Body Image and Racing

The Berger Hardware Bikes Short Track Series is a low-pressure, community-oriented three-race event that takes place over six weeks at the Spring Hill cyclocross course in Dorothea Dix park in downtown Raleigh. The convenient location and evening timing make for a great turnout of racers and spectators. The CX course is modified to be shorter with a lot more log obstacles, and in the spirit of the event, I borrowed a demo mountain bike from the shop where I work, Oak City Cycling. This was my first ever MTB race, and I won! It was cool.

TW: Now let’s talk about mental health and body image. 

An hour before this race started, I was ugly crying in the break room at the bike shop and planning to bail. My mental and physical health were awful for a couple of weeks. I was extremely burnt out from being mildly ill for days and days — not too sick to function, not sick enough to want to rest properly, so I plowed through. Burning the candle at both ends, not sleeping enough, and feeling exhausted and uncomfortable left me feeling extra sensitive to my triggers, which wore me down even more. Things were very bad. I debated racing anyway, but I was starting to get wise to what happened when I didn’t listen to my body. “I’m not gonna do it,” I said, resigning to a barstool, holding my head up with my hand.

In that bitter moment, I ate one of my coworker Athena’s homegrown strawberries that were sitting on the bar and just...felt better. Maybe it was a stubborn response to my decision to bail, or maybe I was just hungry. I rode that wave and sprinted through downtown on the borrowed mountain bike with my friend Ashlyn riding with my dog in tow.

I would be proud of myself if I had followed through with the decision to bail for the sake of my health, but at the end of the race, I was psyched that I had been able to show up and finish. I even had so much fun because bikes are super tight and hearing all your friends scream your name rules. As a bonus, I wasn’t last. I thought maybe I finished 4th. Then Todd Berger called my name for first place. I kept asking, “Are you sure? Me? You’re sure. Me? Really. Me??” Another racer said, “STOP BEING MODEST AND GET UP THERE!” I really thought it was a mistake. I’m so happy that it wasn’t. I am so grateful for everyone who was there at the shop to help me process my waffling, everyone who showed up just to see me, everyone who screamed my name every lap, and everyone who let me cry on them after the podium. That is what racing is about for me, all of the human things that happen around the competition, including being vulnerable to my own fears and doubts.

As for the body image stuff, my immediate reaction to the podium photos was that I didn’t like how I looked. I didn’t like how I looked in these photos showing that I won an athletic competition USING THE VERY BODY THAT I WAS CRITICAL OF. It blows my mind that these concepts can be held at the same time. It is such a frickin’ process unlearning the idea that the most important thing about our existence is how we look. Really, the most valuable thing about our bodies is that they allow us to experience the world and the things that make us happy: moving in ways that are fun, eating what feels good, petting our puppies, and being loved by our friends. Upon further review, I love how happy I look. I love that my Goby is there. I love that I’m wearing the kit of the best, most badass team in the world. Thanks so much. I’m happy to be here.