The life of a professional athlete can look glamorous from the comfort of the spectator’s seat. But armchair quarterbacks and pub pundits don’t often comprehend the years and years of rigorous physical conditioning, monastic living and mental toughness that go into making a world-class athlete. Few will ever understand the rigid discipline required to hold it all together, nor do they often realize just how precarious a physical and psychological tightwire most high level athletes walk.
Maghalie Rochette is now a seasoned pro racer, and has been chasing the dream of racing at the pointy end of World Championship-level cyclocross competition for the past several seasons. She celebrates her successes with unabashed joy, but her ability to be circumspect about the bad days, and the brutally honest way that she faces adversity and her own self-doubts are what truly endear her to us. With the upcoming cyclocross season fast approaching, The video here recounts a summer bikepacking overnighter she just took with coach/boyfriend/snack wrangler David Gagnon, along with their close friends Alexis Cartier and Patrick Chartrand. The goal – have some fun, and put the pursuit of racing in perspective. Their route was an out and back ride along Le Petit Train Du Nord, a 262km section of the Trans-Canada trail.
For Maghalie, this ride was about reconnecting with some of the first trails that she ever rode, as well as play-racing with people she’s known for years. It was about riding bikes for the reason that almost all of us started – because it is fun. In Maghalie’s words:
“For the past 5 years, racing bicycles around the world has been my job. It’s a job, but let’s face it, it’s also a dream. It was a dream when I was a kid, and as this dream became a reality, it evolved into something more."
It is not a straight path, however, when trying to become the best in the world at something. Believe me, I’m trying and I’m not there yet. With 7.5 billion people on this planet, no matter what that something is, the odds are not great that you’ll be the one… Setbacks are more common than victories, and sometimes it is hard to keep the path in sight and the dream alive.
Toward the end of last season, I was miserable. I was sick, I was slow, and I was bored…I had reached a point where I didn’t want to be there anymore. Why the heck did I choose this?! This feeling would sometimes occur during races, when I would be pushing at my absolute limit and hurting so bad, but somehow still feeling slow…for a quick second, I would catch myself wondering “why am I doing this?”.
So this year, during the off season, I decided it was important to find my “why” again. The truth is that I absolutely love riding my bike, and I love racing. I know it, but when things are not going well, sometimes I forget.
So…Why? Why did I choose this path? Why did I choose to be a professional cyclist?
That’s where the idea of this bike packing trip came from. I wanted to go back to my roots and simply enjoy riding with old friends, just like how it all started.
It wasn’t long before I was reminded why I chose this lifestyle. I realized that I simply love the feeling of being exhausted that comes after riding all day long. Attacking each other for the pure fun of it reminded me what I love about racing… it reminded me that racing is a game. On this trip, we all discovered new beautiful places, yet we were never further than 250km from home. It reminded be that a bike is pretty special; it allows you to see things and experience places you otherwise never would have seen!
After our trip, it was pretty clear to me why I love riding my bike.
There was one more thing, however, that I kept coming back to. I said racing my bike was a my job. But trying to be the best in the world takes more than a normal job commitment. It needs to be a lifestyle that you take on 24/7. Sleeping, eating, resting, and training are all equally part of the equation. It’s a huge commitment on yourself and on the people that are close to you. It is always hard. At the same time, I can’t help but think: “How cool is this!?”
How cool is it to have the opportunity to try and be one of the best in the world at something?
It’s totally cool. I think it is a sacred, special, beautiful privilege. This opportunity may never come back again, and when I’m older and I look back at my life, I want to know I have followed this path fully.
I guess that’s my “why”. Or maybe, those are my ‘whys’.
At the end of the day, it’s just good to remind myself that this lifestyle is my choice. I chose to do this, and I am very lucky to have the opportunity to follow this dream of mine.
I better embrace it and make it count.”