Monday, December 31, 2012

Year of the Olympics

Reflecting on 2012, there was obviously one major highlight.  I got a new surfboard that rips...oh, AND I went to the Olympics.  The whole experience went by so lightning fast that sometimes it's hard to believe it actually happened.  Then, I look in my closet and see the official Olympic wardrobe and realize that I am an Olympian.  2012 was the year that my dream came true.  I went to the Olympics!


The Olympics were such a full experience that it's hard to capture in one blog post, but I can give you some tidbits.  The USA mountain bike team flew in on the Monday before our event, Saturday, August 11th arriving from a great training camp in Germany.  We were immediately greeted by USOC staff whom immediately took us through the logistics of becoming an Olympian.  We went through a special Olympic passport control, got our Olympic village badges (which are literally the key to everything so this had to be guarded with my life), and had special tags on our luggage with the Olympic logo. We hopped on the bus to the Olympic village.  Once in the village, we were standing outside the team USA building and the crowd was so incredibly loud in the track and field stadium that I thought the cheering was a fighter jet.  This is absolutely no exaggeration.  I was blown away by the roar of the crowd that came from a stadium about a mile away.  

 One of the many steps to get into the Olympic Village

Georgia and I settled into the apartment and quickly tore through three bags of Olympic schwag waiting on our beds.  We actually didn't even skim the surface of our new wardrobe because we had to go to dinner at the dining hall.  The dining hall was one of the most unique, overwhelming, and amazing experiences I've ever had.  It was a massive space filled with all of the best athletes in the world and every type of cuisine possible.  It took a couple of attempts to dial it in.  The first go around I surfaced with some rice, a dumpling, curry, beef stew, and an orange.  There are way too many choices.  There's a McDonalds in the Olympic dining hall and the shocking fact was that it ALWAYS had a line.  

 Olympic Schwag
How many hours of work went into this sweatshirt? 

We actually only spent one night in the Olympic Village before heading out the mountain bike course.  Hadleigh Farm was about an hour away so Georgia, Todd, team Specialized, and myself decided to stay in a hotel a short bike ride away from the venue.  I was obviously disappointed to not be staying in the village the entire time, but I was completely relieved I made this decision.  After less than twelve hours in the village, I was worn out from all of the excitement and energy.  I literally had a view of the Olympic rings from my room.  It's hard to go to sleep when I could literally see the Olympic rings at all hours.  I was just constantly so amped.  So, the hotel was much more relaxing and a good distance away from the unfathomable amount of hype.  This way, I was staying with jojo so she could keep me calm, laughing, and enjoying the entire experience.  She's a rock and so is my family.  Anyone who can keep their cool in that supporting role has nerves of steel and I owe a lot to them.

I rode the course and kept my preparation consistent.  Georgia and I rode a bit together and I rode all of the 'A' lines.  We had a blast together and joked around.  Just as I expected, she proved to be the perfect teammate.  On the Wednesday before the race, jojo and I rode the train about an hour and a half back to the village because I had a ticket to track and field.  There's actually a sign up sheet where athletes can put their names in for extra tickets.  It turns out I was ten minutes late to pick up my track and field ticket and I was absolutely devastated.  But, the staff came through with a men's water polo ticket.  I went for about half of the game, and it was so cool to be able to spectate an Olympic event.  Actually just walking through the Olympic park was an experience.  I've never seen so many people in my entire life.  I took a quick ice bath and headed back to the venue. 

My actual Olympic race was a bit of a blur.  The athletes are herded from place to place, village to venue, warm up area to start area, finish line to team box so it was actually hard to get a sense of immense amount of spectators in the infield.  I've never seen so many people at a mountain bike race.  The one time I got a sense of this was during the race call up.  They called the british rider, Anne Last, to the line and the place exploded just like the fighter jet cheering in the village.  


 Standing under the Olympic ring in the Village
 The Men's Water polo game
Another view of the Men's Water Polo game

To be continued...

