What Makes an Athlete?

As I was pedaling along the grass this morning recovering from a set of barrier dismounts/mounts, this very thought floated through my brain: What Makes an Athlete? I’m not sure where this question/idea came from. Perhaps from some recent events that have happened in my life recently (all good stuff that I can tell you about soon enough!). Anyway, never one to shy away from a potentially controversial or unanswerable question, I thought I’d try to answer my own question… What Makes an Athlete?

There is the standard, athletes come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. But for my purposes, I’m going to write about elite athletes. What Makes an Elite Athlete?

Passion. Drive. Skill. Tenacity. Support. Luck.

These are the attributes/factors that in my opinion make an elite athlete. No elite athletes are born overnight. It might seem that this is the case, but typically if you dig a bit deeper and start talking to or really paying attention to the athlete, you’ll learn pretty quickly that “overnight sensation” really is not a reality. This is a comforting piece of knowledge. It is an incredible combination of attributes along with some luck with knowing/meeting the right people.

Passion. Every single person has a passion for something. For elite athletes this by-and-large is their sport. If there is an elite athlete who is not passionate about their sport, then I truly do feel sorry for this person. There are to many sacrifices, tough decisions, and low moments to not be fully passionate and consumed with one’s sport. I can’t prove that passion is a key component. But if I look at myself as an example, I do believe that my passion has brought me a long way. I’m not naturally talented. I have a basic level of athletic skill that gifts me with being pretty good at most sports (except basketball and volleyball…). But to get to the elite level, it has taken a lot of digging deep, really asking myself what I want, and making the tough sacrifices to get to this level. There are days when I don’t want to train – the weather is rotten, my legs are tired, or I’d really just rather flake out on the couch. But I still train. I have this thing inside me that makes me want to get out and do the work-out, sweat it out, go through the tough moments because I know this all results in progress. Passion.

Drive. Ask any elite athlete, even a World Champion – chances are this athlete still has goals and dreams to accomplish in his/her sport. Every elite athlete wants more. To break the world record again. To win the race more easily. To hit the highest of highs. This is drive. To accept that where I am right now is good, but I really want to be at that next level. And then when I reach that level, to aim for the next level. To truly believe that there are no limits. This makes me approach my training with a special focus. There is no backing off on intervals or even skipping a recovery ride. These rides and efforts need to be done so I can get where I want to be. Complacency is not an option. Drive.

Skill. Each elite athlete demonstrates some basic skill and ability in his/her chosen sport at the outset. This usually results in early success. Thereby sparking the passion and drive to push harder and move forward. This is an attribute that I grapple with often. I know I have skills. I sometimes though overlook them because I like to believe that anyone can set goals and achieve them. But I suppose the difference is that for some, their skills are a limiter. For me, well I have a big engine, the ability to push myself and ignore that ache in my legs, and well I’m developing some pretty good technical skills as well. All elite athletes need to refine their skills as the goals and dreams get higher. This is a good thing. Skill.

Tenacity. Lets be honest, there are lots of setbacks and lows on the road to achieving elite athlete goals and dreams. There are naysayers. There are doubters. There are injuries. There is sickness. There are lots and lots of reasons to not pursue athletic dreams. I know. I’ve run through them more times than I like to admit. But darn it, I’ve set goals and I’m going to accomplish them. There is no quit. There are times when my head falls off. But I’m a different athlete now. I’ve got confidence. I’ve got the inner fire to keep me floating about the obstacles. Tenacity.

Support. No elite athlete has made it alone. This simply is not possible. From the parents who drove to hockey games. To the coach who spent the extra time. To the sponsors who believe in the athlete enough to provide product, money, and assistance. I for one could not do this alone. My biggest supporter is Marc. He is my number one fan. He motivates me to better – everyday. He spends his days at an office so I can focus on my training and work only part-time. He makes it possible. Of course I have an overwhelming number of sponsors who really make the dreams come true. I’m so well supported with bikes, clothing, helmets, glasses, nutrition, money, coaching, shoes, wheels – you name it – it is covered. So overwhelming. Support.

Luck. Yes, luck. It takes a little bit and sometimes a lot of luck to get to an elite level. The pieces have to fall into place just perfectly. Training has to go well. Sickness and injury have to be avoided. Races and competitions have to work out just the way you picture them. You have to meet the correct people who can help out and believe in you. This has been my situation. I’ve been so very lucky to have such an amazing confluence of events/circumstances and people in my life. Without these, I wouldn’t be able to train, race, and recover at such a high level. I always say I’m super lucky. And I truly believe it. Luck.

What Makes an Elite Athlete?
Passion. Drive. Skill. Tenacity. Support. Luck.

Going for it. Can’t stop me now. Look Mom – no brakes!. Ulcerative Colitis be damned. Marc and my Sponsors. Thank-you So Very Much.

Fun Times on Bikes

What a great day of riding I had today. Today was a recovery day for me, after three days of intensity. I kicked off the day with a smooth ‘cross skills training session.

It was me, the park, my flags, my PVC tubing barrier, and some kids playing tag. I did a simple 45 minute focused session – barriers were the focus. My barrier technique is pretty solid. But it still needs work. I tend to slow down as soon as my feet hit the ground and I can be slow to clip-in. Not to mention I seem to miss the pedal more times than I like. So after some pointers from Marc a couple of weeks ago, I was at it this morning to try and improve on my technique.

Some might wonder why I spend time working on mounts/dismounts – well if I can get myself a second or two each time I have to dismount at a barrier/stairs/run-up, then this will go along way in saving me overall time in a 40 minute race. Today I tried to keep my feet from “sticking to the ground”, or in other words, trying to stay light on my feet. I also practiced taking a peak at where my pedal is before remounting. Last thing I added into the mix was really drilling my right leg down and onto the pedal – trying to minimize that delay or “lazy leg”. At times, everything came together nicely and at other times – I was a mess. But this is why I’m practicing – small improvements each session will result in a big payoff.

I also set up the flags on the face of the little hill and worked on smooth cornering. I tried to always be looking ahead and purposely focusing on where I wanted my front wheel to go. At times I find it is super easy to get sucked into the front wheel and then all of a sudden I’m looking at the ground in front of me, instead of where I want to go. I also worked on getting used to letting the bike fall onto its line when descending and cornering. This requires (for me) a great deal of trust in my tires, my abilities, and the slope of the incline. I’m happy to say that I’m getting much better at this. I’m more willing to take risk and to see how far I can push my bike and comfort levels. This is what it is all about.

Filled the rest of the morning and early afternoon with some work. Some writing projects for KingsBridge and research for a couple of other potential opportunities. Then soon enough it was time for my second ride of the day.

All summer I’ve been trying to connect with young Timothy A. for a road ride. Well, today was my lucky day – everything came together and Timothy and I got out for a great ride. We set our sights on the Richmond Bakery and had a great little spin. Chatting all the way about bike racing, training, ski racing, hopes, dreams, cyclo-cross and our favorite pro riders. I have to say it was a great ride. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks Timothy for such an awesome ride. Quick stop at the Richmond Bakery for an apple turnover for Timothy and a Diet Coke for me – we chilled in the little park and then decided to take the long route home. Great ride. Not too hot, not too windy and no rain. No complaints here. It was super refreshing to ride with such an enthusiastic and passionate bike racer.

Tomorrow is looking good. Morning ‘cross skills and the Tuesday evening training crit. Should be another solid day on the bike. I’m 100 per cent hooked on riding to the crit, racing the crit and then riding home. Makes for a good long session on the bike.

So there you have it – lots of fun times had on the bikes. Pretty darn solid Monday. Hope you had a good one as well.