Tag Archives: competition

fly


fly vmove through the air under control

flywheel

My son is 18 months old and in a lot of ways I am not very much older. When he was born my whole life changed, not just in the theoretical sense but in the actual sense. I gave up my full time job to take care of him, moved from Brooklyn to the suburbs, and went from having a very defined path to a dirt road with no blaze. I don’t mean this in some macabre manner, but when I found out I was pregnant the old me started packing her bags because she knew she was on her way out. So the past 2 years or so has been a kind of painful rebirth. As he’s cutting teeth, I’m learning how to make mommy friends (sometimes more painful.) While he’s trying new foods, I am trying to learn to eat less of them. And as he has taken his first steps, I have found my own wings. But just like he didn’t get up and start walking like a pro from the start, neither have I. I stumble…a lot. But I have found one thing in the past 2 years that makes all the difference in my life. Exercise. Specifically, indoor cycling or spinning.

I have never been good at riding bicycles. I can remember the first time I went to Block Island with my husband crying hysterically because I simply sucked at it and we had no car so I had no choice if I wanted to see the island. I fell off the bike several times, in front of large groups of people, near shorelines, etc. Days after our little excursion, my ass hurt so bad I could barely move and I did not have the urge to do it again for awhile. Many years  later when we moved to Brooklyn, I purchased my husband a bike and he would ride to various neighborhoods, watering holes, even over the Brooklyn Bridge. I desperately wanted to join him…but I was just terrified and completely awful at it. We even spiffed up my old Schwinn ten speed with a gel seat and I got a new, red helmet, but after several riding sessions filled with tears and screaming, we just gave up. My shiny red Schwinn has a place of honor hanging on my workshop wall waiting for me to someday be able to ride it in all of it’s glory…and perhaps someday I will. However, these days my saving grace has been a bike that goes nowhere.

It starts when I schedule my class online. Free time is hard to come by, but I can squeeze in 45 minutes at some point, even if it has to be at 6 am. I put on my spandex and pull back my hair and head to the studio for sometimes what will be the most relaxing part of my day. When I get there, I grab a towel, a bottle of water and put on my velcro shoes with the pedal clips. Then I go to my favorite bike, number 36, and get her set up. My seat is a 5 and pushed all the way forward and my handlebars are usually at a 6. I borrow one of the gel seat covers to avoid soreness and make sure it’s securely positioned for my ride. I hang my towel over the handlebar and wedge 2 bottles of water into
the holder meant for one, snap in my shoes and start to pedal. I check my positions – saddle, second and third – and then take in my surroundings, sizing up the competition and avoiding my reflection in the mirror.

My favorite instructor is a singer and dancer on her bike (I have no idea in real life what else she does) and when she turns down the lights and raises the bass, I forget all about the dishes in the sink and the baby with the fever. It’s me and my bike for the next 45 minutes. My favorite part is at the beginning when we “fly” by turning the torque all the way down and bringing the RPMs all the way to 100 for a full minute or more. The adrenaline pumping and the music blasting makes me actually feel like I am flying. When we’re done with the sprint,  we start the climb. Usually we’ll start in the saddle and my legs feel like I am cycling through quicksand, raising the torque to make it harder and harder along the way. At some point she’ll let up and let us rise to third and use our full thigh strength to be able to pedal quicker. It makes me feel so strong and powerful. Sometimes it’s Journey “Don’t Stop Believing” or “Sweet Child of Mine.” Other times it’s Usher or Jay Z that get me over the hill. Regardless, I feel more like a warrior than a mom.

The leader board in the studio lets us all see who’s winning and I rarely put myself on it. Still, I can tell where I rank amongst those that
do. Most of the time, I come in third or fourth place. Other times I win the class. It’s in my nature to be competitive and I’ve learned that it can be a very powerful force when it comes to getting fit. Throughout the class, we rise and fall like a tide of riders going nowhere. I like to imagine what it looks like to the instructor as she watches an ocean of people pretending to ride bikes. I think it must either be humorous or moving…or maybe both. Either way, it feels good to move so fast and not have to worry about getting hurt…like driving a sports at the fastest possible speed without a worry that you could crash crash.

The class ends the way it started – with one last glorious fly – one last chance to make it count. Then I stretch, I hydrate and I head home a winner. I may not get a shower for a few hours and I might have to wrestle with a diaper genie while my son runs naked in the same room, but for 45 minutes I wasn’t a mom, housewife or trying to be anything than on that bike and feeling the beat. For 45 minutes I flew.

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compete


compete v. strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same.

Rocky and Drago

There really isn’t such a thing as a fair fight these days.  A competition that isn’t secretly stacked somehow – where the opponents are only using their raw, nature born, gifts to win. I sincerely doubt it, anyway. As humans we all engage in competition of some sort during our lifetimes, more often than you realize when you really come to think about it – sometimes when we don’t even know it. It’s hard to know what the rules are or who sets them. For example, every time I send out my resume, I am competing with someone who might be best friends with the HR manager. That simple fact makes the rules of the competition much more than what I submitted in black and white. My unknown opponent has a leg up and I will most likely be the loser and won’t even be called back. If I had known, I might have made some phone calls or connections on Linked In – but the rules are pretty few and the ultimate end is to win – to be hired – and it’s not about fairness or following the rules. It’s about who gets the job.