Lea

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Little Bella writes a letter

In the past two weeks, there has been a lot going on with the Little Bellas. My sister and Little Bellas director, Sabe, and I received probably the best email we've ever gotten from a Little Bellas parent.  This Little Bella was in our program last summer, and, on the particular week, Sabe challenged the girls to pay attention to the difference in men and women's representation in the media.  This Little Bella took on the challenge and noticed there were no girls shown mountain biking in the current Cannondale kid's catalog.  She took it upon herself to write Cannondale a letter to express her disappointment and to challenge them to show photos of girls mountain biking.  She even included an example in the letter, a photo of her riding a mountain bike. This is exactly why we started the Little Bellas.  We are completely inspired by this Little Bellas initiative and reassured that our program is making an impact.  This letter will fuel me for a long time.  It's maybe even worth a lifetime of this work.  The letter is below.

 

We are very excited to announce our partnership with La Bellas Preme.  This is a women's cycling event that takes place in Malibu, CA on June 1st.  It's not your average charity ride.  This is an upscale version that's guaranteed to be a fantastic experience for the first time rider to the woman who rides six days a week.  Little Bellas is truly honored to be one of the three charities that riders have the opportunity to fundraise for.  We are in great company along side with  "I Am That Girl" and "Girls on the Run Los Angeles".  We have been having great discussions and are thrilled to continue collaborating with this event and the other non profits.  The Little Bellas truly believe that good things happen when you bring a lot of people to the table.  

Two mentors, Jojo and Mary, geting interviewed for the Little Bellas movie

In the cold days of November, a large continent from our Sunday Sessions program braved the cold to make a film about the Little Bellas.  These Little Bellas were troopers.  I was literally wearing four coats, and they stayed out for over an hour riding. Some even took off their jackets to showcase their Little Bellas jerseys for the interviews.   I learned two things.  These Little Bellas are way tougher than I am, and our program is working.  It was very interesting to hear the parents, mentors, and Little Bellas interviews.  Usually we have our head's down plugging away running the program, and it's not that often that we get to look up and hear everyone's thoughts. An enthusiastic group of students filmed us for the day at Catamount Outdoor Family Center and put together two great movies that capture the essence of our program. We are giving them a big A+ for their Adventure Film Class, and we are sure that their professors will agree.  A big thank you goes out to the Saint Mike's ladies for all of the time, thought, and effort they put into this work. The links to the videos are right here!

Here is the full length version:

Last but not least, Jojo and I did a school visit this past week at the All Saints Preschool in Kapaa, HI.  This group was a bit younger that the Little Bellas age range we are used to working with, but it was a blast nonetheless.  These three to five year olds didn't quite have a grasp on the Olympics, but we introduced them to the concept.  Then, we focused on basics like bike safety and wearing a helmet.  We showed them the difference between a road and mountain bike, and they were very interested in my bright orange Specialized bike shoes (made special for the Olympics).  It was fascinating to them how I clip into my pedals.  I did a bunny hop, Jojo did a lot of sweet skids, and we raced.  It was a blast.  All of the kids walked away with a signed hero card which they seemed very excited about. I've been wanting to do school visits on Kauai, and it's great for it to finally come together. 

 Jojo and I talk about a mountain bike with the kids
 The Kids






Monday, December 3, 2012

Kauai

 Look at this swell that rolled into Kauai on Friday!  Huge. 
 Checking out the double overhead waves
The view from our temporary home.  Life is good. 

Jojo and I finished up a little vacation on The Big Island, and we island hopped our way back to Kauai. This trip has lined up amazingly well.  We are staying at one of the most beautiful spots I've ever experienced on the island.  We can walk ten feet out the door to check the waves or continue walking about another four hundred feet to the beach and the bike path.  We are a short bike ride away from town.  It's been incredible.  I love starting the day by jumping in the ocean. The generosity has been overwhelming to say the least.

I'm getting back into training in this nice island weather.  Before I left Vermont, I had a motivating meeting, as always, with Bill Knowles from iSport.  We are changing up the strength routine this year to keep things new and exciting.  I am completely pumped about the plan.  He has me doing some innovative moves in the water.  I'm way too scared to be in the ocean NOT floating on a surfboard so I've been going to the public pool to get it done.  This pool is practically like being in the ocean it's so close.  A crab was even hanging in the bottom of the pool. I've been accidentally timing my workouts at the same time the high school swim team is rolling up for practice.  I've gotten some weird looks with my workout equipment but never to this extent.  It comes with the territory and is well worth the effort.

