I’m used to nerves at this point. Nervous energy I have when facing a daunting workout, an epic race or, like last night, a speech in front of a few thousand people. What gets me through these nervous times is one thing: preparation. I know what it means to be fully prepared and to execute, no matter the task at hand.
But there’s something to be said for routine. When you do things on a regular basis, often these nerves feel more manageable. Last night was a good reminder that when it’s no longer the normal routine, things get a little rusty; the nerves more amplified. The perception of what the nervous energy is becomes more intense.
Which brings me to the comparison of speaking for an hour in front of a packed auditorium and prepping for a Classic race in Belgium. Only difference is I’ve done one Classic bike race in Belgium in my life, and countless speeches. Am I more nervous for next weekend’s race? Hell, yes. Terrified. Scared shitless. Was I nervous for last night’s speech? Well, yes, in fact I was a bit nervous. Because I’ve only done one other speech of that length and intensity in the past year, I have to admit I was a bit anxious to get in there and get it done. That Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto had a few thousand people who had bought tickets to hear my story added to the pressure. There is a big difference in being hired by a company to speak to employees and hired as the main attraction for an event. I normally prefer the former because it gives the illusion of less pressure. At least in the sense that you know the room will be full.
Needless to say, it was a relief to step onto the stage of the domed auditorium and see almost all the seats full. My heart settled a bit in knowing at least the ticket sales weren’t a complete bomb. The funny thing is that the race next weekend that I mentioned, the Tour of Flanders, puts me in a pack of at least 180 women. The women’s race is a side-show at best compared to the main attraction of the World Tour men’s event. I am the furthest thing possible from a crowd-drawing entity. The nerves? Yes, they’re very much present and building as the day draws near.
Because I’ve raced once (yes, once!) in Europe with the best athletes in the world of cycling in the past twelve years I’d be crazy not to be nervous. Because this race is notorious for its nine wickedly-steep, some cobbled, all narrow and twisty climbs, or should I say walls, I better be nervous. Because the race is largely populated by intensely aggressive Dutch, Belgian and European in general female cyclists I am getting more nervous as I write. And finally, because I am on one of the very best women’s teams in the world, Specialized lululemon, with the toughest woman in the world of female cycling, Ina Teutenberg, I can at least breath a sigh of relief. That we have directors, mechanics and soigneurs who are also worldly in the bike racing universe, as intent on winning as we the athletes are, that sigh of relief can deepen into a certain degree of confidence.
Just like last night’s speech when I was able to draw on my own experiences of speeches past, I can draw on and tap into the plethora of experience and performance under the ordeals of pressure bike racing at this level doles out on a minute-to-minute basis of my teammates and team. By osmosis I will be strong, ready and focused to take on anything and anyone next weekend in Belgium.
That focus is now firmly set on two wheels and riding fast now that my last speech is done before setting into the bike racing season. Two speeches this month allowed me to donate $25,000.00 to Right to Play, making this little distraction a very meaningful one. That I was able to share the past and marvel in the present opportunity I have in applying myself to my passion for sport makes it all the more clear to me that the here and the now is special indeed.
Nerves? Bring them on. The ability to metabolize nervous energy as fuel has propelled me forward time and again. With the strength of the team I know anything is possible. Now, I look forward to exploring this unknown for me; I look forward to growing, learning and being inspired by the process involved.
Belgium, here I come!