1. An inside look into my training regime.
2. Partially informed elitist Rants
3. Philosophical essays on Athletics.
4. Stories of the build towards the Olympics.
I want to start of with tackling the 3rd one in this particular post.
Today I woke up angry.
Let me back up a bit. As you know, one month ago I made the move from Seattle to LA to begin my professional career as a cyclist. The move was very sudden. I had offers from several teams and the decision of which contract to sign had to happen in 24hours. Yes, in one day I went through the uncomfortable mental process of deciding the next two years of my life. There was no time for emotions. I was on a plane 48hours later.
These days our bodies move much faster than our souls can. Plane flights. Freeways. Shifting homes. Our souls are desperately trying to catch up with us as we rush from day to day. Last week my soul caught up to me and handed over a satchel full of emotions I’d forgotten in my haste of training schedules, two plane flights a week, nutrition, leg-demolishing track workouts and regimented recovery.
Athletes, I have observed, are not allowed to be humans. We are expected to be machines. Infallible. Held to a higher standard society has concocted. Whenever a famous athlete acts human we are appalled: Can you BELIEVE that he had an affair? It was so upsetting when so and so started a FIGHT in the game. Oh my GAWD, did you see how horrible she did today? I THOUGHT she was an Olympian. He’s an athlete, he CAN’T do_____. He QUIT?!
An Athlete is a human. And humans are emotional creatures. Though we may deny our emotions, or try to control them, or avoid them, these methods do not help one develop as a person. Emotions are powerful, perhaps more powerful than the individual holding them, and the only way I have found I can harness the often overwhelming and debilitating visceral feelings of emotions is by accepting them.
Last week I became terribly homesick. Through the lonely months of my adventurous road trip (Read post: From there to here) I came to the pivotal realization: I love the people I had left behind in Seattle. And now I had left again. After returning from my road trip, my time spent in the languid sun of the Northwest’s summer felt like a kiss cut short before I was pulled away to LA.
I had just re-discovered how much I love the friends I have in Seattle. I missed the connection and community I had not seen before. And I missed the girl who—as it sometimes happens—I had developed a never before felt connection with.
Time has a tendency to never sit down and rest on a rock. It forces us all to march onwards into the unknown. My Olympic goal has me following Time up a steep trail I’ve never climbed before. And, my friends each have their own paths they’re following. I can’t help but feel as if their paths are leading away from me since I’m no longer with them to stroll along. Then there’s the girl I miss so much. She’s barreling into a new adventure of her own on the East Coast in a PhD program, complete with endless hours of studying, fresh locations to call home, and a new man with whom she is exploring life. Yes, Time, a beast with infinite feet dashing in all directions at once.
Last Thursday I absolutely tanked a workout because I couldn’t evade the melancholy chasing behind me on the velodrome all throughout practice. I missed dinner parties with my close friends. I missed long one-on-one conversation in the many autumn streaked parks of Seattle. I missed falling asleep next to this girl and having her warm body magically entwined with me the next morning. I missed being able to say she’s my partner, of having that privilege. I missed the reassurance of having my mother, my community, my support network (Donna, Cassandra, Craig, Pyatt) that were all a short bike ride away from me.
At first, I felt guilty for these feelings. Come on! Dan, you’ve been given the rare opportunity to live out your childhood fantasies of competing in the Olympics. You’re getting paid to ride a bike in LA. Can’t you see your November suntan? Why in the hell are you complaining? You’re living in a huge house with a swimming pool. Have you seen the size of your new kitchen? Jeez, Dan! Your team has a private plane! Heartache? Homesickness? All trivial.
But, rationalizing emotions doesn’t help. My normal propensity towards easy sleep was being gnawed away by the heartbreaking Dreams scurrying along my floor during the late hours of night. These Dreams would scuttle about and crawl up the walls with their claws and hang onto the ceiling above my wide-open sleepless eyes.
The confused feelings about this girl were all the more convoluted without my close friends to talk to in cozy Seattle cafes as we sipped black coffee, without my Mom’s warm smile over an Indian dinner on Broadway, without the reassuring voice of Donna and the little cottage in her backyard I used to live in three feet away from enchanting Volunteer Park.
A decision had to be made. I needed to sift through that forgotten satchel my out-of-breath soul had brought me. It was time to forget being an athlete for a second to take a moment to be a human. Coming to terms with change is what allows an athlete to sacrifice so much to commit to immense goals. Without the moments of being human, it is impossible to sustain any consistent effort towards achieving one’s dreams.
So, first, I picked up the damn phone, called this girl, and had the most mature conversation I have ever had in my life. Filled with heart-wrenching honesty. The girl on the other line thousands of miles away from me reached into the phone and grabbed my hand and we both struggled through the dark thickets of an ancient forest and managed to help each other stumble into a wide clearing where we could see the tops of trees so tall it made us realize there is so much Time still left between us that we had overlooked from the brambles and thorns of youth.
Then, I called all my friends and told them how much I cared for them. And how proud I am that I have such passionate, ambitious people in my life I can say are my friends. I phoned my mother and told her how much of a badass she is for sticking with school to get a Masters degree at her age.
