The Woman at the End of the Olympics

Rio 2016

It was strange that life just went on. It wasn’t just that the racing was over or that I was back home. It was the fact that the Olympics had been a part of my daily life for four years and suddenly it wasn’t. Even though it wasn’t the focus every day, “Rio” was the guiding reason for every training session, every race, and every goal. Now that it was over, I felt empty.

Right after Rio, I came home only to head up to Sweden. It was straight back into normal racing and, after the hype and stress of the Olympics, “normal” felt better than ever. I found an anchor with the standard logistics of regular trade team racing and familiar faces of my teammates. Life was moving forward, business as usual, and I appreciated the comforting familiarity more than ever…but I still wasn’t over the Olympics.

Downtime Rio 2016

Most of me had moved on but there was this lingering part that was unsettled. It was the part of me that thought about the podium every day. The part of me that would analyze the course and play out attack scenarios. The part of me that was fueled by a great sense of purpose that gave reason to everything. Sport always celebrates the end results, and I’ve made my peace with outcome of my races. What I’m not over is the abrupt end of a four year journey that became a central part of my identity.

Who I wanted to be was the reason so many people rallied behind my goals and who that woman was, was a medallist. It was a collective effort between coaches, managers, athletes, family, friends and even supportive fans to get the woman I needed to be ready for the Olympics. Our project was utterly engulfing and by the time I arrived on the start line, I had transformed into that woman. I had put the work in, I had made it to Rio, I believed I could medal.

Rio Olympics Road Race

*Photo credits ©Tim De Waele
*Photo credits ©Tim De Waele

Most athletes go home from the Olympics as losers. I’m one of them if you’re measuring by medals, but there is value elsewhere. A medal is actually such a small part of the process when you think about it. Even when an athlete does medal, the value of their win is often qualified by their journey, the struggles they endured and success they achieved, to become a winner. We often hear it’s “the journey, not the destination”. That’s a platitude that doesn’t seem to apply to the medal-driven world of the Olympics and, yet, we often acknowledge it’s the origin of value. Why was I so quick to write off four years because of one moment? The woman that came to the Olympics may not be a medalist, but that didn’t mean her value had decreased.

It’s truly impossible to reduce my Olympic journey down to a number on a results sheet. I may not have gold, silver or bronze around my neck but I am the woman I needed and wanted to be to win a medal. I’ve grown a lot in four years as an athlete, friend, wife, sister, daughter, teammate, woman, and as a human. I’m thankful to have been shaped by a collective of intelligent coaches, trusting managers, driven athletes, supportive sponsors, loving friends and family, my unwavering husband, and so many other beautiful and wonderful people. I may have walked away emptied handed but I’m sitting here full-hearted. Cliche or not, the true value of my Olympic experience was in the journey — who I have become — and that’s something you can’t measure in medals.

5 thoughts on “The Woman at the End of the Olympics

    1. Estelle

      What an awesome testimony Ash!! You are a the most committed and professional cyclist and friend this sport of woman cycling has ever had!! So proud of you!

      Like

  1. Dave S

    Thank you for a beautiful post Ashleigh. One thing I would say. Sport is about the end result – but it can and should be about so much more. Can I quote from Thijs Zonnerveld’s superb article about Annemiek van Vleuten and her accident in Rio…

    “In sport the importance of the result is always overestimated. When we come together to watch sport we do so because we want to be touched – because we want to live with you and your dreams”

    Those of us who love your sport are touched and inspired every day by the efforts and sacrifices you and your fellow athletes make. I thought you rode superbly in Rio. The fact that you did not win a medal does not diminish your performance, or make you any less of an inspiration to us. You can be very proud of everything you have achieved.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s