This past weekend was jam packed with fun.  We went to my favorite spot not the island, Hanalei Bay.  We went to  the monthly surf swap and drooled over the hundreds of used boards for sale.  I shouldn't be allowed within one hundred feet of this event.  It's my achilles heel.  I keep buying surf boards that I want to be able to surf, but I don't quite have the ability to yet.  After the swap,  Jojo and I went out back in Hanalei Bay to check out our boards.  Jojo did more of the surfing and I did more of the watching since there were huge waves rolling in.  Three sea turtles popped their heads up to say hello.  Then, we rushed back to town to help Jojo's family make Gyros for the monthly art walk in Kapaa.  It was good to dip my toes in the food business since I like food so much.  Jojo, Charlie, and I hustled all night long and sold eighty Gyros in the matter of two hours.  I was working the cash register and talking to people.  It was a blast. People on the island loved Greek food.

I can officially say I have decompressed from all of the excitement from the season and psyched to get back to training for 2013.

Happy Holidays!
Lea
 While on the Big Island, jojo and I journeyed to Volcano National Park.  This was the stunning view of the Volcano! It was unfortunately a bit foggy that day
 Standing inside a lava tube.  This was filled with Lava at one point.  Crazy
 Steam Vents at Volcano National Park
 Jojo getting ready for some sushi.  Make your own roll in Kona. Yum
 I'm so happy they could park my boat so close to the shore

 Another view from our new abode on Kauai.  It never gets old. 
 Jojo's dad, Charlie, getting ready to sell some Gyros at the art walk. I helped with this venture.  We sold eighty Gyros on Saturday night. 






Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kona Vacation

I feel so lucky to be taking a vacation with Jojo and her family on the the Big Island in Hawaii for the week of Thanksgiving.  We arrived on the island on Sunday and spent the day seriously decompressing and chilling out.  I think this may have been the first time in my life that I have relaxed.  We are staying about a block away from magic sands beach in Kona and yesterday we explored this beach.  I am absolutely blown away by the water here.  It's so unbelievably clear and blue. Two sea turtles that actually came right up the beach to say hello, and I saw many brightly colored tropical fish.  We walked the coast line without shoes which became pain tolerance training.  The majority of the coast line is sharp, jagged lava rock, and this is very unforgiving to the feet.  It was still well worth it because the lava rock is fascinating.  We capped off a wonderful day with the extremely clever movie, Wreck It Ralf.  I give it two thumbs up.  Today we went to a brackish cove and explored a bit more.  The whole experience is better told in the photos below.

My sister, Sabe, the Little Bellas director is absolutely killing it on the LB front.  We have some very exciting news to announce very soon so stay tuned.  We are thrilled about expanding opportunities to get more girls riding bikes.

I am off to Kauai at the end of the week through the holidays so I'll be dispatching more island adventures.

Happy Turkey Day!  There's a lot to be thankful for.