As I fell asleep that evening in bed I slipped into one of those big dreams where the whole night was vividly alive and I woke remembering it all. Here’s an excerpt of the dream from my handwritten journal, “Sleep and Dreams,” which I write in most mornings:
“I returned to Seattle for Christmas and woke inside a filthy, old haunted and dilapidated house on the verge of collapse. There were people also living in this house that I never saw. Ghost? The house was on the top of the hill, in an area vaguely resembling the graveyard by Volunteer Park; green, wooded, tall trees, hills. Except this house overlooked a crystalline mountain lake like the one adorning the edge of Zurich. I walked outside. It had snowed during the night. I continued walking and remarked to a passerby about the snow. They replied, “What snow?” To my amazement all the snow had vanished. “I swear it snowed!” I exclaimed. We both walked back to the house and sure enough, only the area directly surrounding my house had a thick layer of pure, white snow. Comforting. I had been right and was surrounded by the beauty of snow.
I entered back into the house alone, drawn by some force. I had this desperate feeling that there was something hidden in the house I must find. I explored the house, constantly plagued by this feeling of terror of what I might find. Then, a memory rushed to me. I ran upstairs to a room. This room belonged to a girl who had left the house for a long voyage. The room was still perfectly intact and was ornately decorated and had large bay windows filled with plants that overlooked the lake. I remembered that I had promised this girl I would take care of two birds.
In a panic I searched for the birds, worried sick that my neglect had killed them. Then, in a tiny cage, barely large enough for their two feathery bodies, I saw the tiny, fragile birds. Immediately I wanted to let them out of their cage, but then the fear that they would fly away stopped me. I peered into the cage and was overwhelmed with sadness by the confinement of their small cage. As I looked at their faces I then understood they would not fly away. I opened their cage and they flew to a swaying plant right next my to head and waited by me loyally. I knew their company would be permanent.
I then peered back inside the cage and saw their food. It was two giant yams that had rotted and in their decayed state had morphed into two live snake-worm-like creatures with no eyes and a gaping sharp-toothed mouth. The larger of the creatures was in the middle of devouring the smaller creature. Distraught, I pulled the food out of the cage and swiftly went downstairs and scoured all the empty cupboards for fresh nourishment for these poor birds I had neglected. Inside a cabinet I found two fresh yams.
I went back upstairs and the two birds were still there awaiting my presence. They would remain with me forever, I felt. I placed the two fresh yams in the cage and looked at the birds for a very long time. I stared at the birds and they stared back. I was overcome by deep grief. I had nearly killed them.
I stood there and stood there and decided. I refused to ever place these birds back inside the confinement of their cage."
And then I woke up back into reality five minutes before my alarm would wake me to get ready for track practice. (I will let the symbolism of my dream speak for itself. If you are interested in the interpretation of dreams—as well as a whole host of revolutionary ideas—read anything and everything by Carl Jung, the late 19th century Swiss psychologist. He is hands down one of the most influential figures for the way I think).
Today—this morning—I woke from this dream completely in a daze. As I drank my coffee I noticed a strange surge in my stomach. The sensation grew larger as I pulled on my team clothing. I packed my duffel bag and made a bowl of homemade muesli and hopped on a plane to practice when I finally understood: I was angry. Really ‘effing ANGRY. During the night the heartache and melancholy had been devoured by this anger. My mind was calm. Focused. All I wanted to do was get on my bike and absolutely destroy myself. For practice today we had 4 x flying 500s, over-geared. These are my weakness. Perfect. Gut-wrenching exertions. Purging.
I walked up to the track, got my bike ready, changed into my skin-suit and was nearly exploding with anger. The type of anger that made me want to run as hard as I could up the closest mountain so I could scream at the top of my lungs. The type of anger that pushed Mike Horn to circumnavigate Antarctica on foot by himself. The type of anger that breaks world records. The anger that propelled women’s civil rights into reality. The anger that ended segregation. The anger that will one day give same-sex couples equal constitutional rights in the backwards and bigoted country I live in. The type of anger that pushes humans into new ways of thinking and understanding our perplexing existence. The anger that will hopefully wake humans the ‘eff up before it’s too late.
My anger was not spite, or malice, or hatred. My anger was directionless. I wasn’t angry at anything or anyone. I was just filled with resounding anger. Pure anger that will not fade.
We, as a society, grow more and more passive. We fear anger. We fear confrontation. We can’t think for ourselves and thus grow timid as we’re told to rely on ‘specialist’ instead of trusting our intuition and ancient primordial instincts. We fear facing anything inside ourselves that is not poodle-pink soft. Well, my friend, there are plenty of things to be angry about in this world, and the power of anger to compel change is absolutely remarkable and precious. If your anger is pure, trust it, and never feel guilty.
As I warmed up on the bike I embraced the power of this anger. With every interval the anger intensified and narrowed. I could feel it flame though my eyes as I flew down the banking getting my legs up to 200rpms at 40+mph. At the end of the workout, with my legs satisfyingly blown, I could not help but interpret this feeling of anger as an unadulterated love for the unavoidable complexities of life.
Repeat: This anger is an unadulterated love for the unavoidable complexities of life.
Challenges. Heartbreak. Mistakes. Obstacles. Passion. Experiences. Aren’t these the whole damn point to everything? And, if I accept it, this convoluted and seemingly contradictory mixture of emotions I’m sifting through will draw me closer and closer to Olympics.
Preview of the next essay…
Commitment: The difference between commitment and obsession is trusting yourself, is believing in yourself. It is the absolute doubt-free and fixated focus on each individual moment.