March 14/03 7:05 am - A Tragic Reminder, Trilife Splits with Norba
Posted by Editor on 03/14/03
A Tragic Reminder
Cyclist and speedskater Clara Hughes has written a strong and reflective article on theimportance of striving to be your best.
One of the good things about spending time in Europe is the amount of TV time dedicated to the variety of sports one rarely has the chance of seeing in North America. Speed skating, cycling, and cross-country skiing are but a few of my favorites.
There's nothing like watching the last two hours, barely interrupted by commercials, of cycling stage races like Paris-Nice, the Tour de France, and others long and short. Paris-Nice is has been on screen this week and it has brought back many memories of racing in the beautiful southern region of France that I have spent many a spring, suffering like a dog on the narrow tree and castle-lined roads, in the women's Tour de L'Aude.
The first few stages had me missing my bike and that unpredictable sport. So much so that my focus began to shift from this weekend's World Speed Skating Championships in Berlin to the upcoming cycling season. All the moments of toil have been forgotten after a winter on ice and, once again, as it is for the ice after a summer of suffering on the bike, it feels like a dream to go back to the 'other' sport, respectably.
Memories are like that, we tend to forget the difficulties and remember the fun and the freedom of doing something one loves and thrives in. The reality of pursuing these dreamlike endeavors often turn dark when faced with the struggle that each and every goal entails. The struggle feels shallow after what happened during the second stage of the French race. My sweet recollections turned to sadness and shock when I saw the Cofidis rider lying on the road, cars stopped all around and people frantically wondering what to do.
Something didn't look right by the way he was lying. It was announced the following day that he had not survived the impact, a head injury, and had passed away.
Now is the point in this story that I wanted to write about - my teammate Nicole Reinhart who lost her life in a race just short of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. She had not made the team that year but was sure to reach her dream of representing the USA next time around. Instead she was competing in a much-hyped race in a suburb of Boston.
After writing a few paragraphs I realized there is no way I can recount that day. Words seem frivolous at this time and I cannot find the combination to express what happened out of pain and because I was not there. Instead I was oceans away preparing for what I thought was the most important thing in my life at that time. Boy was I wrong.
As I watched yesterday's stage of Paris-Nice, the neutralized procession of racers going the distance in unified sorrow, the teammates of the Cofidis rider riding just ahead of the peleton looking numb, I began to think of what Nicole's death has meant to me, someone lucky enough to come out of some pretty horrific crashes bruised and battered, a girl fortunate enough to have had the opportunities of living her dreams.
I was at the Olympics feeling pretty sorry for myself, as I had been sick with the whooping cough for seven weeks at that point, wondering what I was doing there and if I should even compete. I had lost sight of what it was, the Olympics. Perhaps I never really knew.
Four years earlier, in my first Games, I won two bronze medals and somehow had expected the same, or better, the second time around. My vision of excellence did not have me standing in the crowd watching the medal ceremony; it had me on the podium. That I was not at my best wasn't good enough and the thought of a sub-par performance was not acceptable. That all changed when I read the news via Internet early the next morning. How could I feel this way when someone so precious was gone? I felt selfish and humbled, as well as confused.
As each day passed, I believe it was seven in all before the road race, something began to change inside of me. Instead of fixating on the incessant coughing fits during training I began to think of how lucky I was to be on my bike. It felt as if Nicole was there with me on each of those rides in the Australian countryside, smiling down.
I began to think I was not only there for myself, but perhaps, and more importantly, I was there for her. This feeling evolved after moving back to the Olympic Village (we had spent much of our time to that point in a smaller city) and I found pamphlets on the 'Olympic Truce' which gave history of the games and the meaning. Sport became far more than a game. I felt I was there for all of humanity.
This may sound ridiculous or egotistical but the strength of vision I had at that moment in time could have moved mountains. I was so far outside of myself it was profound. It's not what we do that counts but the effect it has on others that matters. If done right, with a smile, I felt I could show people that anything was possible. I thought I could give, if only a person, hope. The difference was this vision did not rely on winning anymore.
Sport is something that parallels the human struggle-the will to succeed, the agony of defeat, the hero path. I think humanity needs heroes for us to continue, and sport is something that has the potential to display excellence as a human being, not just glory and winning.
These things are secondary to me when compared with the true challenge within. This is what I saw in those Olympics-and what changed my life in a profound way. If the commercialism could be toned down a bit perhaps more of this could filter through to the public, especially the kids.
Finishing that road race is still one of the proudest moments of my life. On a day when it was so easy to quit because I wasn't 'winning', I completed the 120kms in the rain and cold, most of it on my own, and finished over twenty minutes behind the top racers. It was all I could do on the day and it was so clear that was the reason I was there: to give my all, whatever it was. The time trial was the same and I still cannot believe, to this day, that I finished in sixth place.
I feel driven by this vision of excellence and after yesterday's reminder it is clearer than ever. Results are something out of our control, who finishes first, second, third...and at a basic human level not what gives us happiness. It is the experience that we have the power to dictate, whether it's good or bad.
No matter how hopeless things seem there is something special to be found if one is willing to look for the smallest glimmer of light. As humans we are conditioned to focus on that which is out of our control. If only people can step outside of themselves, their own personal dramas, they would see this. And maybe, if only for a moment, smile.
As the World Championships draw near these invaluable lessons run through my psyche. I feel that Nicole is with me as I prepare to compete in the sport that I love, in speed skating.
Sport has taught me to live. I mean really live each day to its fullest, to thrive in something that I love to do, to have a dream and have the courage to follow it. It has taught me to break down the barriers of limits, from within and others as well. It has shown me that if you truly believe, and do all within your power to work and prepare for what you want to do, that anything is possible.
Trilife Drops Norba
Toronto, Ontario, March 14, 2003 - Trilife Sports International, organizers of the 24 Hours of Adrenalin mountain bike team relay events, today announced its withdrawal from its 6-year association with USA Cycling. The 9-event 24 Hours of Adrenalin series that takes place across America will continue to operate as scheduled throughout 2003.
The impact on participants from the change will be both positive and seamless. Fewer than 20% of the 2002 24 Hours of Adrenalin participants actually hold a NORBA license making the need for NORBA sanctioning and insurance coverage unimportant to them.
While TSI has suspended its association with NORBA for the 2003 season, an ongoing dialogue continues between the two parties. "We are always interested in working with organizations in ways that enhance the development of mountain biking," concluded Stuart Dorland.