Thursday, February 7, 2013

Who I Am, What I Do, & Why I Keep Doing It

  I'd like to give everyone a little history about myself. I'm pretty much an open book so I'll share a lot about my life just for the fact that I've been through a lot, have overcome a lot, and hopefully I can inspire or help others get through similar situations. My whole life has been an ongoing battle with myself. To give you a very brief history so this doesn't turn into a total sob story, I was a victim of child abuse, so growing up I was taught that I wasn't good enough, that I would never amount to anything, and my confidence level was in the toilet for a good chunk of my life. The thought "If my own father didn't like me, then why would anyone else?", constantly haunted my mind. I was made fun of for being too skinny, I wasn't very social, I didn't trust anyone, and it took me a very long time to come out of my shell and really live life to the fullest. I didn't have a ton of friends and was very negative about everything. I went through every stage you can imagine...headbanger, grunge, punk, goth, raver...some I'm not so proud of but I don't regret any of them because they made me who I am today. I was still a runner through every stage I went through, but nothing to the extreme...until 2006. 2006 was the beginning of my life.

  I decided to go outside my lonely comfort zone and take motorcycle lessons. I signed up for a free class at Lake County College and started my journey into the unknown. Even though I was scared to death, I rode that little powerless motorcycle and passed the test. There was a guy in my class that I ended up becoming friends with. We bought new bikes at the same time and decided to go riding together. Soon enough we were dating, and realized that we went to the same high school, hung out with the same people, but never knew each other. Small but distant world! He knew I was a runner. I did track in high school and continued to run, so as we kept on dating he suggested a sport I never heard of before....adventure racing. 
I thought, well how hard could this be? I rode a bike all through childhood and my teenage years, and paddling, that has to be super easy. He Frankensteined a bike for me (put together parts he had in his garage which meant for a super heavy bike), and we started to train together. I had amazing cardio for running, so I thought this whole biking thing would be a breeze. Umm yeah, I felt like a two pack a day smoker when I went for my first ride with him. I HATED biking. It made me feel so out of shape and I hated the fact that I was slowing him down. Since I felt like such a loser, it pushed me to become better. I couldn't let myself feel so defeated by a bicycle or my boyfriend. 

  I finally saved up money for a better '05 Gary Fisher Tassajara which didn't weigh 50 pounds....and started riding my ass off. I was determined to be able to keep up with my man. Finally he dropped the bomb on me....his grand idea was for me to actually try my first adventure race....a short one he said....which ended up being not so short. He signed us up for the Southern Kettle Moraine Challenge. Well me being so ignorant in the AR world, I had no idea that this was a tough race put on by Andy McCarthy, and it was 11 hours. When he broke the news to me, I thought he was freakin nuts! He guaranteed me that he would tell me exactly when to eat and drink, so I could make it through the entire race no matter how fast or slow we went. So, being that person that will try anything once, I fearfully agreed. 

  Race day. He helped pack up my pack and we were ready to go. The race was going surprisingly well seeing that I had no experience whatsoever. He was an excellent nagivator, which I had no idea how to do, so I just followed. I thought, hey, this is not so bad, I can make it. Well about 8 hours in, that changed. I started bonking. Bonking is when you don't eat or drink enough, and your body and mind starts to shut down. I was struggling, I could barely keep up, and I was getting pissed! We're almost done with the race and I just couldn't keep up, it was so frustrating. I remember someone saying, "Let's run to the finish!", and that was it for me. I blurted out, "I can't! I hate this sport! I'm never racing again!" We finally crossed the finish line and I was still enraged. I wanted nothing to do with this sport or my boyfriend. I rehydrated and refueled and after a short while, I stopped being a crabbypants. I sat for a moment and realized what I just accomplished. I had just run, biked, and paddled for 11 hours! Before that day I never even imagined anything like that was possible. Now my mind completely switched gears, and I started to recap the whole race and think of every little thing I could have done better both mentally and physically. I now had unfinished business, and wanted to do another race to prove to myself that I could do better. I've been told my whole life that I couldn't accomplish anything, and this to me was an amazing accomplishment.

  I continued to race and I continued to think I sucked, but that just kept me pushing myself even more. I wanted to be a respected racer, I had something to prove to myself. Shortly after my breakup with the person that got me into this addicting sport, I started racing with other teams, and this helped me realize exactly where I stood. Of course everyone always thinks there's room for improvement, no one is the best at every single discipline, but I could now see that I wasn't a horrible racer, I was decent, and I could actually keep up with other racers. I kept racing and training with other teams, meeting people from all over the states and started to develop friendships with other teams that I would always see at different races. Not only was I getting better at racing, I was also meeting some awesome people who are now some of the greatest friends I've ever had. I now have well over 50 races under my belt, along with some 1st place finishes. Before I started racing, if someone told me that this was going to be my life in the near future, I would've thought they were crazy. Now I'm the crazy one, and I love it! It's my healthy addiction, and I'm going to keep feeding that addiction. I'm proud of how much I've changed,  and how far I've come. I always hear people say that people don't change, well that's not true. People don't change unless they want to change. I was ready for that change. Adventure racing has made me learn so much about other people, about life, and about myself. It has taught me some awesome lessons. I have learned how to be social, how to be helpful, how to be compassionate, respectful, patient, confident, and most importantly that I'm capable of anything I put my mind to. It has helped me form strong bonds with my teammates who I can rely on for anything, even outside of racing. When you spend 24 hours with people running around in the woods, you learn a lot about them, and you become close, your teammates are like your family. Adventure racing might not be for everyone, but not only is running, biking, paddling through the woods for ridiculous amounts of hours fun for me, it has given me the mental strength to get through some of the toughest times. When life is tough, I remember the night I was racing, I was tired, cold, hungry, getting hit with hail, and feeling total exhaustion. That could make anyone break, but I didn't. If I can get through something like that, I can get through anything! You are all stronger than you think, so when things get tough and you want to give up, stay in control and keep on going. You will get there. I'm proof of that! I was taken out of my comfort zone kicking and screaming, and that's the day my life changed. Don't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and try new things because it could be the start of a better life, and if anyone tells you that you're not good enough, and that you can't do something, don't believe them! They're obviously wrong! Live life to the fullest, don't let anyone stop you!