Vulnerability Works!

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By Lee Waldman — Some of you may be familiar with my work. If you’ve raced in Colorado, and are over 50, you might have seen me on my cyclocross bike since the ‘cross bike is where I find my joy. Or, if you’re a reader of CX Magazine then you might have read my columns there. If neither of those are places that you frequent, then here’s what you need to know about me. I’m opinionated and I’m not shy about sharing my opinions. I’m old and border on being curmudgeonly at times. It shows up in my writing. I’m a passionate cyclist, focusing mainly on cyclocross, gravel and a bit of mountain bike racing — I gave up racing on the road years ago. It just stopped being fun. My list of accomplishments is short, but my list of injuries is long. I may make you angry with what I write and that’s ok. Feel free to let me know. I have thick skin. What I will try to do is share my love of the bike and my sincere belief in the beauty of cycling in all of its myriad of forms.

Lee Waldman in the Roubidoux Rendevous. Photo by Jess Deines

Some of you may be familiar with a researcher and writer named Brene Brown. She’s written 5 books about, to put it simply, how we show up with our best self. And let’s be honest, isn’t that part of what we’re all striving for every time we swing our let over the bike and push off for a ride or race.

Last night I watched a documentary featuring her speaking about the connection between vulnerability and courage. I came away thinking about the courage to take risks and what the connection is between that and cycling. To me, it seems a logical connection and so, I’d like to share my thinking with you.

Think for a minute about the concept of vulnerability. What exactly does it mean? Here’s how Dictionary.com (via Google) defines vulnerability: “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”

Whether you race or ride for fitness and fun (yes, racing can be fun, but you know what I mean), I’m going to suggest that there is an element of vulnerability. I’m particularly vulnerable when I join a fast group ride, look down a “scary” technical section on my mountain bike, or simply line up for a gravel or cyclocross race. There’s always the risk of physical harm, but it’s the emotional risk of failing that I struggle with. Even at my age, having experienced a modicum of success on the bike, I still notice that element of worry and vulnerability every time. Be honest, how many of you reading this now have gone through the same thing?

So why do I / we practice vulnerability and open ourselves up to the risk of failure (whatever failure means to you)? We do it for one simple reason and that’s the elation that we feel when we’ve put it all on the line and come out the other side. I call that success. It might mean cleaning a section that you ride with your heart in your throat. I might mean setting your fastest time on Strava or your local time trial series. Possibly it means that you set a PR (personal record) in the last gravel race you rode, or, for the first time, you didn’t get dropped on the Wednesday night group ride. Hey, it could mean that you didn’t finish last in the cross race last weekend. What’s important is that you allowed yourself to be courageous and take a risk. You were vulnerable.

What did you learn? That you can do amazing things if you’re vulnerable enough to take a risk. One might even say that you had been courageous because, there is a definite connection there.

And that, my friends, is the beauty of cycling. It allows, even encourages us to open up to the vulnerability that goes with pushing our individual envelopes. It allows us to expand our world because we’ve jumped in with both feet, recognizing and then ignoring the possibility of failing because there is a very real chance that we will succeed. If we do that, then not only will we have proven Brene Brown correct, we will have grown not only as athletes, but as people because, we can then take that same courage into the challenges in our daily lives. Because cycling is a metaphor for “real life”.

Now, take that vulnerability, take a risk, meet a challenge and do it this way: Go ride your bike!

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Lee Waldman is a dyed in the wool cyclist and writer. He's held a USAC racing license for 42 years and has raced road, mtb., gravel and his love - cyclocross. He's a "recovering" middle school teacher and writer, having written for CX magazine for over 10 years. Most importantly, Lee is the proud grandfather of 5 grandchildren. Between training, racing, writing and being a grandpa, he's pretty busy. Lee has two things to share. He says that he was a pretty good dad, but he's a REALLY GOOD grandpa. He also lives by this quote from Satchel Paige: "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?"

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