Monday, January 17, 2011

To Travel Through Time.

    The psychological development of an athlete is unusually perplexing. I would never have been able to predict the shifts that have been occurring in my head caused by my dreams of Olympic Hardware.
     In this reflection I want to focus on the progression of commitment and sacrifices and how the lifestyle of an athlete leads to the sense of time warp, where ‘life’ happens in fragments against the forced linear flow of training, racing and recovery. I’m having trouble articulating these changes to myself. And this will be my attempt.

Growing Pains— of sacrifice, shifting homes, and time travel.

    I’ve been time traveling. Often, while traveling through time, I will unexpectedly leave my body sitting in the comfy leather chair of an airplane and pulse away to Seattle where a little cottage by the park waits eagerly for my unknown return. The jolt of the airplane landing will lurch me back just enough to remind me I’m now in Cali, Colombia, about to race my first World Cup, which feels like the future, for I have been craving this moment for so long.
    The effort to stay in the moment leaves very little energy to play with past memories. Thoughts of the future overwhelm me, constantly pulling me out of the present. And this is where time travel begins.

Cali, Colombia. My first World Cup

    Time Travel has a curious effect on the human psyche. Four months have passed since I signed a paper contract (and my own emotional contract) committing to pursuing the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.  Since then my soul has done uncountable and unmentionable back flips through time and space, and I can only imagine what transformation the next six years will bring.    
    (Note: the word ‘soul’ has a thousand interpretations, as does any word. In my work I intend the word ‘soul’ to mean the part of myself that grows and expands yet remains constant throughout the shifts of life. The person inside me that I talk to when I fall asleep. The person that sits next to me when I climb trees by myself and wonder why the sky looks the way it does.  I hope you get the point.)

    The human soul, I have now discovered, is capable of multiple existences simultaneously. The human body, however, is only capable of residing in one location at a time. This conflict between the soul and the body has psychic repercussions. The result is the human body must constantly play catch up with the soul based upon the current location it is in.
    For the most part my body resides in the greater LA area where I am a professional cyclist that slips between various training locations that are now my physical ‘home.’
    1) The Mountains of Idyllwild are where I sleep in a rustic snow covered cabin at elevation during road training blocks; the long misty mountain climbs are used as my aerobic and mental taskmaster.
    2) Then, in the foothills of LA, in a small city called Temecula, is where the team’s home base is stationed. From here I have an infinite array of training routes through rolling wine country hills and smog free air. And if needed, a few miles away are tens of tortuous climbs (called: kickers) that burst up to grades exceeding 30%. Power is built here, as is ferocity.
    3) The velodrome in the elusive ghettoes of Carson is the true reason I’m here in LA. The ADT center host the only indoor velodrome in the USA worthy of world-class training. Twice a week I fly here from the LA foothills with my team to fine-tune the track power and skills we must hone to be in contention for Olympic Hardware.
    4) Then there are the countless hotels rooms. Inside the homogenous living arrangement of hotels all I am reminded of is laying in bed falling asleep to conserve every ounce of energy for racing.
    Yes, these are my present physical homes. But, the human soul is not contained by physical boundaries.

 Planes and Planes and Planes. Where am I?

   I have another home. When I travel through time sometimes I will arrive in a place that rest betwixt physical reality and imagination. This place is called, Seattle. It’s a real place, an actual city located in the Northwest forest of the United States, perched on the patient waters known as the Puget Sound. Here rain covers the city in a dense haze of pensiveness and solitude.
    For some holidays and after hard training blocks or a big race, my team will send me back to Seattle, my ‘other home,’ to enjoy a bit of down time if it doesn’t conflict with our race schedule. Most teams understand the difference between the physical professional home (LA) and the home in which the soul wishes to reside (Seattle).
    When the plane touches down beneath the indolent clouds of Seattle I can’t truly believe I’m in reality. My soul has been gone too long (usually I’m sent home every few months or so) and my visits to Seattle are so short (a week at most) and this short time is not long enough for my body to catch up with my soul.
    When I’m driving from the SeaTac airport to the little cottage where I live by the park that overlooks downtown Seattle I don’t feel as if I am really there in the car. I close my eyes briefly and feel the wind whipping my face wet with rain flicking in from the rolled down window. The air is too crisp. The colors are too vibrant and lush. I can feel the tug of time travel happening, pulling me into a different life. The dark skyline full of towering buildings standing ominously in front of the monstrous cascade mountain range seems like a backdrop to a different dimension.    
    My body is there, but my soul is hovering around my body, not quite inside me. I feel as if I am floating in time and space and Seattle is a mirage, no, more like a dream, where the buildings, and parks, and trees are ancient symbols I must again learn to understand apart from my life as a bike racer.

