Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In Spite Of

A few days ago, Sarah and I stopped by my parents' place to see their new furniture, and we sat down to chat. I was having a noticeably difficult time with my speech, so I said something like "stuttering is kicking my ass lately."

Everyone agreed with my assessment and said encouraging things, but my dad said something that made me think:

"People always tell me that they are impressed with what you have accomplished in spite of stuttering."

In spite of. That phrase stood out to me. I began thinking about the accomplishments of which I am proudest, and it hit me that most of them were done in spite of something. For example, I have only won bike races in bad weather or with some kind of mechanical problem. When the sun is shining and my bike works perfectly, I can get second or third, but I have never won.

Last weekend, I drove four hours to a cyclocross race in Fayetteville, TN. There was a prime (cash prize) on the first lap, so I took off at top speed. I quickly got a small gap and poured it on. I was going to get the prime easily... or so I thought. I overcooked a turn and landed on my right shift lever. It broke off and left me with one gear and no control over my rear brake. To make matters worse, I was using a different front wheel than I had planned to use, so my front brake was not set up properly and barely touched the rim when I pulled the lever.

While I assessed the damage to my bike, the whole field passed me. By the time I got going again, I was at least half a lap down. I rode easily to the start/finish line where I planned to pack it in and head home, but when I crossed the line, something clicked in me. I didn't drive four hours to do one lap. I was going to finish this race, and I was not going to get last.

I began to pedal like a man possessed. I couldn't brake going into turns, so I would unclip my inside foot and try to slide. I was riding "tape to tape" with a good amount of speed and little to no control. Things weren't going well - I was in my element.

As the laps ticked off, I made steady progress. The crowd was great and cheered me on every lap. In spite of three more crashes (due to my lack of brakes), I managed to finish in fifth place. Right after I crossed the line, the race promoter handed me some cash even though I had finished out of the money. "You put on a good show," he said. "You got back up and kept racing in spite of a disabled bike."

There are many afflictions that are far worse than stuttering, and I don't pretend that my life is any harder than anyone else's. In fact, my life might be easier because stuttering has taught me how to succeed in spite of.

Now, if I could just figure out how to act when things go right...

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

No more small talk

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I've been busy. Hopefully you have too.

Last week, I was at the start line of a cyclocross race, and I noticed that a fellow racer was running very narrow tires, so I asked him what size they were.

Me: Are th-th-th-th-those t-t-t-t-tw-tw-twenty eights?

Him: No, they're th-th-th-th-th-th-th-th-th-th-th-thirties.

About half of the racers started laughing, and I turned my gaze toward the ground. When the race started, I decided to go all out for the first lap to "get back" at the guy. I must have been fast, because after the first lap, there were only three of us at the front, and he wasn't there. After the adrenaline wore off, the wind went out of my sails. It hit me that the one place I was safe from stuttering (my bike) was no longer safe. I rode the rest of the race halfheartedly and finished third - last of the selection that I had created.

After the race, I didn't hang around for the podium. I just rode back to my car and drove home. I felt like an inhuman shell. I was not a bike racer. I was not the guy that rounded out the podium. I was the guy who couldn't talk.

I guess that's what I get for trying to make small talk with strangers.