Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kathy doesn't quit. So neither will I.

I wouldn't label myself as a "quitter." Rather, someone who knows her limit before reaching maximum potential. This is not to say I "half-ass" things. I will give my best to achieve regular results. What is considered standard. The norm. Satisfactory. Good but not great.
Pushing for more is a constant internal struggle I have with myself. I don't want to always settle for mediocracy. But it's so hard to break away from this pattern of taking the easy way out.
Mostly this internal struggle arises when I have to do something physical. When I go out for a ride on my bike, I calculate the easiest way to go, without many hills. Recognizing this, I will begrudgingly make alterations to my route or ride for a longer period of time as a sort of self-punishment. It doesn't happen every time, but a large portion.
A few weeks ago, my Uncle Bill, who rides regularly and racks up insane amounts of miles on his bike, asked if I wanted to participate in "Kaitlyn's Ride," a 50-mile charity bike race to raise funds for the Jimmy Fund Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I said "yes" instantly, and began training before checking the date of the race. The date of the ride, June 5, stuck out to me and I couldn't figure out why. Later in the week I realized I will be attending/photographing Sean's sister's wedding June 4 in Iowa. Sadly, I can't ride in the race. But having the race to look forward to had given me a motivation to move out of mediocracy. To seriously train for a race. I've been riding road bikes for a little more than two years now and this was to be my first race. While I won't be racing, that motivation has stuck with me. To train as if I was still going to ride.
For the past two summers, Uncle Bill and I have gone on bike adventures together across Western Mass. He was going to train with me for the race and I'm going to continue to do this. While he is training for Kaitlyn's Ride, I'm training to move out of mediocracy and push myself for more.
Yesterday, we rode 24. 61 miles around SH, Granby, Hadley and Amherst. Up hills. Big ones. They kicked my ass. No, really. It's so sore! Late in the afternoon we stopped for a snack at Atkins Farm and discussed our plan of action to return home. If you're not familiar with the area, there's a twisty road called "The Notch" which is a steep, continual incline up Mount Norwottuck of the Holyoke Range, around curves leading between Granby and Amherst. The way Uncle Bill and I rode into Amherst was parallel to that road, purposefully avoiding it because it's truthfully dangerous to ride on. There is hardly any shoulder to stay in and the general public doesn't know how to share the road. Sitting in Atkins, we determined three options. Ride back the way we came, which would be 10 + miles back home, ride into Belchertown and take Route 202 home - another extra-long way, or bike up the Notch. Uncle Bill gave me the deciding vote. I picked the Notch.
It was full of potholes leading up to the incline, so it was hard to get a good momentum. I whined. I asked Uncle Bill if he was trying to kill me. I got mad at myself for thinking about giving up so early on into the climb. I looked ahead of me and saw the looming, rising road. I thought I would end up having to walk my bike up the mountain.
With each down pedal it became harder and harder. I clicked my gears into the lowest settings to make it easier to move. But it was like pedaling up a wall. "Slow and steady" was how Uncle Bill reassured me I would make it up. Slow, definitely. He gained feet with every torturous single push of my pedals. It didn't help that I'm a wobbly rider when climbing. If I wanted, I could have reached out and touched each car that passed me. They were within inches of my left side.
About a third of the way up, I felt hopeless. I started getting angry at myself for thinking about stopping. But I knew that if I stopped, even to catch my breath, there was no way I would be able to start again on the hill. So I thought of my Mum, who was sitting inside her house, cuddled under a heated blanket because she was freezing from having had chemo a few days earlier. I thought of how she wouldn't have given up if she was me. (She's pretty badass, if you don't know her). And then I thought of how she doesn't give up in anything. Specifically fighting her cancer.
For 23 years, she's kicked cancer's ass, all the while it was kicking hers back. But she's never given up. Chemo treatment after chemo treatment, remission after remission, she simply doesn't give up. Kathy doesn't quit. Thinking of her never quitting made me feel bad about myself thinking of quitting. Here I am, riding a bike in the beautiful Pioneer Valley, breathing in the warm spring air and soaking up the sun, complaining to myself about how much this hill was making my thighs burn, while she is sitting at home, aching to be active outside, but is stuck indoors recuperating from a second week in a row of chemo treatment.
Kathy doesn't quit. I kept thinking that to myself and that eventually became my cadence. Kathy. Doesn't. Quit. Left. Right. Left. Kathy. Doesn't. Quit. Right. Left. Right.  I pummeled each pedal with each word. I rounded a corner. My lungs were on fire. I was half panting from exhaustion, half hyperventilating from holding back tears of pain and thinking about how my Mum doesn't quit. And how awesome she is. Kathy doesn't quit.
Uncle Bill was out of sight by then, because we were in the curves. Kathy doesn't quit. An SUV passed by and unnecessarily honked. As if I had any room to move over. The white break down lane stripe was bigger than the breakdown lane itself in which I attempted to stay. Kathy doesn't quit.
I literally kept repeating that phrase as a triplet to myself in my head, and it worked. I maintained a good cadence and was climbing the mountain. When it got tough and I was barely moving inches with each pedal push, I started saying it out loud. Kathy doesn't quit.
I had stopped looking ahead and instead focused on my feet, while scanning the road for potholes and pushing my pedals to my Kathy doesn't quit mantra. The next time I looked ahead of me, I was coming over the top of the mountain. Uncle Bill had pulled off into a shoulder up ahead to wait for me. I had made it up the mountain, with help from my Mum. Kathy doesn't quit anything, including helping me.
After the Notch, the rest of the ride wasn't that bad. Coming down the other side of mountain was a breeze. I got up to 31 mph bombing down the slope. The hills on the last few roads were nothing. It was like I had an epiphany. Each hill was 10 times easier when I repeated "Kathy doesn't quit." I've gotten excited about riding again, now armed with my secret weapon - the Kathy cadence. I feel like I can accomplish anything with it.
Move over, mediocracy, I've found my inspiration. Kathy doesn't quit. So neither will I.

(If you'd like, you can donate to my Uncle Bill's fundraising page for Kaithlyn's Ride right here.)


  1. Good for you NP. What a terrific ride and an awesome read. It brought me to tears. Keep it up woman. Love to all, AP