The homogeneous home of hotels.

    There is still another home I have that isn’t Seattle or LA. This home isn’t really anywhere near me, except for a few rare times throughout the year. It’s not even an actual place, though she does have a name and she is about five foot eight, has bangs that partly cover her eyes when she looks up. Her distinctly strong cheeks curve down and meet in the raised crest of her upper lip and accentuate her voice that gets just noticeably nasally every time she excitedly tells me about some development in industrial organizational psychology or neuroscience. Sometimes, even when I'm exhausted after a workout, I can close my eyes and travel through time and feel as if I’m inside this home.

    Though my body gets confused sometimes, my soul lives in these many homes concomitantly. Whether I am training in LA, racing in foreign countries, causing unnecessary drama in Seattle, or contemplating how to best develop my relationship with a certain girl, my soul is residing simultaneously in all these homes despite the limitations of my body.
    What links all my homes together is the intentional psychological development I’m forging by balancing all these homes in a way that allows utter focus on my Olympic ambitions. In the attempt to find this perfectly efficient balance I have found myself Time Traveling.
Sure. I could live here. I don't need no fancy.

    I can’t tell if sacrifices deter or exacerbate time travel. Or maybe my time travel has just helped me to sacrifice more. To become the best requires sacrificing everything. There is no middle ground. Accepting this is arduous for the fragile human psyche.
    Some sacrifices are as trivial as never eating refined sugars or processed foods. A little more difficult to give up are late nights out on the town with friends partying like rebellious teenagers, intoxicated, thrashing to music together for no reason except that it feels perfect to pretend this is the last night before adulthood ensnares us all forever. Other sacrifices are harder to swallow, such as being able to jump in a beat-up van with friends and hightail it out to summer-soaked roads looking for adventure and mountaintops. The life of a professional athlete is year round, and spontaneity does not jive well with regimented training blocks. Yet, the hardest thing for me to let go is the energy required to maintain relationships with loved ones. Love is a lot of work. A distraction, one could say. Is it worth it? My, my, that is tough to answer…
    These sacrifices become a weapon. During a workout, when I begin to mentally falter and verge on giving up I can instantly remember how much I have sacrificed to be where I am and this knowledge allows my mind to push my body deeper. How silly would I feel to have relinquished everything only to give up?
    The rewards this brings can be transcendental. Ever so often I will have a rare workout where I push my body into a new level I’ve never experienced before. This feeling can easily be equated with ecstasy, sex, or an out-of-body experience—ah’ hell, or even all three.

 Squeezing into a skinsuit.
    Last week out in the mountains I was out on a six-hour training ride with a pro-tour rider. He has completed the Tour de France five times and has performed quite well every time. Halfway through the ride he took me on a section of road so steep it looked straight out of a Dr. Suess book. For two miles this road sustained a gradient of 30% or more. At the base of the climb he said to me, “I’ve never done this climb seated. Do you want to try?”
    “Fuck no,” was the first thing I said to him. He didn’t answer and started climbing, in his saddle. I shook my head and shouted after him, “Goddamn it.
    I knew I had to do it. I didn’t want to go up that damn crazy hill. But I would. I committed. I shifted to the smallest gear I had—a 39x25—and stopped thinking.
    In the ten minutes or so that it took to climb the insanity of that hill my mind traveled through time hundreds of time, then stopped. Every time I wanted to give up (my shoulders screamed as loudly as my lungs and legs from having to pull my handle bars like the oar of a rowboat just so I could get my legs to crush the pedals over at 20rpms) I could feel my brain computing what I was doing to my body. I could feel my brain altering.
    With a climb as steep as this it is impossible to rest. I stared at the crest of the climb as if it was my mortal enemy, refusing to avoid how real this is. There is no use tricking the mind or pretending this isn’t tortuous. The climb was not going to disappear, so I might as well conquer it with eyes wide open.
    The pain in these moments is indefinable. Time travel stops happening. I’m unavoidably seized into the present moment by the fierce claws of pain. Clarity is gained and reality unfolds before me. The trees to my left lining the road. The slight bluish hue of the cloudless arid skies. The barely perceptible wisp of wind wiping away the sweat from my eyes. 
    To think that you can ignore the pain is ludicrous, an amateur slogan. There is no way to escape the pain I was inflicting on my body, I could only accept it, and when I did it vanished and turned into a natural state of rhythmic lungs methodically taking in air, a relaxed face and jaw, piercing eyes resolute to kill, and legs that stopped thinking and instead acted.
    You see, when pain becomes normal the next reaction is to want more. Here I can feel physiological and psychological changes occur as a holistic modification to my ‘self.’ Sculpting my existence in the kiln of determination and suffering and eventual adaptation. 
    At the top of the climb I was only a few bike length off the wheel of an ‘effing pro-tour rider.
    “O my god,” he spat out panting heavily as we reached the top and coasted on to the magical flat road, our bodies draped like rag dolls over our bikes. “I’ve never done that before!”
    I looked at him and smiled a huge sloppy grin and then looked out over to the mountains ahead and let out a primal yell that he understood. We still had a 14mile climb ahead of us and another 40miles until we finished the ride and I was shivering with excitement to push on.
    These are the moments when all my sacrifices make sense. The moments when I feel everything is heading in the right direction. For I am seeking understanding, not knowledge.

