Like a lot of other Whistler locals I spent the month of
September on a mountain bike saddle, hunched over, heart thumping against my
ribs, lungs gasping for oxygen, the remnants of a strawberry banana energy gel
running down my chin.
Still, it was hard not to smile. When you meet the eyes of a
fellow rider and see the same strange mix of discomfort and joy; when
supporters and volunteers call out your name at aid stations; when you somehow
manage to keep those pedals turning over, knowing that every spin of the wheel
brings you that much closer to home, all is right with the world.
They called September the Month of Pain, and while it was quite
painful at times I enjoyed almost every minute of it.
My personal Month of Pain kicked off with the West Side Wheel
Up on Sept. 9, followed by the two-day Samurai of Singletrack on Sept. 16-17,
and wrapped up with the Cheakamus Challenge Lite course on Sept. 23 — if
you can call 42 km with all the hardest climbs and singletrack of the Cheakamus
Not being the world’s greatest athlete, and always trying to
make up for a lack of natural ability with hard work, it’s been a long time
since I first bought into the whole idea that “it’s not whether you win or
lose, it’s how you play the game.” Try hard and do your best, the thinking
goes, and always remember to have fun.
Some former teammates and coaches would probably call that
loser talk, and in a way I’d probably agree. But when you’re young and
genuinely love sports, but have exactly zero chance of ever representing your
country at the Olympics or joining a professional sports team, sometimes you
have to be realistic.
I’m glad there are people out there who are winners, who think
it’s nothing short of failure to place second. For me, watching grown men cry
after losing the Stanley Cup final — almost all of them millionaires with
trophy wives and full trophy cases back home as a testament to a life of
excellence — has always been one of the most profound images of what
it truly means to be an athlete.
I’ve always respected great athletes, and all the riders and
runners who hammered their way through the Month of Pain deserve a hell of a
lot of respect.
But in a way I have even more respect for the guys and girls
who ride along at the back of the pack. One of the coolest things about the
Samurai is that the last place riders always get the loudest cheers of the day,
with the fastest riders joining in. The top racers know that the slow riders
usually suffered the most to get to the finish line, and some riders were on
course for 12 hours and needed headlamps to find the finish line. Some of those
riders were cut off on the second day because of the rain and dark, but went
back for an unscheduled third day to finish the route properly. Now that’s
worthy of respect.
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