Cycling champions overcome adversity
Adversity. There isn't a champion in the world who hasn't been through it in some regard. It is often said that what holds us back the most is our own mind. For athletes, sometimes taking a peek into someone else's mind can help us gain strength and motivation. When life throws its infamous curveballs, here are some reminders that even Olympians and world and national champions have struggled, rebuilt and overcome the challenges they've faced.
Dotsie Bausch, 2012 Olympic silver medalist and national champion in track cycling
For Dotsie Bausch, adding a London Olympic podium to her long list of accomplishments in track and road cycling is proof that champions are born from adversity. Before Bausch's ascent in cycling, she fought a vicious battle with anorexia, bulimia and drug use during her early to mid-20s. After finding her way to cycling in 1998, Bausch got on her first pro team in 2002, then onto teams like T-Mobile, Colavita and Ouch Pro Cycling. She now coaches and mentors young athletes, speaks about eating disorders and does color commentary for Universal Sports. When it comes to handling adversity, Bausch knows confidence and persistence are the keys to coming out on top.
"I had the mental training and the tools within me that I had worked hard for after years in therapy," Bausch said, "and that gave me the confidence to go explore my possibilities in cycling and to know that I could do it and not return to restrictive, unhealthy eating habits. The question is, Are you going to live in a little glass house and never stretch or try? NO! Is it dangerous for a one-legged person to strap on a fake leg and ski down the mountain? Yes, probably, but the question is, do we want to really LIVE? Most of us do, so we take chances and we test our limits and we see if we can do it."
Amber Neben, 2008 U.S. national champion, 2008 world time trial champion and 2012 Olympian
Amber Neben of Team Specialized-Lululemon is no stranger to overcoming illness. At age 4, she survived a case of spinal meningitis. "After being in a coma for three days, the doctors told my parents I was not going to live," she said, adding that the doctors said if she did survive, she'd be brain damaged and deaf. Neben made a full recovery, and went on to prosper as an athlete in soccer and cross country.
After running at the University of Nebraska, where she was sidelined with an injury, Amber enrolled at the University of California and began to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology, genetics and biochemistry. That's when she met her bicycle. By 2000, Neben had risen through the ranks to be a professional mountain biker, but in 2001 she turned her focus to the road and went on to race professionally, racking up international wins like the arduous Tour de l'Aude Feminin in France. Then, in the fall of 2007, illness struck again. Neben was diagnosed with melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. The melanoma was removed, and she has had no recurrences to date. The following year, Neben won the world championships in the time trial in Varese, Italy, and qualified for her first Olympic team. She cites her faith and positivity as things that help her handle life's challenges.
"I have had a number of challenges along the path of my athletic career," Neben said. "I certainly have not understood all of them; however, I have never doubted that the Lord would bring something positive out of each, and this is no different. I have also never doubted that he has got me in his arms, and I certainly feel that peace now."
Iona Wynter Parks, 2000 Olympian and Jamaican national champion
Not all athletes face challenges of a physical type. Sometimes the hurdles are financial and political roadblocks. For Iona Wynter Parks, an Olympic triathlete turned professional road cyclist who now co-directs the professional road squad of Team Colavita, the path to being a "first" for her nation at the Sydney Games required both perseverance and focus.
"The biggest mental challenge was the lengthy process of being a pioneer in qualifying myself and my country for the Olympics in a sport that was unheard of in Jamaica," Wynter Parks said. "I struggled during training to maintain focus and belief, due to being constantly worried about financial resources, as well as whether I was in fact doing the right preparation."
Before 2000, no Jamaican athlete had done triathlon on even a World Cup level, so Wynter Parks was plotting unfamiliar territory. Because the Sydney Games were the first to include triathlon, the sport's governing body had to come up with a qualification process. That process favored countries that had a deep pool of athletes from which to select for World Cup and international competitions, where they score points toward Olympic qualification.
"These countries also tended to have the resources and people with experience in triathlon that helped to create developmental pathways for their athletes as well as fund competitions," Wynter Parks said. "In Jamaica's case, I was the only one on the female side as far as scoring points in competitions, and the country had no pathway or adequate funding in place. I was in the position of trying to make it happen by training to be good enough, as well as fundraising to get to competitions."
