For a year, I started pro/elite races with the nagging feeling that I was an imposter, an outsider: that I didn’t belong. I didn’t really have my pro card, I was just registering in the pro/open races that allowed for non-pros to race in the open category alongside the “real pros.” Even in Cat. 1 races, I often felt outranked by my competitors, riders who had often been riding and racing for decades longer than myself.
This mindset turned out to be crippling in ways I never realized. Lining up to start a race feeling like a fake is not the mental preparation that leads to success. Instead of expecting excellence from myself, I went into races expecting the other riders to outperform me on every level–speed, power, technical skills, etc.–and as a result, they often did. Of course, my mindset had zero control over the actions of the other riders, but it did influence my performance.
It wasn’t until the 2019 Epic Rides OZ Offroad Pro Backcountry race, as I hung with the pack through the first section of gravel roads (where I fully expected to be dropped), then became frustrated when other pro women, riders who I expected to have superior technical skills, got hung up on trail features I had ridden effortlessly the day before, that I suddenly thought to myself: “I belong here.” The difference was immediate.
Being able to say “I belong here” didn’t mean that I won the race, or even got anywhere near the podium. But it did bring an immediate smile to my face and energy to my pedal stroke that mere determination couldn’t. It gave me confidence as I tackled technical features of the trail and attacked the descents.
A month later, I applied for (and received) my pro card from USA Cycling. Now, a little plastic card (or, more accurately, an image on an app on my phone) verifies what I realized mid-race in Arkansas: I belong here. But when I look back, it wasn’t the plastic card that made the difference. That was just the tip of the iceberg; the label. I belong here because of the hours behind the scenes: the early-morning and late-night workouts, the commitment to nutrition and sleep, the investment in coaching, the reading and research on performance, and the dedication to improvement. Those are the things that make me what I am: a pro mountain biker.