banking, the voice in my head asked if we could stay upright. This was no time for self-doubt. “ You’re strong. Focus.” I scolded myself, attempting to erase images of me faltering and careening down the track, picking up a few Afzelia wood splinters and landing in a mangled, bloody heap. My memory dredged up my last wobbly-wheeled attempt at this feat. “ That was a year ago. You can do this now.” If I extended my right arm, my hand could easily grasp the rail, but I tried not to acknowledge the proximity. The best part awaited in just 200 meters.
Downward, we swooped to the black line, gaining momentum as we descended. “ Relax your arms. Tuck your elbows. Look ahead. Stay on her wheel.” Around we went. “ Keep it steady.” A satisfying mix of euphoria and pain returned to me after six dormant months. On that sunny early April day, after what seemed an endless winter, it felt good to be back at the track—and with newfound confidence.
Two years ago I rode the velodrome for the first time. Following an initial terror-filled five seconds, “ This bike has no breaks. Those banks look awfully steep,” I fell in love. Despite being lapped several times before dropping out my first night racing, I kept showing up. Each race became less humiliating, albeit in minute increments. When I
thought they’ d laugh me back to the stands, the more seasoned women riders encouraged me to stick with it. I did.
Despite my lack of natural ability and less than excellent fitness at the time, something lured me there each week. I enjoyed the novelty and the people. The physical challenge and endless room for improvement catered to my masochistic tendencies. Best of all, track racing forced my frequently stressed and frantic self to fully engage in the moment.
More than any other form of cycling, track racing heightens my awareness. My mind cannot wander or worry. It must focus on what unfolds right here and now or risk my safety or that of others. My senses are heightened, and I feel completely within my body. At the same time, I must know my competitors, watch their cues and think tactically. Each workout and race teaches me something. It makes me a better rider off the track.
For the first time, I’ve been out training before Thursday Night Lights starts up. I yearn to be at the track riding my bike, and that alone makes me happy. As I embark on this third season, I feel immense gratitude for this treasure in Blaine and the riders who have been mentoring me.
As we grow up, it seems the opportunity to discover a new passion rarely arises. At age 30, I felt silly starting a new sport, but bike racing wasn’t available to me growing up and I figured better late than never. If you’re sitting on the sides longing to race but doubting your age or ability, just get out there and try it. You might be surprised.