    When you’re a full time athlete the ‘normal life’ of a twenty-something-year old is extinguished with 9pm bedtimes, 10-12 hours of sleep a night, weeks without ever seeing a girl, the constant obsession with health and performance, the days when I hurt so badly from a workout I don’t even have the mental energy to carry a cohesive conversation with a friend on the phone. Even reading a book becomes tedious when you’re this tired.
     There is only so much energy a body can produce and all mine is reserved for when I’m on my bike. After a six-hour training my body can only think of curling up into a ball in my bed and breathing slowly. Soon, even the most fun activities (Use your imagination. It also involves bodies) are ignored by my body as the energy requirements demanded by proper recovery take over. 
    The amount of fatigue an athlete experiences is often overlooked by the mainstream. On TV you see the athlete performing at peak capacity at an event. These athletes look like animals, like they are constantly bursting with a primal energy.
    What the viewer doesn’t see are the daily sacrifices an athlete makes. After my break in Christmas—where I intentionally went off the deep end in Seattle to forget being an athlete for a week—I realized that I must sacrifice more, for this form of commitment translates to: a higher order of self-control, which leads to a greater capacity of controlling my future, of traveling through time.

The little cottage by the park that overlooks downtown Seattle I call my home.

     As an athlete your inter-personal relational development is put on hold. It is impossible to further mature relationships with people you aren’t physically with. It’s hard to have conversation with a close friend over coffee at the cute café on Madison Street when you aren’t even in the same damn country.
    My friends and family and lovers in Seattle are intentionally forgotten so my mind has room to focus on training.  I ignore the needs of my soul to feed the demands of my body. Stunted growth of interpersonal development has unavoidable psychological repercussions.
     Like a malnutrition-ed child who is finally rescued and given food, my relationships in my home of Seattle burst forward in unheeded growth to make up for lost time. Often this burst of growth takes its toll on people in my life. When in Seattle the intensity of my visit pisses off a lot of friends. I disturb their life rhythm by trying to synch my own with theirs. On onslaught of pent of emotions finding a release. In the end it is all for the positive because you can only image what a riot of a time I have...

    The week of Christmas spent in Seattle seemed to disappear. I was in a state of shock on the airplane ride back to LA. Was the week in Seattle a dream? The life I live in Seattle is so surreal standing adjacent to my life as a cyclist. Late nights? Debauchery? Too much irresistible drama and hours spent walking in dark rain and nights fading away into mornings surrounded by old laughing, dancing friends.  Seattle must have been a hallucination. Surely it was not real.

Which room am I in? Aha. Yes. I remember now.

    After my plane landed in LAX I gathered my gear from the team house, met up with my teammates and left immediately to the mountains to train for two weeks at the snow covered cabin.
    As my teammates un-packed their bags I sat at the kitchen counter and opened my training dairy to a fresh set of pages. At the top of the page I wrote “Sacrifices” and underlined it. Beneath I began to list everything I will sacrifice for the Olympics. As the words flowed out of my head and through the pen onto the lined pages I never questioned any of it. This is my list. Where sacrifices no longer are a burden. They are a necessity. So complaining is just a waste of time.
    Regardless of the outcome of this Olympic goal I have, it will have been completely worth it. Because I know one day I will be an old man. And when I’m an old man I intend to spend many hours beneath trees and clouds where I can quietly time travel. 
    And as an old man when I close my eyes and travel through time back to when I was a hopeful twenty-six-year-old, I can let a wrinkled smile crawl onto my glimmering face, because I will know that I committed fully to an important stage in my life, and this is all an old man could ever ask for.

dan harm

1 comment:

  1. It Looks like you worked out the meaning of life for yourself my friend.long live your soul