There has been much discussion lately about Lance Armstrong and his admission of doping during the length of his cycling career. I don’t usually go for this sort of topic, but I made the time to actually watch the Oprah interview out of curiosity. I fully expected to be disgusted with him, but to my surprise I really wasn’t. In fact, the more I pondered his situation and admission, I simply felt the best reaction was to shrug my shoulders in disappointment and pity. Sure, he’s cocky and arrogant even now after he’s been humiliated – but I don’t hate him. In my mind, he’s simply human like the rest of us. He set out to win at all costs, and succeeded.

When you think about it, the Lance Armstrong we all knew was a type of fictional super hero. Competing in a sport that sat behind so many other more popular international sports, it was inspiring to see someone with such super human ability take on a literal, harrowing road to victory. When he over came cancer and still won, he became an inspiration, a role model – almost an underdog who fell from glory and made his way back to the top through sheer will and raw athletic ability. Now Lance is just another exceptional person who won, not by natural methods or talent alone – but who stacked the odds in his favor by doping and enhancing his abilities in order to win. He’s not a role model or hero, but he’s still won.

The nature of competition is to win at all costs, doing whatever it takes. Theoretically, whether a person cheated or not doesn’t really seem to matter all that much. They still experience “the winning moment” and no one can really ever take that intoxicatingly wonderful moment away. In those moment, all of the races that Lance Armstrong won are still just as sweet. His sham organization, Oprah interview and sullied name cannot change those winning moments in the history of his life. Moments that you or I may never experience. And that’s the main point of competition – to win. Not to be a good or charitable person or even a role model. It’s just not what the word means.

This is why we love “the underdog” and “the cinderella story.” They embody the idea of winning all on one’s own merit and by following the rules. By doing this, they become something more than just the winner. That is when heroes, icons, and role models are born. The perfect example being the training montage from Rocky 4 where Rocky is in the frozen siberian tundra jogging on the edge of a mountain to train. In contrast the next scene cutting to Ivan Drago being injected with steroids and training on a treadmill in warmth and comfort.

In the end Rocky wins (and ends communism, but that’s another story). But in reality, could he really have won? I mean, Ivan Drago was 3 times his size AND was on HGH most likely. The man killed Apollo in the ring for God’s sake.

We show our growing progeny movies like Rocky when they are young to instill the value of following the rules and working against the odds. We hope when they are old enough that they will choose the high road like the examples we tried to give them- but it’s not an easy path. As much as we love them and admire them, the underdog rarely wins and, yes, of course, it’s better to strive to be a role model or hero and not just win all of the time. But just like those cyclists who weren’t doping in those Tour D’France races, we won’t know their names. They are undoubtedly better people than Lance Armstrong; probably living very full and gratified lives. But they didn’t win – and that was the whole point.

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The loser may be the better person, but if feels damn good to win. We fight wars, play sports and buy lottery tickets all on a quest to get that elusive feeling. Competing to win is in our blood. As a parent, I do my best to raise a Rocky, hoping that when the time comes for him to compete, he’ll choose the mountain and not the treadmill.

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locomotion


locomotion n. movement, motion, moving

chariots-of-fire-w1280

About a week ago my one year old took a dive into the bottom of my bed frame and opened a quarter inch gash in his forehead. Being new parents, we took our blood covered toddler to the ER immediately, where they closed his wound with 2 stitches – all the while, my son trying to continue the sprint he started at home around the empty emergency room. Later in the day, as I went for a jog to clear my head a little bit, it occurred to me that locomotion – specifically running – has been an ever evolving practice in my life.

One of the first things my mother said when my son started walking is that I never walked as a toddler – that I only ran. So it seems my son has inherited this trait from me. He walked for a few weeks and then quickly gained speed and now it seems he only runs. When I was about 4, I was put out into the yard because, understandably, my mother had had enough. I ran, played tag with neighbors, rode my big wheels and usually returned to the house at dinner time covered entirely in hardened filth. My parents bought me roller skates – the great old kind with the key – and I taught myself to roller skate on the gravelly concrete, knocking the wind out of myself quite a few times but keeping myself busy for hours. I was always moving.

When I was in the first grade, my school’s CYO started a track team and my parents were very enthusiastic about getting me signed up. My father had run the Steeplechase in high school and was tall and lanky and loved to run. After or before practices in Votee Park he would race me and I still crack up thinking about the time he lost his footing and fell flat on his face. Saturdays were always my track meet days as a kid. My mom would pack up a picnic lunch and lawn chairs and we would head to a day long track meet with other St. Anastasia Blue Knights. Back in those days there was no stigma about little girls and body weight. We were put into heats based on our weight, and since I was rather portly, I ran against older, faster girls. I placed a few times, but it was just fun to run as fast as I could for 50 or 200 yards. Although, the relays were the most fun. For an 8 year old, learning how to pass the baton mid sprint was learning the true meaning of team work.

