Keeping a cool head amid uncertainty: A Canadian racer writes from Europe

Keeping a cool head amid uncertainty: A Canadian racer writes from Europe


'Be a hero and stay home'

By Leah Kirchmann for CBC Sports
March 17, 2020
 

If one thing is certain, we are living in chaotic times.

I think COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s lives in one way or another, and pro cycling is included in that. I was originally going to write about the beautiful challenge of the upcoming spring classics season, but as of now, all our upcoming races have been cancelled and public health is the number one priority.

Things are progressing fast as COVID-19 spreads around the world. I was in Spain just last week for a training camp, enjoying the beautiful roads around Girona, preparing for the season. Now the country has announced a full lock-down, and riders cannot even go train outdoors. Riders boarding flights to Italy at that moment were called and told their races were cancelled. I am now at the team base in the Netherlands, and things are progressing in a similar way. Restaurants, public spaces, and schools just closed and people are being asked to distance themselves from others and to self-quarantine to slow the spread.

There are now a lot more questions than answers as we all wait to see how things progress around the world. Will there be any races this season? What exactly are we training for next? Will the Olympics take place? What measures will countries take next?

Leah Kirchmann far left, celebrates on the podium of La Course female cycling race in Paris on July 27, 2014. (Laurent Rebours/Associated Press) Leah Kirchmann far left, celebrates on the podium of La Course female cycling race in Paris on July 27, 2014. (Laurent Rebours/Associated Press)
 

There are big questions about the outbreak’s economic impact on the sport. Freelancers, such as writers and photographers, are currently out of work, since races are called off. Sponsors and teams rely on exposure through racing for sponsorship to make sense. Race organizers are left with questions of whether events can be rescheduled for later dates. Coaches and teams work to adapt perfectly-crafted performance plans that can span years in the making.

Women’s cycling has made such positive progress in recent years that I hope the momentum isn’t lost in the current circumstances. The Women’s World Tour series has continued to grow and improve. There was the implementation of a minimum salary this season, increasing live coverage, and improved race and team standards. A women’s cycling union, The Cyclist’s Alliance, was created last year and it is making progress in representing riders and pushing the sport forward. Of course, every sector of sport is now asking the same questions about what the long-term impacts might be.

Second-place Team Sunweb rider Leah Kirchmann  celebrates at Le Tour de France in July 2019. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters) Second-place Team Sunweb rider Leah Kirchmann celebrates at Le Tour de France in July 2019. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)
 

I care deeply about sport, but my attention has always been focused on the bigger picture of what is truly important. The health and safety of the world’s population is the priority.

I am leaning on concepts we learn as athletes to get through these uncertain times. Athletes always focus on “controlling the controllables” when preparing for competitions. There is no sense using mental energy to think about the things we cannot control. It is not helpful to dwell on our competition or on course conditions, for example. Instead, there is power in focusing on controllable factors, such as our own preparation for events, and how we respond to the things that happen to us.

The good news is that there are controllable factors that can help everyone at this point in the outbreak. It is powerful to think that washing our hands, and staying home to practise social distancing can actually save lives! If we all think and act compassionately, outcomes will be improved for everyone. By flattening the curve of infection, we can slow the spread of the virus and prevent overwhelming medical systems.

Some unscheduled couch time for Kirchmann's hard working legs in Sittard, Netherland. (Submitted by Leah Kirchmann) Some unscheduled couch time for Kirchmann's hard working legs in Sittard, Netherland. (Submitted by Leah Kirchmann)

In sport, we also learn to look for opportunities when overcoming obstacles. Illness and injuries are common obstacles that can impact a season. For athletes with no upcoming competitions, this disruption could be an opportunity to get some rest, work on new skills, and to spend more time with family. Some riders have already taken to training indoors on e-platforms to fill that competitive void.

If you are working from home, or temporarily in limbo, then think of where your opportunities lie. Is there a way you can use your skills and knowledge to help your community in this time of need? Is this an opportunity to hit the reset button on your otherwise busy life? Self-quarantine can be a positive thing when viewed with the right mindset. I am on the road so much as an athlete that I embrace quiet periods at home to recharge. I love to listen to podcasts, read books, take online courses, try cooking new recipes, and connect online with friends and family. If you are home, I would also recommend getting outside to spend some time in nature to take care of the mind and body.

Athletes in general are very goal-driven individuals, but situations like this emphasize the importance of the process of working towards these goals and dreams. We may not have specific races to prepare for, but we can still continue to train to improve and get the best out of ourselves every day.

 Of course I hope there will be competitions later on this season, but until then, I am grateful for all that sport has given me so far in life, and I will enjoy every day I can spend on my bike.

Very literally, we are all in this together. As a globalised society we will encounter more challenges such as this, so we need to learn the lessons and prepare even better for the future. This experience reinforces my long-held desire to work in public health after my sporting career is done. I hope that by thinking and acting together, we will overcome this challenge sooner than later.

Until then, take care everyone, be a hero and stay home!

(Top large photo by Getty Images)

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