Wynter Parks managed to both fundraise and train simultaneously and made the Olympic team. She said the qualification itself was her personal gold medal.
"Most people try to define performance solely by the result in an event. The courage and strength I had to pursue and create that path are the characteristics that remain with me today in all my endeavors, as well as the ones that drive me to motivate and lift all athletes that I work with."
Tina Pic, six-time national U.S. criterium champion
Sometimes adversity is completely physical, and cruel enough to three-peat. Tina Pic, who has won six national titles in criterium racing and many national and international cycling victories in her decade-long career, is one of the most skilled racers in the country. And yet, she's no stranger to crashing. Pic has broken her collarbone three times. Each time, the physical recovery came with the mental challenge of overcoming her fear and getting back on the horse.
"At Altoona, Pa. in 1998, there is a chicane in the Martinsburg race and the rider behind me said, 'Hey Tina, on your inside.' The next thing I know she loses control of her bike, and I'm on the ground. Broken collarbone and 75 stitches in my face," Pic said. "So I recover, the season ends and I'm on a group ride in Athens, Ga., the next February, just in time for the next season to start and we are going for a sprint. Suddenly the guy in front of me pulls out of his pedal. So I swerve left and he falls left and I flip over, land on my back so hard that it breaks the other collarbone. Finally, I recover from that injury and I get back to racing and I have just won my first NRC race -- the circuit race in Fitchburg, Mass. The next race is Superweek in Wisconsin. We drive up there. Day before the racing starts I go on a ride with my husband, Chris, and he randomly takes a right turn, plows me over and I break the right collarbone again!"
Pic, ever the competitor, was less upset by the break than the fact she'd have to ride an indoor bike again for another six weeks. She took comfort in her father saying that this break was just a bump in the road.
"I really needed to hear that," said Pic, who noted that a support network of friends and family are the best way to get through tough times.
She went on to conquer her fears of crashing, and dominated the criterium race calendar for nearly a decade. Now co-directing Team Colavita with Wynter Parks, Pic's determination and leadership by example help her team's riders keep perspective when dealing with injuries and the recovery process.
Jasmin Glaesser, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and world silver and bronze medalist in track cycling
Jasmin Glaesser, who was born in Germany, moved to Coquitlam, British Columbia, when she was 8. At 15, she picked up a bike. At 19, she qualified for the London Olympics in track cycling's team pursuit event. But she almost didn't get to go, as her Canadian visa application was still in the works. While Glaesser, as well as her friends, family and teammates, considered her Canadian, the paperwork proved daunting and left the cycling prodigy uncertain about her future. Instead of worrying about what was outside of her control -- namely, the immigration visa officials -- Glaesser focused on what she could control: her development as an athlete.
"When I began cycling I still held a German citizenship, as I was born there and my parents had never applied for Canadian citizenship," Glaesser said. "The application process is quite lengthy and I had to be 18 to apply for myself, so during my first couple of years racing I was therefore ineligible to compete for Canada or to win any Canadian championship titles."
This was especially frustrating, as Glaesser won both the Canadian junior road race and time trial championships, but was not recognized for either. And, despite having met the time standards on the track, she was not able to compete at the junior track world championships.
"While it was definitely hard to be denied these experiences because of a technicality, I knew there would be more opportunities in the future," said Glaesser, who joined Team Colavita this year. "Rather than feel subdued by the disappointments, I decided to use them as fuel to train hard and focus on just being the best rider I could be."
That proved a worthwhile plan. Glaesser's application was finally approved in September 2011, less than two weeks before the Pan American Games, which was her first race representing Canada.
"Having gone through this setback," she said, "I made a pact with myself to never take for granted an opportunity to compete for Canada, and to always be appreciative when I get the chance to do so!"
No matter the setbacks, heartaches, bone breaks and hurdles every athlete encounters, it's proven that the women of professional cycling know the secret to getting through the toughest stretches of road: Honor your body, use plenty of sunscreen, blaze new trails, be proactive yet patient, cherish your collarbones and, above all, just keep pedaling.