In high school, I was a sprinter at a very competitive sprinting high school. Running became more of a worry on my mind, juggling a part time job and school work. Like so many things as I grew older, running became much more complicated. I had to make certain splits to qualify for the invitationals on the weekend and to be in scoring heats for inter mural competition. The girls that sprinted at my high school were thoroughbreds – the best in the state, even the country. I was always in their dust. I used to have nightmares the night before meets thinking about the starter pistol and the blocks that could add whole seconds to your time if you tripped up. Perhaps it was this complicated mind game that led me to injury and not competing. Nonetheless, my sprinting days ended in high school, but the way I would run as an adult began.

I attended Providence College – a division 1 distance running school and I am pretty sure everyone ran – in between beers and keg stands. Providence was a great, hilly city for running and I remember my long runs to the East Side near RISD and Brown. Running became a way to get out of my head. Where sprinting and competing once caused me stress, going out on the road and not worrying about time or distance was heaven. After a few weeks of conditioning and getting used to a slower, natural gait, running became my haven during some difficult times. It still is to this day.

When I was young, I wore shorts and a t shirt – nothing wicking. My sneakers were the fanciest thing I owned. I remember my first pair of New Balances and how great they felt when they were so new and bouncy. I used to have a bright yellow Sony Sports Walkman loaded up with a mix tape of music that I had recorded off of the radio. These days my 34 year old body needs a lot of gear to get up to a 5K distance a few times a week. I don head to toe wicking layers under a wicking, thermal fleece that has 3 zip up pockets – one for my Iphone, one for tissues, and one for my wicking gloves, which inevitably end up coming off mid run. I wear a head band, ear buds and if it’s sunny, sunglasses. I top it off with an occasional knee brace or compression cuff for my groin..all so I can be comfortable while running…a sad imitation of what once came naturally.

My son’s running has earned him 2 stitches in his forehead…a fitting entrance to a life of locomotion.

I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way.

I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way.

And where does the power come from to see the race to its end? From within.

– Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

 

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beezer


beezer adj. excellent

As you can imagine, I subscribe to the OED online. I bought a small version of the dictionary for $40 and it came with a free subscription. It’s fun to play on the site and today I found a way to look up British / English words. “Beezer” is a British adjective meaning excellent and I just love it because it’s so happy sounding. It really embodies “so very good” in a way that “excellent” doesn’t. Excellent has the connotation of excelling or beating someone or something else. Same thing as outstanding – I feel like it has to be so great that it “out – stands” the rest of everything.

Beezer reminds me of Beezus Quimby from the Beverly Cleary books that I absolutely loved as a kid. She was the next door neighbor of Henry who had the annoying little sister Ramona. However, I think it a bit ironic because Beezus was the wall flower older sister who was out shined by Ramona. So this is probably a bad reference for recalling the meaning of beezer…good books though.

The problem with looking up British words is that when you say them with an American accent they sound completely un charming. I found myself saying beezer with a fake British accent which is pretty sad. But when I said it with my normal accent, it just sounded like some thug frat boy language. Imagine it in a Boston accent – beezah! (I almost want to go to Boston and start a trend.)

Anyway, back to beezer’s counterparts – excellent and outstanding. Does something have to stand out amongst everything or beat out all else to be considered very, very great? Do we decide what is wonderful only through comparison or can something be intrinsically great just because it is – with out reference to something else that has or had existed? I don’t think it can. Which would mean if we are constantly striving for excellence we are in constant competition…and where is the day to day happiness in this?

When I think about an excellent day it doesn’t depend on just one element. To me a beezer moment could be a rainy morning where the Keurig machine spit out an unexpectedly sublime cup of coffee and I enjoyed hearing the raindrops hit the windowpane in such a way that they sound musical. Maybe I picked up a Harpers and flipped to a poem I didn’t expect to find while sipping my coffee and found a new poet that quickly became my favorite. Even on the small scale – even if I am talking about just a beezer 5 minutes – is it not excellent because it was better than the five minutes before? Or the 5 minutes I had at exactly the same time yesterday morning- perhaps it was sunny but my coffee sucked and I stared off into space worrying about what the day beheld…

Today I shall use beezer to humble my competitive nature. Competition is good…great perhaps, but it’s where you set the bar. If you set it high – perhaps someday you will reach the height of beezerness. But what’s the point if the road to get there is miserable and unhappy because you are constantly trying to out do yourself. It could be a century of unhappiness and disappointment before you get to your excellence.

I’ll take my excellence in small doses each day. Minute to minute and hour to hour…and when things get gradually more and more wonderful I’ll have had a beezer journey instead of just one excellent day.

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