Strength in the Struggle

As we navigate through life, we encounter challenges that allow us to grow, learn and define who we are. Whether or not the experience is a success, we can always take something from these moments, and hold on to the lessons they teach us. One of the most valuable lessons I learned came six years ago when, after months of training, I prepared to tackle my first MS 150. What I thought would be just another bike ride, turned out to be a life changing experience.

One of my mantras in life is NEVER be complacent! Whether it’s my career, my health and fitness goals, or my education, I want to live a life that is constantly evolving. By December of 2009 I had participated in several half and full marathons and felt comfortable with my performances. Feeling comfortable is great, but as an athlete it meant I wasn’t being challenged—I was losing my spark! I knew I needed to transform that spark into a roaring fire, but I wasn’t sure how.

I began to think about the MS150 Houston to Austin bike ride---a two-day fundraising event in support of people suffering from multiple sclerosis. I had the opportunity to witness a group of friends complete the race in the spring of 2009. Watching as the riders crossed the finish line with pride on their faces, and hearing the spectators cheer as the participants rode into downtown Austin was all the motivation I needed. I was going to ride in the 2010 MS150! My only problem was…I didn’t have a bike!

To this day, the biggest support group that I have, is my family. My parents, knowing my plans, generously bought me a road bike for Christmas, and I immediately starting training! Over the next four months I took 24 indoor cycling classes, participated in four organized practice rides, and rode countless miles through the bayous and trails of Houston. When the big day came, I was going to be ready!

April 17, 2010, began as a beautiful sunny day, and I was filled with excitement and hopefulness. As I pushed through the first 30 miles, my thoughts changed, and I began to doubt my intentions and strength. My legs started to cramp, my head began to hurt, and I became increasingly frustrated as I struggled to make my way up a steep hill that lead to the next rest stop. I felt defeated.

When I finally made it to the top of the hill I considered throwing in the towel and giving up. “What am I doing,” I thought. “Did I really think that I could bike 150 miles after only four months of training?”

As I entered the gates to the rest area I noticed many people cheering, clapping and shouting words of encouragement. Suddenly, someone caught my eye---a young girl around 8 years old. She was sitting in a wheel chair, clapping, with the biggest smile on her face. She looked me right in the eye and said, “You are SO strong, SO strong! Thank you so much for doing this.” Immediately a smile spread across my face, and tears began to roll down my cheeks. That was the moment my life changed, and I finally realized the importance of what I was doing.

Until that moment, I had taken for granted the ability to run, ride a bike or walk, not realizing that there are people in this world who will never have the opportunity to experience those joys---just like the girl who encouraged me. The hill that I was climbing was just a small challenge in comparison to the challenges faced every day by people who suffer from MS. I realized, there is strength in the struggle. If she could live her life, with a smile on her face, encouraging me, then there was no reason I couldn’t take on this 150-mile challenge for her.

That young girl will never know the impact she had on my life, but I will never forget that moment. The inspiration and encouragement she gave me is what I feel every time I step onto my bike or enter the cycling studio---I want everyone to feel that energy. The day will come when I am unable to participate in these events. But because of her strength, courage and choice to remain positive in spite of her disease, I made a promise to myself to ride, bring awareness and inspire others until I am no longer able to do it.

This month will mark the fifth year that I will participate in the MS150 Houston to Austin ride. It’s an achievement that six years ago, I never would have dreamed possible---and it might not have been if it wasn’t for that young girl. If you are interested in donating to the event or would like to learn more about MS please check out this link.

Words of Wisdom:

“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

- Bruce Lee