Kill’m with Kindness

Be the nicest person at the race

The kindest, the most positive, and a ferocious competitor.

Being ridiculously kind, so courteous your nana would love me, and eager to offer help doesn’t mean that I won’t drop the hammer in a race and try my hardest to split the field, or make a breakaway stick, or win a sprint. It doesn’t mean I won’t take the wheel I want, instigate accelerations, or stick my elbows out when racing get close. Being nice means remembering that everyone else is also trying their hardest, and that we all benefit from establishing a positive and supportive racing culture. We can be fierce competitors, and fierce friends, at the same time.

In racing, there will always be newcomers, especially in women’s racing where fields are often combined. Help that lapped Cat 4 woman get back in the field, give encouragement on drafting, and try to keep her in the pack for a few laps before the next surge and it’s time to move yourself up again. The new cat 3 who’s never cornered so fast and close before and keeps on apologizing for braking hard before turns? You’ve got 20 minutes of racing left, while we’ve got all of these laps to go why not take a minute to get her on your wheel and guide her through a few corners? We are all better when we have more fast, skilled women who keep on coming back for more races.

“I promise I won’t hit my brakes, get on my wheel and get close. Follow my line. Relax your upper body. You’re doing great!”

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When there’s a woman next to you who is looking ragged and struggling to hang on after taking a hard pull, tell her she did a great job at the front, “awesome effort”. When you get pipped at the line for a prime lap sprint, congratulate the person who beat you. “Killer sprint!”, and then counter attack. After the race, congratulate the winners, and most of all congratulate that women for whom the accomplishment was a pack finish. It’s not the finishing places or the courses that keep us engaged in sport, it’s the community and the joy of racing that we share.

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Stop judging each other, even outside of our women’s field we can do better to support each other. That masters guy who’s huffing and puffing off the back of the field, riding the super deep blinged out wheels and the bike worth half of my year’s pay deserves kindness and encouragement. You’ve surely heard those little birds chirping deridement from the sidelines; something about a waste of money or the waistline of the racer. That’s when it’s time to get out in front of those sneers and start earnestly cheering, “AWESOME BIKE, I LOVE YOUR STYLE! KEEP GOING! GET BACK ON THEM!”  We need ALL bodies in this sport, and none of the cliquishness and exclusion.

We need to fight for inclusion, and that means everyone.

Beyond myself, I want my team to be unequivocally thought of as the most genuinely kind team in racing. When you think of us, I want the first thing you think to be that we’re super nice people. And, then that we are skilled, smart and fast.

As trans and non-conforming people, we come under greater scrutiny than other athletes. Cognitive bias on behalf of those who would wish us gone makes benign and normal moves in racing seem threatening. One of our greatest threats to ourselves is to unknowingly reciprocate coldness to those who think we shouldn’t be in the sport. We need to be better. More friendly, more disarmingly charming, more helpful, more calm and collected.

If we are the nicest people in the sport, it will be that much harder for those who would wish us gone to dislike us when they find out that we are trans or gender nonconforming. That’s not to say that kindness is only for protection against hatred. It most certainly isn’t. Genuine kindness is it’s own reward. We gain community by welcoming others into our world, building each other up as athletes. Our kindness disarms their hate, coating its teeth with honey. 


Addendum: Renewable Resources

Being kind does not mean being assimilationist, apologist, unsophisticated in thought, unsustainable in strategy, or any less radical.

Kindness is not a finite resource, it is a resource that is constantly being replenished. Being kind to strangers or those who might wish us ill does not necessarily come at the expense of kindness to our immediate communities. That fear of using up one’s gentleness is like that of a child who fears their parent’s won’t love them anymore when a new sibling is born.

To those people who would say that being kind to strangers or those who would wish us harm comes at the expense of attention towards our own communities or even our own well being, I say that kindness is only burdensome when it is forced. The positive interactions and community building that comes from reaching outside of my own small social circle is fortifying, and that creates a positive feedback loop to reinforce the behaviour. Are all interactions positive? No. I pick and choose my battles, and tread carefully where my safety could be at risk. Yet, if we never take the chance on strangers, we are missing chances to build alliances and win hearts and minds – this is why I am both kind and bold, at the same time. When I discuss my racing with a stranger at a race, or the suburbanites who are fascinated by my wearing a speedsuit at a grocery store in the deep South(!), I am am up front about being on an explicitly trans and gender nonconforming team. Does it get tiring repeating the same explanations again and again? Sometimes. But, most of the time I am truly excited by knowing that I just changed somebody’s perspective on trans people and am thrilled to win us new fans. The words lose their staleness.  This is my reminder to myself that there are good people in the world, and a source of hope for a future with greater acceptance and less violence directed towards people like me.  

