There's an old adage that goes something like "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade". I never really thought about the "lemons" as being plain old words. However, for better or worse, we live in the information age, filled oftentimes with mindless chit-chat, and I think sometimes we forget how available our words are to the entire world, and how much power those words can wield. A few years ago, I never would have imagined how deeply simple words can affect the heart and soul of someone, and how much they can change a life - for better or for worse, and sometimes both.
When I was first starting out riding, there was a lovely and talented young lady here locally who rode with me nearly every day after work. She was always the one who called me to ride and we always seemed to have a great time together - or so I thought - so I assumed she truly wanted to ride with me, even though I was slower and less bold than her. Well, anyway, one day when she had called me and left a message on my answering machine about riding, apparently when she hung up the phone, it did not disconnect, so her conversation with another biking friend of hers wound up accidentally getting recorded. Turns out they began discussing how slow I was and how it was just "torture" to ride with me, and how they had never seen anyone so slow and unskilled as a rider, etc. Well, needless to say, it crushed me. I did speak with her about it right away; she desperately tried to make excuses, and I truly believe it was not her intention to hurt me, but sadly the damage was done - the words were out and there was no taking them back. Having already been rather concerned about being a very timid and slow beginner at a somewhat older age (mid 30s when I started riding), I was totally devastated to hear this from someone I had considered my friend and riding buddy. So, I stopped riding with her; in fact, I stopped riding with anyone. For a solid two years, I rode solo every single time I went out - which was nearly every day, as I was desperate to prove her wrong and to learn to ride well. Then finally I got comfortable enough to ride with hubby. Basically he has been my only real riding partner since then, and of course, has consistently told me that I belittle myself regarding my riding and that "you're better than you think you are". He encouraged and worked with me, even going so far as to provide support for me while I competed as a solo rider at multiple 24 hour events - I was too afraid to compete on a team, fearing that I would be the slow member who would hold the team back; and he even convinced me to try downhill racing. I wasn't terribly successful at that - almost always placing last - but did begin to discover that frequently my bikes would compensate for some of my limitations as a rider.
Despite all of this, I still continued to feel inferior as a cyclist, always being hesitant to join in any group rides, and even fearful of attending clinics because I didn't want to hold anyone else back. And the funny thing is, I never even realized how poorly I viewed myself as a rider until I ran into this same woman not too long ago at a restaurant. We're still friendly to one another, and we chatted briefly about cycling - and suddenly I realized how I minimized my abilities and every single biking accomplishment I have ever achieved during our conversation, and it dawned on me where that seed of self-discouragement had initially begun to grow in me those few years back.
Now I'm not blaming her for my lack of confidence (goodness knows, growing up in a family in the 1960s who firmly believed that women simply should not "do sports" contributed greatly to that); and although I do think that incident set in motion a pattern of negative self-talk that did perhaps hinder my progression as a biker somewhat, in all reality, I believe I owe this woman a word of thanks. Had it not been for overhearing that conversation, I never would have realized how deeply words can affect someone. That, in turn, might not have led to me discovering one of the greatest joys I have experienced in my cycling life, which is teaching beginners how to ride. I believe the despair and hurt that I felt those years ago sparked a desire in me to learn, to rise above that discouraging conversation, and most importantly, to be more aware of my own words and actions around others. Had I not felt the need to prove to myself that she was wrong about me, I may never have tried an endurance race, or a downhill race, or taken beginners out for their first rides - all things that have given me more joy than I could ever have hoped for. I'm grateful that something in my soul "connected" with cycling in such depth as to keep me from giving up on it, and made me keep trying and hanging with it, squeezing the "lemons" I heard on my answering machine those years ago into the sweet "lemonade" that my biking has become of late.