Can a Bike Racing Mom Have It All?

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It’s been an interesting few weeks. Okay, maybe more hard than interesting, but I’m trying to keep it optimistic. Then again, if blogging is my opportunity for honest expression, then, yeah, these have been a really, really rough few weeks.

It started several weeks ago with some sort of stomach ailment. A virus maybe. My doctor postulated food poisoning since no one else in my family had any illness whatsoever. In any case, I was laid up for the better part of a week, wiped of all my strength, and coping with severe stomach cramps while trying to keep my kids’ end-of-school-year lives in motion. Moms of school age kids know that June is just December on the other side of the calendar. And in the case of my family, it’s December on steroids. Amidst the field days, end-of-year parties, final projects, Regents exams, moving up ceremonies, and teacher gifts, I’ve been getting my three sons ready for sleepaway camp. My dining room has been overtaken by six over-sized duffel bags and the table is piled high with laundry and toiletries waiting to be labeled, counted, checked off the list, and packed away. Despite my best efforts at keeping it all organized, there’s the inevitable last minute shopping for the nearly forgotten must-have items. Add to all of that some drama on the part of my seven-year-old daughter, and I began unravel.

My slowly recovering stomach, the too-long to-do list and a few good, solid cries. I was sleeping restlessly and waking up completely exhausted. It’s astounding how debilitating emotional upheavals can be. Still, I carved out my training time and maintained my commitment to take a little time for myself. I was feeling pretty lousy on the bike, but I felt that getting my rides in would keep me positively focused. Sunday morning came and I packed up my car and headed out east for the usual training ride. I so desperately wanted to do the ride for the endorphins and feelings of empowerment that the hard effort brings.


Image: Moriza, via Flickr

But within minutes of starting the ride, it was clear that no amount of determination would counteract the mind-body relationship that had left me feeling completely depleted. I was struggling to hold the wheel of the bike in front of me, and I knew I’d be incapable of maintaining the pace. I let the group go and rode on my own.

Another week passed and despite a few good race options on the calendar, I chose to stick around and spend the weekend with my boys, who I won’t see for weeks once they begin camp in a few days. Just as well, because I still wasn’t even feeling like I was ready for the local training ride.  I rode a familiar route on my own, contemplated the events of the past few weeks and wondered, “Can a bike racing mom have it all?”

Last week, Ann Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic, "Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” was getting lots of attention. Ann Marie Slaughter worked for Secretary of State Clinton in the State Department until recently, when she stepped down so that she could be more available for her teenage son. She offers an extremely rational and detailed explanation as to why so few women hold positions in the highest levels of government and business. She shoots down the belief that “having it all” is a function of personal determination or that it’s possible if you’re just committed enough. It’s a long article but fully worth the read.

A few days later, I read Lindsay Kandra’s guest blog post, titled “Why don’t women Ride the Tour de France,” on Elly Blue’s blog, Taking the Lane. She talks about how the sports that are promoted among girls are team sports like soccer and volleyball and as a result, women don’t tend to discover cycling until they’re in their 20s and 30s -- the years that coincide with babymaking. It all adds up to a dearth of women in cycling.

I didn’t discover the sport of cycling until I was in my late 30s and already had four kids. Even with the most supportive spouse, who encourages me and takes on all the kids so I can head out of town to race a couple times a month, it’s a tough balance. The responsibilities, the physical and emotional demands of parenting four kids is so all-consuming that I’m left wondering, Is it realistic to expect that I can compete with the other women who race?

Granted, I’m not the only mom who’s racing, and other women who race have full-time jobs. Everyone has her challenges and figures out her balance. Each of us goes through rough patches and has valleys and troughs in our fitness. But I know how busy I am, and I know that there’s not a spare second in the day, and that my “recovery days” may mean that I’m off the bike, but they certainly don’t mean that I’m resting.

Whether or not I’m winning races, cycling competitively fuels me. It makes me feel strong and capable. It gives me something to reach for and it gives me perspective. It may be hard to fit it all in, but I’m privileged to have the opportunity to ride and race. And I never lose sight of that. In “doing the best I can,” I am constantly improving myself and achieving things I previously thought were beyond my ability. 

So can I have it all? I suppose it depends on the definition of all. If all refers to the almost arbitrary combination of parenting and having a full-time job as a high-powered government official or executive, there’s Ann Marie’s argument that there are inevitable sacrifices. If all is full-time parenting and striving to be a winning athlete, I contend that sacrifices must be made there, too. But if all is following your passion, indulging in that euphoria and sense of empowerment that athletic achievement brings, while being surrounded by family that supports and loves you, then yes, it is all possible. It just isn’t all going to be perfect. I may not be on the podium (yet) and my house may not be clean if you drop in for a surprise visit, but it’s all good.

I do wish that more moms would find their way to competitive sports. Yes, there are challenges and it’s often a very precarious balance. But to quote my friend Cheryl K., founder of Bia Sport, “Unleashing your inner athlete creates awesome power in every aspect of your life that goes WAY beyond sport.” Whether it’s riding a bike, or running races, infusing sport into your life makes it all a little better.

Life is like riding a bicycle -- in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving."

-- Albert Einstein

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