 

 

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Stumbling blocks: part 1

I am a different racer now than I was when this blog started and I was all full of wattage, fire and confidence. I haven’t yet talked a lot about more general “me” things, or health issues. But, this is the context of this coming season of racing, so it seems necessary to diverge from trans issues a bit and lay some foundation. This is not the first time I’ve been catastrophically ill, and it won’t be the last.

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photo credit: Caldwell Linker

Illness

Two years ago, at the beginning of what was hoped to be a breakout sort of season, I had a dramatic crash that left me struggling with pain and leg strength for much of the following year and a half. Just as my left leg had started to improve, my health began to decline in other ways. I was losing weight dramatically, having escalating abdominal pain, unable to eat, and feverish for months. I was diagnosed with Lyme, and attributed everything I was going through to that and the antibiotics, not knowing I had a much more serious intra-abdominal infection raging. I ended up being in the hospital for about two months in total, ending in sepsis and recovering from emergency, open abdominal surgery. Near the end, when I was in septic shock with a blood pressure so low (70/35)  that they stopped offering pain medications, it was clear that this could be it. But, it wasn’t. Thanks to the truly heroic efforts and never ending support of my husband Brandon, and the many friends who called and talked for hours, and even crawled into my hospital bed with me to hold me when I couldn’t stop crying, I finally recovered.

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That glazed hospital-look…

Those first days and weeks were a struggle in their own right. I ended up back in the ER from dehydration a couple of times, had panic attacks from being overwhelmed by simple activities of daily life (showering, my first day of being home alone, making and eating breakfast), and was dealing with having memory loss and word-finding issues. In October, I was dizzy from the effort of standing for more than 10 minutes at a time. Walking around the house, and then up a flight of stairs, or around a park path with the support of a friend’s arm, were my next accomplishments. My legs were shockingly atrophied, unrecognizable  as my own. By the time I restarted fulltime work in late October, a flight of steps a few times a day was my challenge. Every small accomplishment left my muscles knotted and shredded. A flight of steps felt like a stage race.

At that point, nobody could predict the path of my recovery, or if I’d end up getting sick again and bouncing back into the hospital, and ultimately dying. But, who can predict death? I want to jam as much living as possible into this life, with however much health I have left.

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A December update on getting to the gym!

And, I stayed out of the hospital. December was the tipping point where I decided that it was time to get back on the bike and start training again. By that point I had just started to do longer rides on my cyclocross bike, and was able to run on a local trail. Despite having good knowledge of training methods, I knew I couldn’t do this alone. There was everything to relearn and I was starting from nothing. My previous track coach Ben was now in Alaska and out of the cycling world, and I knew I needed something drastically different and more sophisticated than the cookie cutter plans advertised by many coaches in the area.

Rebuilding

My fitness wasn’t just starting from zero,  it was starting from catastrophic illness and nutritional insult. This was going to be a process, a big process of relearning and readaptation. My entire physiology had changed, and so had my brain. Muscle needed to be rebuilt and neuromuscular connections needed to be rewired.  

A friend put me in touch with my current coach, Robert, and thankfully it was immediately pretty damned clear that this was the right fit for wading into the unknown. Initially, we talked more about general racing goals and history; the normal stuff. And, I’ve got to admit, I was uncharacteristically nervous about outing myself as trans. I think I sent him a text message after we talked that read something like,

“Oh yeah, and I’m trans. I identify mostly as a guy… LMK if you have any questions. Hopefully that’s cool…”

It’s clearly more complicated than being socially a guy most of the time, and we got there. But, really, it was the illness stuff that had me worried. Although I had my doctor’s blessing to start training again, I probably slightly downplayed just how deconditioned I was and how seriously ill I had been when we first talked, because I was terrified of being told it was impossible or simply, “no”. I never want the standards to be adjusted, or plans to be made easy because of my illness. I want to push as hard as I can, and get to the absolute highest level possible. Neither of us know exactly how much I can handle, or where this is ultimately going to lead. At 10 weeks since initial conversations in December, I’m on the very steep part of the progress curve.

There will be issues

How could there not be? There have been issues already. Out of these 10 weeks, I’ve lost about a week and a half to minor illnesses, dehydration, and flat out exhaustion from the other stressors that come with rebuilding a life after critical illness and finding a new place in this sport. But, there have also been massive leaps in my ability and endurance. And, there has necessarily been a lot of touch and go, rewriting of training days on the fly (which, I can’t even say how much I appreciate), adjusting the numbers and troubleshooting.

Approaching this rebuilding of myself as a cyclist as a massive experiment and a process versus something so straightforward as simply training is the key. It has also been incredibly humbling to accept the days when I reach my physical limit sooner than was hoped for. Every failure is a learning point, and a place to target for the future – it sounds like a canned, inspirational talk, but it’s the truth.

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cracked. dehydrated. cramping.

…. Stay tuned for part 2… on relearning to be a bike racer.