Lea

 Boarding down the channel from the freshwater pond to the ocean
 Snorkeling


 We probably saw fifty Sea Turtles today
Relaxing Island Style

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Tropical Finale

 Stage 1 of the Langkawi Stage Race
Wow! My season was officially over at the World Championships, but the excitement has continued well past that first weekend in September.  In fact, it's been full gas since then packed with racing, a wedding, the Chequamegon Little Bellas camp, Interbike, a USA Cycling board meeting and a trip across the world to Malaysia and Thailand.  There were many highlights, but the most different and adventurous experience came from the Langkawi Mountain Bike Stage Race on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia.  I started the trip in the beginning of October by spending a day in New York City for a Specialized photo shoot.  This was my first time stepping foot in NYC and walking around.  It was a cool way to start off a great trip.  I unpacked my bike, they snapped a couple of photos of me and the race machine, and packed it up again for the Malaysia Stage Race in the matter of six hours.  Then, I was off on an eleven hour flight to Dubai.  I had an eight hour layover in Dubai and found a gym where I spun for an hour and took a shower.  Now, that is the way to fly across the world.  I felt like a new human. 
There were many puddles like this one in Langkawi
 Pink and Yellow Leaders Jerseys
Racing on the beach on the last stage
After thirty five hours of traveling, I finally landed on Langkawi and got settled into my own little hut in the jungle.  I spent two days riding with my Specialized teammates and getting the legs flushed out from the travel.  The stage race began with a short five minute time trail around the city square on the coast.  It was gorgeous.  The women's field was top heavy with a handful of consistent world cup podium contenders.  I knew it was going to be a battle all week, and I was right.  I clocked the third fastest time on day one, and the top five girls were all within thirty seconds of each other.  Things didn't change much on the next day, and subsequently the longest distance stage 'around the island'.  There was a group of seven girls seemingly glued together and battling for position for two thirds of the race.  We got a taste of the island's challenges on this day.  There was thick mud, thin mud, and all different kinds of mud in between.  There was a mud puddle that was as deep as my belly button and swallowed Eva Lechner whole.  She rode into the puddle, stopped, went over the handlebars and dove into this mud lake.  She stood up with brown stream running down her. I was laughing out loud.  Later on, Taylor attempted to ride through the same puddle, stopped, and tipped over.  She was still clipped in and was having a hard time unclipping while underwater.  For a second, she thought she was going to drown in a five foot deep puddle in Malaysia.
I gave my race number to a group of school girls
After the puddle incident and on the main climb of the day, the pack whittled down to four.  Team Colnago started attacking and counter attacking us, but I was able to keep it together.  With one km to go, I attacked on the last small hill and stayed away to the finish.  I was so excited to get a stage win and put on the pink leader's jersey.

The third day was a long point to point stage that covered the length of the island.  About two kilometers into the stage, I was already tired of jockeying for position with seven girls again and wanted to try and put some distance on the pack.  I felt great and attacked on the first rise and hit it hard.  I was alone and saw the strong master men leaders come by me.  I hung onto their wheel through the pavement and open road section which was key in solidifying my attack.  Then, I hit the main climb of the day.  It was a steep muddy climb where we could only hike our bikes.  It was a solid thirty minutes of pushing my bike up a mud slope (my downhill ski racing hiking skills came in handy) and then another hour along a ridge in the jungle mixing hiking and riding.  I was alone in the jungle and suddenly heard the loudest boom I've ever heard.  I honestly thought it was a bomb.  My mind raced, is Malaysia a peaceful country?  What country is angry at this island?  Should I wait for another racer?  I decided to speed up in hopes of catching another person and I also decided that I needed to brush up on the country's current affairs.  Thirty minutes of slightly panicked racing later, I heard the same booming sound and realized it was thunder.  This mistake definitely lit a fire under my hike-a-biking.

I was relieved to finish the longest 40 km of my life and get another stage win.  I finished this mud war with a leach on my neck and narrowly missing running over a snake.  I put five minutes on second place and up to thirty minutes on my closest rivals.  This was a critical day for me in capturing the overall title.  The next three stages, I raced conservatively.  To maintain my lead, at the very least, I had to finish with second place and keep my fingers crossed that my bike and body kept running smoothly.  Luckily, this is exactly what happened.  There was more mud, hiking, heat, and fun.  The cross country course went right by an amazing waterfall and the final stage was a short track on the beach.  The Langkawi Stage Race had an amazing press entourage that I can only compare to the Olympics.  There were school kids cheering us on in each stage.  The whole island was so excited about this race and warmly welcomed us.  It was a crazy and amazing experience, and I won which is always really fun.
 The Final Podium on the Beach

The entire elite men and women's field capped off the Malaysia experience with a tour around the island.  We jet skied to some small islands off the coast, rode boats through a mangrove forest, walked through a bat cave, saw Langkawi's signature eagle, and visited a fish farm.  Then, I set off to meet my friend from Middlebury College, Lindsey Linton, who happened to be in Thailand the same time I wanted to visit post race.  My Thailand story is best told with photos, but it included riding elephants, visiting temples, thai cooking class, and a foot massage.  All in all, words can not describe how incredible this year has been.  I am definitely very tired from all this excitement and so relieved to be back home in Vermont. I am jetlagged beyond imagination (there was exactly a twelve hour time change to Malaysia).  It's time for some serious rest and recovery.

