At one time I was exactly like every other Canadian kid – I wanted to be an NHL Hockey Player. It was intense, if I wasn’t on the ice kitted up at practice or at a game, I was playing road hockey after school. On countless occasions I imagined scoring the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Finals or Olympic Games. Having just witnessed Canada winning a gold medal in hockey during the final event of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, my hockey fever is back, sort of. As I write this, I almost feel envious of Sydney Crosby, after he scored the overtime winner to defeat the U.S.A. Given that “Syd the Kid” is only one year older than me, he is living my childhood dream. His life embodies everything I thought I wanted, which was to be an iconic Canadian hockey player. My whole life revolved around hockey. I quite literally could think of nothing else. Then I out of nowhere opted to trade my skates for bike shoes. As a Canadian what could I be thinking?
These thoughts arose in my mind as I ate dinner the on the final evening of the Olympic Games. I was subconsciously reflecting on what I had done that day. It was then when I remembered, earlier that day I had watched Cervelo Test Team’s lone Canadian rider, Dominique Rollin, place fifth in Belgium’s epic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. He was one of 26 finishers on the day, against some of the fastest cyclists in the world, most of whom quit the race early due to the horrific conditions. No one in Canada, or really in North America outside the cycling community has any idea about the epic northern European spring classics. Everyone in Canada will be celebrating Sydney Crosby’s goal and Canadian Gold Medal. While those celebrations are taking place, virtually no one will even hear of Rollin’s incredible accomplishment on the same day across the Atlantic. The next question I asked myself was, “why on Earth did I quit hockey?” Interestingly enough, after thinking about it, I didn’t become more envious of Crosby, I became less.
It was as if a switch went off in my mind when I was 15 years old. I was in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada as a spectator watching the 2003 World Road Championships. I was standing on the side of a road late on a Thursday afternoon. I had skipped school on a beautiful sunny day in early October. The city had never been so vibrant with an exquisite international flavor, truly unforgettable. As I watched a sleek aerodynamic profile, clad in the Union Jack rip down the finishing straight of the World Elite Men’s Time Trial course, it was none other than David Millar on his way to winning the World Time Trial Championship. Despite what many see as perhaps a low point in the sport (David Millar was stripped of the title he won that day, after admitting to the use of performance enhancing drugs) – it was the inspiration that switched me from a hockey player to cyclist. The raw power and shear elegance of what seemed like the perfect coalescence between man and machine is something I will never forget.
David Millar’s ride ignited a passion in me that gets stronger every day. This passion has recently become more evident as in 2009, cycling completely and utterly cracked me. I traveled around the World driven to prove myself at a higher level. By the end of August, I didn’t even want to look at my bike I was so exhausted from the sport. Yet after a one-month break in October, I find myself today, February 28th, 2010, still easily able to rip out an astonishing 3hrs on the trainer, with incredibly hard efforts thrown into the mix. I am sitting here satisfied with tender legs that are gently throbbing from a week of training inside, as outside it is too cold and snowy. My passion never falters but rather gains strength. In all likelihood most Canadians may see my ambitions as strange, as cycling is a small sport in Canada. Therefore, I will never be recognized at the same level as a hockey player. But for me cycling is a craze. I don’t strive for money and fame in cycling, I cycle because I love it. I have come to the conclusion that I am not in pursuit of achieving some iconic status. I am search of accomplishment for myself. I also want to make those who are close to me and those who are supporting me proud, as I feel as if I am representing them too when I compete. I am striving to have that one perfect ride, to achieve that very coalescence between man and machine I witnessed while watching David Millar in 2003. Building on those thoughts, I hope to perhaps inspire another young person, like I once was, to pursue the same dream. Lastly, it’s about the stories – to create an overall chronicle that will be unlike any other, one of experience, hardship and at the end of it all, success. Regardless of where I end up in cycling I will most certainly always be able to take something away from it. I think that can be considered a success.
As of today, I will no longer get frustrated and filled with envy when I compare myself as an amateur cyclist and professional cyclists, to other multi-millionaire sporting icons. Alternatively, I will use their successes to create an even greater fuel to strive for cycling greatness. After all – cliché as it might sound, it is not about the money, it’s about doing what you love. There is something unique about the Olympic Games, summer or winter, the passion, drive and successes of the athletes competing creates an energy not just with me and other athletes, but with many other people too. Given Canada was the host Nation, despite being on the other side of the country during the games, there was a certain energy that I have become aware of that reflects the passion of sport. Personally, the games mended my sometimes pessimistic mindset and established a true perspective, a rekindling of sorts. Cycling is no different from any other sport – reaching the highest level is not an easy accomplishment.
For me – riding my bike to the top of some mountain or winning a race is like nothing else I have experienced. I guess the point to take from my reflection is being an aspiring cyclist can create certain challenges, “it ain’t easy” per se! There is no use being envious of other racers, athletes or perhaps more fortunate athletes because ultimately that will drive you away from the sport. You absolutely must not forget the true reason why you race your bike. I can assure you, it isn’t for the money.
With that truth in mind, my bicycle patiently awaits to be ridden on that elusive “perfect ride.” It may never happen, but maybe when it does, I’ll know.
-Charles R. Bryer