As if the $3,000 payout for first place in the pro XC race wasn’t enough to draw riders from across the U.S., there was also a festival organized around competitive mountain sports from rock climbing to slopestyle riding with a slew of rad others in between.
The venue was teeming with elite level athletes all devoted to their sports. And even though the atmosphere is fun and exciting, you know what preceded the arrival of all these competitors was the many hours of training and commitment. While I’m sure performance goals varied by individual, all these competitive athletes likely worked to overcome some financial, physical or emotional challenges just to get to their respective start lines.
Why people gravitate to one sport over another is their own gig, but I think it’s a human trait to set a carrot and go after it.
WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO
Abraham Maslow was a humanistic psychologist who had a lot to say about human behavior. One thing that stuck in my mind was his idea that people have an internal desire to find their potential — to become more of themselves, or to “self-actualize.”
We aren’t initially driven by this desire. A lot of stuff comes before wanting to satisfy reaching one’s potential; like eating, having shelter or having a sense of belonging. But when humans get the chance, we will entertain this desire and maybe work to satisfy it.
How we go about becoming more of ourselves is different for everyone. It could be competition in a sport, it could be dedication to becoming a doctor. I don’t think it’s about what you do, but rather how much you give of yourself to it. It’s the commitment that’s the fire forging your steel.
It’s also more than money or time invested. Dreams, passion, ego (in varying degrees), and, in no small measure, your heart get involved. All of it — and more — rolls up to the line at some point with no guarantees of the desired return on investment. Still, despite the risks, it’s what we humans do.
SOMETHING VENTURED, SOMETHING GAINED
On the mountain bike scene, it seems to me that for so many riders it’s not just that racing provides joy, adventure or satisfaction, but it creates a space that allows people to be their unique selves. And as such he or she will contribute that which only that person can give — only in his or her own way.
That makes racing, in my opinion, a form of expression and an exercise in becoming more of oneself.
Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces — the book that helped cement the Star Wars stories in the imagination of millions worldwide — said, “When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.”
I can’t count the number of people I’ve met who are amazed at the life experiences they’ve had because they got on bikes and followed their hearts. They all had their own journeys, each with their own doors along the way.
No matter your endeavor there will be challenges, and the challenges will pull little bits and pieces of the “you” you didn’t know you had to the surface. Maybe you find new levels of determination, creativity or courage. You will get put in situations where you’re faced with overcoming fears, demanding more of yourself or for yourself. The process is rarely a comfortable one. Committing to a dream is — brace for the cliché — daring to live the life you want.
TO SHINE AND NOT TO SHINE
And just the same, the space that gives a spotlight to our superstar selves, can be the space that shines a light on things we’d rather not see. In racing maybe it’s being a poor sport or, worse, a cheat. All those instances are involved and complex for the individual. But at a basic level what gets drudged up belongs uniquely to that person, and it can’t be removed unless it comes to the surface.
What you commit to will make you dig deep to get it. It will test you many times to see if that is what you really want. And more so, it will ask you what you are willing to do in order to get it. It will make you meet yourself halfway and ask you the hard questions.
But in doing so, when you come out the other end I believe you’re better for it. It’s what brings your soul closer to the surface. Whatever your “final” or “most notable” achievement, somehow what you accomplish is what your soul set out to do.
There are lots of ways to go through life with all sorts of creative outlets. Some people may have a single lifelong pursuit while others have many.
Everybody has a way to express themselves. The bike is mine. Literally and figuratively; it’s my vehicle.
Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. In 2009 she represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. For 2011, she’ll be racing for Kenda/Felt Mountain Bike Team. Other sponsors for 2011 include Kenda, Felt, TrailMaster Coaching, Hayes, Manitou, Sun Ringle, Pearl Izumi, Voler, WickWerks, KMC, FSA, Crank Bros, Fi’zi:k, Pika Packworks, Smith Optics, TriFlow, 2XU, Action Wipes, Louis Garneau and Mighty Good Coffee.