Melissa won her first race! We knew she could. Here’s her report on the steep and beautiful pass of Guanella!
It will be difficult for me to top the amazing year of cycling I have had in 2013. So far this year, I have pushed myself outside of my comfort zone by joining a bike racing team, I was blessed with the amazing opportunity to do a week long climbing camp in the beautiful Santa Monica mountains in California, I participated in the longest Ride The Rockies in history (545 miles in 7 days) and I got first place in my first hill climb race at Guanella Pass this past weekend. I am having so much fun! In years prior, I never would have imagined myself doing any of those things. I have always loved cycling, but I had never been part of a team before (not even as child) and competition didn’t really fit my personality. Being part of the Naked Women’s Racing Team has certainly opened my eyes to a whole new world.
I joined this amazing team because of my wonderful friend Sharon Madison. She saw something in me that I didn’t realize was there and she has pushed me further than I have ever dreamed. I met Sharon on Ride The Rockies in 2011. I was sitting by myself at the St. Anthony’s medical trailer waiting for my Uncle Rodger to finish his shift for the day. (He owns and operates the ambulance company, Stadium Medical, that follows and cares for the cyclists during Ride The Rockies each year.) When Sharon realized I was riding alone all week, she immediately invited me to join her group and ride with them for the remainder of the tour. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had never ridden in a group before and if I’m being completely honest, my cycling clothes were hideously goofy and I looked like a nerd. I can’t believe Sharon even wanted to be seen with me. I knew very little about cycling at that time, but she took a chance on me. She said “You should ride with us tomorrow.” So I did, and it was the best decision I ever made. Sharon has been my idol and my mentor ever since that day. We rode together during Ride The Rockies again 2012 and 2013, and our friendship has blossomed each year.
I will never forget the first bike race that I went to in 2012, to watch Sharon. It was the Sonic Boom Crit and she was AMAZING!! It was one of the most exciting sporting events I had ever been to! I was hooked instantly. After the race, Sharon invited me to ride with she and a few of her teammates. I remember being terrified. I surprised myself that day, however, when I was able to keep up with everyone and I even pulled a few times. At the end of the ride Amanda Cyr said to me, “The way I see it, you have two choices. You either join this racing team or I will punch you in the face.” How could I say no? lol
Racing has been quite the experience for me so far. I don’t think I was as nervous on my wedding day, as I am before each race. The feeling I get at the start line is like no other feeling I have ever experienced. It’s a mixture of adrenaline, nerves, excitement, and fear. So far, I have participated in a road race, a team time trial, three crits and a hill climb. I have learned something new in every race and I am always so happy once I have finished. My goal this year has been to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and I have done that each time that I have signed up for a race. I absolutely LOVE being on The Naked Women’s Racing Team!! I feel so lucky to be part of such a neat group of women. It amazes me how helpful and caring my teammates are. I love the “No Drama” motto and it is so inspiring to watch my teammates succeed and know each and every one of them will help me do the same. I love the unity of this team. I love that I am learning how to race, but most of all, I love that I am learning what it means to be a teammate.
Speaking of teammates, there were Naked Ladies everywhere at the Guanella Pass Hill Climb! It was actually the first time my nerves didn’t eat me alive at the start line and I know it’s because I had so many friends right there with me. Now that was a fun race! Here is my little recap:
I started my morning riding to Georgetown in the team car with Rachel and one of our newest teammates Maria. I can’t lie, at this point I was a ball of nerves. It was nice to talk to Rachel about racing, however, and she answered a lot of questions for me. When we arrived in Georgetown it was a bit hectic. We didn’t have a lot of time to check in, pin numbers and warm up. Before I knew it, it was time to start lining up for the race. Typically, at this point I’m ready to hurl, but I vividly remember looking around me and feeling a sense of peace, knowing so many of my teammates were right there with me. It was awesome.
I knew the wheel I wanted during this race and I never let it out of my sight. In the very beginning I was nervous about my position at the start, but as we began to climb, I quickly realized I could move up to where I wanted to be. My goal in this race was to be in the top 10. It was surprisingly steep in the beginning and I remember thinking to myself, “Uh oh. This race might be harder than I thought”.
As we kept climbing, however, I noticed the group started to break apart. This was my first hill climb race, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know from my years on Ride The Rockies, that everyone has their own climbing speed and I wasn’t sure how that would play out at race pace. I was able to move my way up to the front where I wanted to be and I noticed that the group was much smaller. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the racers behind me because I had my sights set on that certain wheel, but I could tell there were not as many of us anymore. I was getting excited because I felt like a top 10 finish was actually attainable.
Before I knew it, after a few more hills, the group was down to about 5 and then I was REALLY excited because I had not had a top 5 finish before and it was something that I really wanted. I noticed one of the racers next to me was breathing very hard and it prompted me to check my heart rate. I was surprised at how I was feeling. I was recovering when I needed to and I felt like I had the strength for the next hill to come. I was soo happy about that but I was afraid to get too excited.
Then it happened. There were only three of us.
I can’t even begin to explain how I felt at that moment, when I realized that I could possibly get on the podium. For some reason, that just seemed so far out of reach to me. Especially being so new to the sport and this being my first hill climb race. I tried to keep my composure but the butterflies in my stomach were doing cartwheels. Then suddenly, it was just me and the wheel I had chosen from the beginning. I thought to myself, “How could this be? Is this really happening?” Then I told myself to stay calm and focus. I followed her wheel for awhile and then she dropped back and got behind me. I knew it was my turn to work. I asked if she wanted to work together, and we did for quite awhile and suddenly I didn’t hear her breathing anymore. I never looked back. I just kept climbing.
I didn’t know what kind of turns were ahead of me and I was terrified of blowing up. I kept a steady pace and was fully expecting other racers to fly past me. But that never happened. Switchback after switchback came and finally I asked a man on the side of the road “Where is the finish?” I will never forget, he said, “Honey, look up. That blue tent is the finish.” I think I felt my heart drop into my stomach at that moment. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that I was first. No way! Not me.
So, I crossed the finish line in this very strange state of euphoria. I pulled over and kind of sat there for a minute. I thought to myself, someone must have passed me that I didn’t see. This was nothing like the crit finishes I had experienced before. I just could not believe it. Michael Hanna came over to me and asked me how I felt. I think I told him “I feel pretty good”. Then he said, “Well you should, you just won.”
I couldn’t hold back the tears. I was a big nerd and I cried. He smiled and told me it was ok to cry. It was a moment in my life that I will never forget. Then, the icing on the cake……I waited at the top for Sharon to complete her race. She pulled up with a big smile on her face because she knew she was on the podium. We spoke for a moment and then she said, “How did you do, Princess?” I just looked at her and whispered, “I got first.” She screamed, hugged me and tears filled both of our eyes. How can I ever top that? I would NEVER have been there if it wasn’t for that amazing woman. She believed in me and she gave me a gift that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Not just a first place win, but the gift of believing in myself.