Thanks for the support!
Lea
 Linton, Our Thai Cooking Instructor, and me.  So full after cooking and eating five Thai dishes
 Temple on top of a mountain outside of Chang Mai
 So excited to meet up with my friend in Thailand.  Random Coincidence
 Temple in Chang Mai at night
 Prep Work in Cooking Class
 Cooking Class was the highlight of my Trip to Thailand. I've already cooked three recipes from the class
 Getting ingredients at the local market
 Riding in the back of a truck to the temple.  Popular form of transportation here
 Riding an Elephant

Hiking to a small village outside of Chang Mai

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Visit to the White House

 Standing on the deck of the White House looking.  A great view of the Mall
President Obama greets the 2012 Olympians (he is so close!)

I just came back from a visit to the White House.  I stood on the White House lawn, shook President Obama's and Vice President Biden's hand, and gave First Lady Michelle Obama a big hug.  To say that this past week, month, or year has been exciting would be an extreme understatement.  The entire experience has been absolutely amazing and a bit surreal. Being an Olympian is a dream come true, and it just keeps getting better and better. Before I went, I thought the Olympics was far reaching, but the true impact I feel the games has on the Little Bellas, mountain biking, Vermont, and our country has far exceeded my expectations.  I'll I can say is, wow.

 I am at the White House!

The Olympics deserves its own long blog post complete with lots of photos so I'll just focus on the Olympic aftermath.  About three weeks after I returned back to Vermont from London, I got back on a plane across the pond to participate in the World Championships in Saalfelden, Austria.  I knew this was a great opportunity because I have the best fitness of my life.  After the hoopla of the Olympics, every other competition seems almost relaxing even the second biggest race in our sport, the World Championships.  I loved the World Championships course and was riding all of the fastest lines (over jumps and steep chutes).  I had a slower start, but every lap I felt better and better.  I was going faster and faster and passed the good majority of the field to finish a career best, eight place.  The results sheet and lap breakdown even said I had the fastest last lap time.  I'm totally thrilled with my race and even more motivated to train for next season.  

After the World Champs, I hopped on a plane to Washington D.C for a visit to the White House.  We arrived at our hotel, one of the three hotels hosting around six hundred Olympians and Paraolympians, and we received yet another special Nike outfit and bag for the occasion. Side note: I feel like I never have to shop again with the amount of clothes we got for the Olympics.  Then, we took a bus to a welcoming party held at a beautiful space in the corner of Union Station.  There were multiple projector screens hanging displaying Olympic photos.  I walked in the door and the first thing I saw was a photo of me racing at the Olympics.  It was awesome.  It was also the only mountain biking photo in the slide show.  There was amazing food, and halfway through the party, they brought in a number of table tennis, foosball, and air hockey tables.  Then, the party kicked up a notch.  This was a room full of very competitive people.  My mountain bike teammate, Sam Schultz, decided to take on the women's Olympic table tennis team.  He aced the first serve and then got annihilated. 

 Fellow In The Arena athlete and Olympic rower, Kristin Hedstrom and myself
Mingling on the Lawn
 
We had an early wake up call the next morning to herd all of the Olympians to the White House.  We went through three security checks, and then we were greeted by a band playing on the White House lawn.  The Olympians mingled for a couple of hours, the hoards of media set up, and then, finally, they started to file us into the bleachers behind the stand where the president was to speak.  After much time making sure we looked good, the president, first lady, and vice president arrived.  Michelle Obama said opening remarks and then the President addressed us.  They were both very real people (I was standing so close to them), magnetic as always, and hilarious.  Even though Obama didn't have time, he declared he would stay and meet every single Olympian.  This was a very classy move. We all filed off the bleachers in a mass group and waiting patiently to shake their hands.  The President thanked me, the Vice President said I had a fantastic smile, and then I thanked the First Lady for all of her work with the Let's Move campaign.  She replied, "We need all of the help we can get".  I said, "I'm pitching in" before I was ushered away. 
 The Media File in for the Olympic Recognition Ceremony
 Fellow Olympic Mountain Biker Sam Schultz and myself
 The First Lady, Michelle Obama. We disappointingly didn't have a push up contest
We got to take the tour of the White House
Wrestling medalist and myself posing in the White House

The whole experience has been one sweet whirlwind.  There will be more coming about the Olympic experience.  The White House visit was just one small piece of the pie. 
Thanks for reading,
Lea