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CELEBRATING THE WOMEN WHO TENACIOUSLY CHALLENGE BIAS EVERY DAY
This year's theme for International Women's Day is Balance for Better. As cyclists we know what it takes to stay rubber side down but as riders we also need to find balance in life. It's a broad topic, pun intended. We've asked some of our ardent ambassadors (and staff) to share their take on #BalanceforBetter. Read their personal stories below.
LIFE IS A BALANCING ACT
WRITTEN BY: REESE RULAND
CERVÉLO BRAND AMBASSADOR, CYCLING ENTHUSIAST
I could hear my dad running behind me, with his hand grabbing the saddle of my tiny wheeled bike. He kept reassuring three years old me, “I’ve got you! I’m not letting go! Keep pedalling.”
And so I did, knowing that he was there to keep me balanced. The sound of his feet and voice disappeared into the background and I was off on my own for the first time. I didn’t fall as I did in other attempts, but that's the thing about balance, it takes practice until your doing it as if you had never struggled in the first place.
It’s been 28 years since I learned how to ride a bike. I’ve been turning the pedals over on my own, staying rubber side down most of the time, and exploring the world on two wheels. In those 28 years, I’ve learned that the thing we first learn about cycling, balance, is also the first thing we tend to forget about in cycling and in general. When I hop on a bike, I assume I’m going to be able to ride it, no questions asked. When I work out, eat, or go to work, I expect that if something is off, like if I eat too much, or work out too much, that it will balance out in the end. That somehow the universe maintains equilibrium within each of us in some mysterious way.
To be honest, this laissez-faire approach worked for the majority of my adult life. Chalk it up to youth if you want, but I stayed stress and injury free. In 2016 the shoe dropped and everything changed. It was as if I’d be descending a hill, getting faster and faster and then my wheel would get caught in a rut catapulting me off the bike. Rather quickly, my health went from great to bad to worse. I went from running 70 miles a week and still riding to being too dizzy to stand up, to drive, or to function like normal. Heart palpitations sent me to the ER several times, as they were so strong they convinced me I was having a heart attack. I felt crazy and doctors told me I was kind of crazy. All roads seem to lead to crazy.
The scales of equilibrium tipped out of my favor. I wasn’t able to run or ride as much as I used to or as much as I wanted to. Regardless of how much I ate or didn’t eat, I gained weight. I had bouts of insomnia, complete lack of motivation, vertigo. And yet no one could tell me what was wrong. Doctors would tell me I was anxious. Which yes, I was anxious, but mostly as a symptom of feeling so bad. Feeling bad because I was not being myself and not understanding what was making me feel this way. That was making me anxious.
I knew what normal for me was and this wasn’t it. After years of digging and not accepting, “you’re fine” and being given Ativan as an acceptable way of life, I’m finally (I hope) getting back on track. Here’s what I didn’t acknowledge about balance: Things balance themselves out when you give them the time and optimal circumstances to do so. Over the course of several years, I had dug myself in an overtraining hole, but I’d never suffered any bad consequences. So days off were rare. After all, I felt fine and the weather all but made me go play outside. On that same note, I’d gotten very poor at fuelling my high level of activity. Which is ok, though not optimal but often unavoidable. Year after year of having an energy deficit, it compounds on the body until it can’t function on what you’re giving it.
In an attempt to protect me from my own under fuelling and over-exercising, my body started shutting down hormones and throwing my health, weight, mood, and motivation, among other things all off balance. It has and will continue to be a long climb back to optimal health. But once I reach the top, I’m confident the climb will be worth it, as I’ve found this to be true with most climbs.
I share this abridged story, not as a woe is me story, and not even as a warning about overtraining. It is a story on the importance of not only knowing that life is a balancing act, but that you need to act on promoting balance by giving all things in life ample time, space, rest, stress, and nourishment. We forget that learning to balance is a process. Someone isn’t always going to be holding you upright, but the more we practice the better we become at it.
WHEN IT STOPS BEING FUN, I'LL STOP DOING IT
WRITTEN BY: MARIA BENSON
DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT - CERVÉLO
I found cycling during a time in my life that most people experience during their time at college. You’re on your own for the first time, making all kinds of new friends and partying way too much.
