Last year, on February 1st, our Vermont Little Bellas registration opened and all of our programs filled within ten minutes. It was a similar experience to scoring concert tickets except, if you don't get concert tickets, you probably don't have a crying daughter to content with. Maybe there's a Taylor Swift exception in there. So, one of the Little Bellas goals in 2016 was to eliminate the stress and tears and create opportunities for every Little Bella that wanted to be a part of the program. We simply couldn't stand turning away girls who wanted to ride mountain bikes anymore. We created a whole new system that allowed parents to prioritize and rank our program offerings and various dates. We were able to give families their first priority, we held a spot for their daughters, and the families had to show up at our registration event to claim their spot. Our Little Bellas sponsor, L.L Bean, provided a great space for us to host our first registration event. Sabe, Mary Tracy, our Vermont program lead, and Tracy, our new program support poistion, were on registration. Maddie, who will be running all of our Vermont summer camps, and I were on games. The Little Bellas had a choice of two games, Charades or a L.L Bean in store scavenger hunt. Everyone, even parents, needed to complete one to get a prize, Little Bellas temporary tattoos or a L.L Bean poster of me and In the Arena alum, Torin Koos. Most of the Charades, Maddie and I acted out. They were L.L Bean adventure themed, and, it's official, crust cruising and camping are not easy to act out. I had to lay on the floor of L.L Bean several times to pretend I was setting up my sleeping bag for the night. Some of the parents and even little bellas took turns acting out charades. With the scavenger hunt, the girls found a photo of U.S ski teamer, Kikkan Randall, in the store, and told us their favorite color down coat. They also discovered the warmest coat that L.L Bean makes. The last stop on the scavenger hunt was taking a goofy photo with me. It was so much fun. We were so psyched to be able to bring a sliver of our program into the L.L Bean store. We are lucky to have such a great support network surrounding Little Bellas enabling us to get the next generation on mountain bikes.
Here's to more silly faces in 2016.
Little Bellas free form drawing on the back of the scavenger hunt sheet
My family was all together for the holidays which was a first in about four years. Unfortunately, most of the right coast didn't get a white Christmas. It was sixty five degrees when Santa came into town, and Sabe and I went for a muddy bike ride. As much as I love cycling, it's really important for me mentally and physically to get off my bike and onto my cross country skis. It gets my body moving side to side instead of the constant linear motion of the bike. And, it's really fun to switch it up. So, that's why in the days following Christmas, we booked a ticket to the winter wonderland of Tahoe, California. In Vermont, it was thirty five degrees and raining all day long, and my sister and I had felt like we hadn't seen the sun since October. This is honestly not that much of an exaggeration. This pushed us over the edge and we were able to find two great mileage tickets, and we were graciously offered some places to stay from all of our good friends in the area.
After some slight hiccups, an overnight in the Chicago airport along with the rest of the world, three different final destination airport changes, about fifteen different rental car bookings, a five hour drive and two days later, we finally landed in Truckee, CA. It was glorious. We finally entered the snow globe land that we were craving, and we skied our brains out. Every day in Tahoe served up the best day of skiing of our lives. Simply put, it was incredible and such a great way to kick off 2016 with a great group of west coast friends and skiing that I've only dreamed of. There are endless kilometers of perfectly groomed trails, most of which climb onto ridges with grand lookouts. The nordic skiing in this area granted my sister and I access to the mountains that I only thought was possible with downhill or backcountry skiing. The only challenge is that most of the skiing is at 6,000 feet altitude and above so my lungs felt like they were going to fall out before my cyclist arms felt like they were going to fall off. This is unusual. Sabe and I skied each other into the ground with a little help from our cycling friend, Katerina Nash, and our skiing friend, Kara. I've been racing against Katerina for years, and I've always wanted to ski with her. She's been to four Olympic games for the Czech Republic; two for cross country skiing and two for mountain biking. It was so cool to be able to finally switch up the wheels for the skinny skis with her.
After a lot of debating if we should ever return back to Vermont, we decided that we seriously needed the rest and some more oxygen. My sister and I made it back home just in time for our favorite Little Bellas mentor gathering of the year, the Yankee Swap. This gift exchange is notorious for ridiculous presents, and it was truly hard to top this year. A light up winter truck painting made it back into the fold after my mom barely escaped ownership last year. Another gift appeared that I think is going to become an annual swap tradition, a Taylor Swift prayer candle. In other words, Taylor Swift's face on Jesus' body. I nearly lost it when that gift was opened. It was incredible. I lucked out and walked away with a big plastic bowl with little containers that attach to the edge of it. In my mind, this is the ultimate snack center, and I love it. I love snacks.
The skiing at Craftsbury has been better than expected the last two days, but we are getting unfortunately slammed with some warmer temperatures and rain today. Keep the fingers crossed that winter survives okay, but, more importantly, THINK SNOW so Vermont can rebound quickly from this thaw. Our Tahoe trip was so much fun and the best way to kick off the 2016 season. It is really good to be back at home and breathing a bit more air.
