you've got to PLAY to win

Recall; playing.

A white sheet became a red cape that gave you the power to fly...

My favorite way to play is to ride my bike. On a side note- I learned to ride late in life. I was 11 the first time i balanced the wheels and rolled away from my parents driveway (and then veered onto the neighbors lawn and into their poor child., breaking his leg). This was Not a good start to my cycling career. Luckily, it was all up from there. From the tertiary streets of suburban pennsylvania, to the messenger routes of nyc to elite competition in the national eds cup.

In 2009 I was racing Locally and regionally and hoping to go to Master's National championships. I was teaching indoor cycling and bringing my training drills into every class. classes never felt like work as we pushed harder and went faster, cheering each other on, erupting in laughter and applause and debating who would have won if there'd been a real finish line. 

Because teaching time was playtime, it never felt like work. Because the riders experience was playful, it didn't feel like a 'work'out. It struck me that if we are able to take our finger off the pressure button, also known as the 'serious' button, the 'self-punishment' button, and instead put our finger on the 'exploration' and 'experiment' button, we may find ourselves capable of so much more and find ourselves so, so much happier.

In August, 2009, I arrived in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Velodrome for Masters Nationals with a terrible chest cold. I'd seen the doctor a few days earlier and though I my coughing was debilitating, the breath test showed I had 98% lung capacity. Bizarre. He told me I should race. 

The altitude didn't help my confidence or my breathing. My body's response was to shut down and sleep. Backwards on the bed, feet propped on the headboard, I slept for 20 hours. And I couldn't drink enough water to not feel thirsty. I was extremely scared and at the same time so thrilled that I'd raced well enough thus far that season to even consider purchasing a plane ticket and registering. 

As i entered the velodrome for the first warm up session, i was keenly aware of the girls I would race against. this one was huge and strong had a famous coach. Her carbon bike was worth at least ten thousand dollars and She had two of them. She also had the full array of disc and spoke wheels. My Reynolds 853 steel bike was 12 years old. I had one set of borrowed wheels. I had a sinking feeling that was quickly turning to panic. What the hell am I doing here? Who am I kidding? Can I get out of this? I should leave. I shouldn't be here.

Nevermind the girls I would race, the chatter in my head was the toughest competition I'd face.

I laid down on the ground and put my feet up.  I put my hands on my belly and breathed. I took an inventory of the tension spots in my body and breathed into them. I needed to calm myself down. I did not have much time. As I focused in on my breath and my clenched jaw started to release, my thoughts softened. I remembered Don Winston saying to me that he loved watching me race because I was having so much FUN out there. YES! I had the time of my life racing and I never felt more alive, more present, more on fire than when I was flying around the track like mouse and cat. Now my internal monologue was shifting. 

Let's try this. It's PLAYTIME.  I strapped my shoes on. Helmet. Glasses. Gloves. Set the bike by the rail to clip in. This is my superhero costume with the red cape that makes me FLY! Holding the rail with one hand while using the other to snug up the suede straps around the clips. Locked in, I rolled out, staying low and slow on the blue apron for 20 laps. I will be sneaky and I will POUNCE!

In rhythmic patterns turning over the pedals at even pace, I OWNed the track. I Took ownership. I covered every single square inch of the track with my wheels. With every tire revolution I chose words to repeat in my mind. The words strung together into revolving mantras. 

Create the action. Do not wait to react.

I crept up the track inch by inch, increasing pace with every round until I made it to the top. The words in my head organized into a series of powerful statements. I had created my own internal radio station with only one channel; I AM POWERFUL. I CAN DO THIS. I WILL BE PRESENT. I DO belong here!

It was time for The 200 meter Time Trial. From the top of the track I rose out of the saddle and cranked up speed, choosing the exact moment to dive down in the perfect line of attack. So powerful and so effortless at the same time! My time was the fastest. I was top seed. i did not recognize myself.

From the 200 meter time trials, riders are seeded to race through heats for the Match Sprints- a 3 lap cat and mouse game. This is my favorite race.  If there are 10 riders for instance; the top seed races the 10th. The 2nd seed races the 9th....etc. Each pairing races three times. Taking 2 out of 3 wins the heat. Winners move on through heats until you're down to 4 riders. These 4 race the finals for 3 Medals.

With every round I moved on. Thank you Ingrid Allongi and Dena Eaton. Formidable riders, Dena became a World Champion a couple years later. Jubilant until the next to last round. I was under geared against Shane Ellis, a very tall, very strong rider who also happened to be a police officer with a famous coach and fancy equipment. The chatter started again. She wiped me out easily. I thought it was over. I laid down. I felt the hot surge of disappointment. I thought I had taken Silver.  My teammates started yelling at me. "They're calling you for your next round!" I had lost track of the rounds.. As quickly as possible I changed to a larger gear. I ran to the track. I was all adrenaline. I mounted my bike at the start line. I looked straight ahead. I AM. I CAN. I WILL. I DO. I AM. I CAN. I WILL. I DO. I AM. I CAN. I WILL. I DO. The gun goes off.

I didn't move.

The race official glared at me. "You do that again and relegate you." I was so deep in my mantra I didn't even hear the gun.

The gun went off again. We pulled out. She stayed low fluttering on the top edge of the sprinters lane. It is a risk of relegation or disqualification to go under them and push them out and you may only slip in front of them in the sprinter lane if you do not impede them. She was picking up momentum. I knew exactly what she was doing. So I stayed with her and then started to rise up the track. I was going to gain momentum and speed by using the banking and I was going to get up there before her and wind it up so that by the time she realized where I was she wouldn't be able to catch up. It worked. I dove down after a little cat and mouse, smiling the whole time, PLAYING MY FAVORITE GAME. And as I crossed the finish line for GOLD the photographer snapped a picture. My tongue was sticking out. Like a kid. Who just won.  

You've got to PLAY to WIN.