All of a sudden you wake up out of shape, a borderline alcoholic, and about 20 pounds overweight.
The difference for me was that I was married to a Marine, shared an apartment with another young Marine Corps couple, and we were not going to college.
Two years into this lifestyle, I realized that nothing I was doing made me feel physically good about myself. I was fed up with the discomfort of the button on my jeans jamming into my gut… So, I joined a gym. It started with a spin class, then developed into trying out a sprint triathlon. I'll tell you, once I got outside on a bike for a real ride, I was hooked. That summer I did three sprint or Olympic distance triathlons. However, a year later is when cycling saved my life.
I lost my husband in April of 2005. I quit my job and spent May through August on my bike while simultaneously developing a strong friendship with Captain Morgan. I did another three or four triathlons that summer and, in the fall, I discovered bike clubs and group training rides. That quickly developed into a healthy road, crit, and cyclocross racing habit over the next several years.
At this point, I was completely dependent on cycling and I relied on the endorphins to keep Captain Morgan from completely taking over. This dichotomy went on for the better part of two years. The fantasy land fuelled by grief and inventing myself for the second time in my young adult life began to thin out and reality came back into view. This is when it stopped being fun.
By this time, I had spent two years working towards a college degree in something I was only mildly interested in. After finishing the prerequisites for the program I intended to pursue, I was denied entry due to my 3.0 grade average. I ended up in a bike shop as the token female to help sales to women.
After a year and a half in a bike shop, I realized that bikes are FUN and I should do something with my life that revolved around that fact. I decided to start over and pursue a business degree with the intent of making myself valuable to the OEM side of the bike industry. Retail jobs got me through school until I landed a position as an Inside Sale rep for the largest distributor of parts and accessories in the US, based in Minneapolis.
Now, I was having fun! Minneapolis has a very healthy cycling community and there are several clubs to chose from. I had accessible racing every weekend as well as several weeknights all throughout the spring, summer and fall. I was on a cloud; making a living talking about bikes and riding my ass off in my free time.
Less than a year in, when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I convinced a manager that I should be the product manager for a bike brand we were distributing in the US. I had no experience, but I had a passion for bikes and the rudimentary technical knowledge I gained from wrenching at retail. I saw it as an opportunity of a lifetime so I committed to a steep learning curve.
When the relationship between the distributor and the bike brand ended, I was slated into a role as a buyer for the company. While I appreciated their commitment to me as an employee by offering me a full-time position with no reduction in salary, the fun had justbeen sucked back out. I began to slide into a depressive outlook on what was next for me.
Instead of accepting this fate, I reminded myself that I ventured down this road in pursuit of enjoyment. I knew I had to move on to something bigger and better. Not long after, I landed another product manager position within a much larger brand. Again, I knew the learning curve would be steep but because we were making bikes, I knew it would also be a blast!
There is a point of view in the industry that once you’re an industry professional, you stop riding your bike and gain a bunch of weight. I can only assume this is because people have a tendency to let a stressful job affect their personal life and the easiest way to mitigate the stress is to give up the recreational activities that take up time. On the flip side, we, as bike obsessionists, are often so narrowly-focused on riding and staying fit, that we can forget that we started riding because it was fun and it makes us feel good. So, I knew that I had to make sure I still had fun riding my bike and, in my case, talking about bikes…all…day…long…!
There finally came a point when that position also stopped being fun. I consider myself very fortunate to have built up a level of experience which Cervélo saw value in. They came along and offered me another opportunity for growth, and a reinvigoration of what bikes mean to me in my life.
The point of my story is that I strive to maintain a balance between real life and bikes by the mantra of; “When it stops being fun, I’ll stop doing it.”
Each year in April, I join a group of American Veterans who have been disabled either physically or mentally due to their service. We get on bikes in Washington, D.C. and ride all the way to Gettysburg in solitude and honor of their sacrifice and for those that came before them. These men and women remind me every year of the power of the bicycle and the incredible life it has afforded me.