This is one of the best trail maps I have ever seen at a nordic area. Royal Gorge
This burrito saved my life after a three hour ski
Skiing with Katerina
Skiing with Kara and the Sybens
Downhill skiing with Sabe's CA family
Classic skiing with Camille up to a view of Lake Tahoe
The infamous light up truck painting has found a new owner for the year
Schreib and Maddie ended up with the same scarf and hat combo at the swap
Inspiration comes many forms. In my experience, opportunities are really motivating, and this is where I draw a lot of my inspiration from. I was at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO last week, and this place has a way of spelling out the many amazing opportunities in front of me. Being there felt like the most beautiful opportunity firework show. I traveled to Colorado last week for a USA Cycling board of directors meeting. I was lucky enough while I was there to gain access to the OTC's gym. Hands down, this is the absolute best gym I have ever been to. It's filled with every piece of strength equipment I could ever need and each free weight and weight plate is engraved with 'Team USA' and the Olympic rings. The wooden lifting platforms have 'USA Olympic team' written on them. At any given time, there are resident Olympians or Olympic hopefuls working out. It's fascinating to see what various sports require different strength routines. There's a track around the second floor. Resident athletes put on their own music. It's beautiful, and it made me want to do doubles. The whole complex makes me want to live there. Walking in the front door of the complex, there's one hundred gold plates with american gold medal winners' names on them. This is where dreams are born. This is also where sprouts of dreams are nourished by handwork and grow. It's great to be amongst athletes that live similar lifestyles and put in as much time and effort. Sometimes being a professional athlete can be isolating. I mostly work out alone in my basement. Being surrounded by all of this is energizing. It's motivated me to train hard and recover harder.
I also had an opportunity while I was in Colorado to travel up to the CU Sports Medicine and Performance Center to work with Andy Pruitt and Charles Van Atta to dial in my bike fits. While I was honing in the new Specialized Power Saddle on my Era, sports physiologist, Inigo San Milan, walks in because he recognized my voice. We chatted about the importance of physical testing, and he convinced me to take a threshold test that afternoon. This is no easy task since the one and only physical test I did, I had an anxiety attack because breathing into the mask made me feel claustrophobic. I vowed to never do this test again, but Inigo assured I could stop at anytime. Plus, the mask covered my nose and mouth so it was a bit more promising. The last mask only covered my mouth and my nose was plugged. This is a true test of mental strength. I only panicked a little bit, but I made it through thirty minutes of riding on a trainer with the mask on. I'm happy I powered through because I got some great data out of the test. Again, an opportunity that I couldn't let pass by.
Now, I'm back in Vermont as motivated as ever to get strong. The weather has been unseasonably warm so I've actually been riding my bike when I should be skiing. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a white Christmas, but it hasn't been the worst thing to be spinning outside instead of inside on a trainer.
Happy Holidays! Hope everyone is seizing opportunities wherever they pop up.
Flying back into Vermont
Sally gets me. My friend greets me with a quadruple batch of cookie dough
For the past two months, my sister and I have hiked up Mt. Mansfield in varying degrees. Sometimes for five minutes, and other times for thirty minutes. The only common thread is that we never summited. My sister, Sabe, has been recovering from a concussion, and it's been a long road. During the proper recovery, there's no stimulating the brain. This is the only way to let the brain heal. This means no screens, no reading, no social situations, and definitely no elevated heart rate. There's lots of sleeping and even more podcasts. Working out is one of the last things to come, and Sabe has learned to be very conservative with the whole process. If she pushes through a headache physically with a workout, socially, or mentally, it could set her back for days. It could take many hours of napping to get back to ground zero. So, we started with a fifteen to twenty minute walk up the mountain. We made it up the first steep pitch and turned around after seven minutes. As Sabe said, 'we didn't even go anywhere'.
Then, things really improved after a handful of days post walk. Sabe passed the concussion tipping point. She started out a hike up to Taylor Lodge on Mansfield hammering. It was so exciting. We made it all of the way to Taylor Lodge and hiked for one and a half hours. She even ran for two hundred meter stretches. Sabe was so happy to be back to normal that she started to cry. I was so overjoyed to have my sister back that I started to cry, and this was one of the best hikes I have ever been on. It signified that Sabe healed. Concussions are scary because one never knows. There can be personality changes. There can be life changes. There can be memory loss. There's pain, in more forms than one expects, and there's always a question mark. In a society where we strive for exceptional and better than average, I've never been so happy with a normal, average sister. I am so relieved.
Then, the following weekend I thought we were going to summit Mansfield. I thought we were taking this story from average to slightly above average. After how many summit attempts we have had, one would start to think this mountain was Everest. What Sabe used to run up and down in two hours, for all intensive purposes, was our current Everest. We set out, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and we made it to Butler Lodge. Butler Lodge is about three quarters of the way to the summit, but it's not the top. For the conservative approach, the extra forty minutes of hiking was too much. The two hours of hiking to Butler warranted some major Sabe nap sessions. I am normally summit obsessed. There are very few things in life I like more than standing at the top of a mountain. But, the concussion recovery is a good practice in letting go, patience, and appreciation. A new bar is set low, and the best expectation is to have none. I let go of the top and started to enjoy being outside and moving with my sister.
In classic concussion recovery, when I least expected it, we were back to Davison normal. It was cloudy, snowy, and rainy, and Sabe wasn't that motivated for a hike. From below, it was an awful day for a summit. But, I saw from a friend's Instagram that the top of the mountains may be peaking out of a low cloud bank. So, armed with headlamps and spikes, we set out late afternoon for a summit. I didn't want to get my hopes up for a summit and especially for a view at the summit. I just set my focus on scrambling up the mountain behind Sabe while she hammered up (yea, she's officially back). Most of the hike was a frosted Narnia scene. It was gorgeous. We saw two white rabbits dart in front of us, a good luck charm. Then, as the sun slowly dropped behind the horizon, we busted through the cloud layer and summited. We were standing on top of a mountain island in a sea of clouds. It was well worth the wait. To me, this was just as good as any other summit in the entire world.
Not all summits are created equal.
With much gratitude,
Photos don't really convey the feeling, but I can try. Magical
I'm Lea, an athlete on the Roster of In the Arena, a nonprofit organization that anchors the highest-caliber role models in underserved communities with the aim of effecting positive and lasting change in today's youth. You can view my profile on ITA's site by clicking here, or you can email me by clicking here.