Sunday, January 7, 2018

Acceptance onto a Pro level team — my lifelong pursuit

It is with great honor that I announce my acceptance onto the pro level team, Honey Stinger-Bontrager Off Road!  This is the highest honor I could ever image to attain as a mountain bike endurance athlete.  I also bring with me the expertise of Coach Lynda Wallenfels, LWCoaching.  In addition, I will continue to support XX2i Optics.  It’s been a long journey with humble beginnings to reach this accomplishment.

Overly humble beginnings

I grew up in the Quad Cities, IL as a chubby kid who was painfully shy, and had zero self-esteem.  To attribute to my non-existence self-esteem, I was held back in the first grade with a reading disability and put into special education.  Although after fourth grade I was no longer in special education and obtained solid grades thereafter, it didn’t matter.  Knowing that I would always be a year behind my first-grade class loomed over me. Thus, the crushing feeling of inadequacy tarnished my confidence as a youth.

Athletics early in my life

The only thing that gave me even a sliver of confidence was athletics.  In elementary school, my father put me and my brother on a ski team at a small local ski “valley” not far from where we lived.  From fourth to eighth grade, we spent our winter weekends racing mostly in Wisconsin.  I attribute much of my leg strength I have today to my ski racing days.

Credit to Ed Epperson for photo
Also introduced in my elementary years, I played football starting with flag in fourth grade, and then tackle fifth grade all the way to graduating from high school.  I started as center (I told you I was chubby) from fourth grade to freshmen year of high school.  I finally started to thin out after my freshmen year, and soon I wasn’t as big as the other linemen anymore.  Although I wasn’t as big, I was still ranked top three in squat among the team thanks to my ski racing days.  However, I struggled to get my bench press up.  Furthermore, I wasn’t fast compared to other non-linemen positions on the team who were more naturally athletic.  Thereafter my freshmen year I was never strong enough, big enough, or fast enough to be a starter again.

Even though I didn’t start, I still enjoyed staying athletic and being on a team so I stayed on.  I’m glad I did because I went on to learn an invaluable lesson from the football coaching staff.  They forever instilled in me that the body can be pushed far past the limits of the mind.  As an endurance athlete, this mindset is the strongest trait one can possess.  Very happy to have been taught that before entering the realm of endurance racing years later.

Finding my confidence

After high school, I stayed athletic with various athletic endeavors including power lifting and running short road races.  While pursuing my under-graduate degree in Springfield, IL; I found the most athletic success racing short (sprint) triathlons in the surrounding area.  As a college aged tri-athlete, I raced road triathlons on a 1999 Trek 6500zx mountain bike I lovingly called the green machine.  It seems fitting that I started on a Trek, and now will be proudly racing a Trek for Honey Stinger-Bontrager.  I bought the green machine brand new in high school from money I saved from being a lifeguard.  It wasn’t the best bike for road triathlons, but it still allowed me to discover my strength as a rider.

A later iteration of the green machine
Also during this time, I found success academically as I was close to graduating college with honors (cum laude).  Finally, being held back early in my education would no longer matter.  I should note that if my parents hadn’t made the decision to hold me back in first grade, I most likely would never have graduated from college.  Regardless, not having the notion of feeling behind loom over me anymore was a huge relief.  As a result, my self-esteem slowly started to build.

I wasn’t bursting with confidence, but I had enough to not be completely saddled with shyness anymore.  Around that time, I was introduced to a young flight attendant based in Chicago.  Her name was Megan, and I knew the second I met her I wanted to marry her.  I had no idea how drastically she would forever change my life.

Discovering my passion for mountain biking

After graduating college in 2006, I moved back to my home town of Rock Island, IL and was introduced to a small mountain biking club called FORC (Friends of Off Road Cycling). They had just opened a new trail system not far from where I lived, Sunderbruch Park. From the time I first rode singletrack, I instantly fell in love with mountain biking.  Around the same time, I found success in the corporate world and landed a job in my field of study.  Good thing too, because I needed the money for all the beers and bikes.

It wasn’t the love for mountain biking alone that drew me so close to riding trails.  I also fell in love with a bunch of dirty, beer drinking folks that were the mountains bikers of FORC.  As you can image, being painfully shy most your life doesn’t serve well for having many friends.  Then transitioning from being shy to never shutting up — well, that can produce a lot of awkwardness.   This small community accepted me with all that awkwardness anyway.  To this day, I still consider many in FORC as family — you know who you are, and I love you all.  You were, and still are a driving force in my love for mountain biking.

Credit to Rebecca "Bexter" Kloos Bernard for photo

I soon found myself mountain biking every day with my friends and spending my weekends building/maintaining trails in the local area.  After many crashes from pushing my limits far past my abilities, I quickly became a decent mountain biker.  In April of 2008, I entered my first XC mountain bike race. I won that race, and went on to winning the whole I-74 Race Series in the Novice class that year.

Endurance racing – my true calling

After winning the I-74 Race Series, I was hooked on competitive mountain bike racing.  The next year, I moved up to the Sport class and I took the same approach to training as always.  Simply train more and harder than the competition.  You would think that would work, but what I discovered was that racers who were more naturally athletic kicked my ass regardless how much I trained.  That is until I raced with the same racers during my first endurance race in Wisconsin.  I finally beat my competition, and by a good margin!  I discovered that day that when it comes to endurance racing there are no shortcuts, not even for the most naturally athletic.  Thereupon, my true calling in endurance mountain bike racing was found!

Pursuing greatness

Through success on and off the bike, after many years of feeling inadequate, I finally conquered the low self-esteem that plagued me most of my life.  This burst in my confidence helped me make the toughest decision of my life.  The love of my life was now a flight attendant based in Denver, CO, and there was no easy way for me to join her.

With a tremendous amount of love and support from my now wife, Megan, I quit my well-paying job in the Quad Cities to move to Colorado in Fall of 2009.  Other than having two job interviews lined up, I made the move without certainty of my future.  Luckily, one of the two companies I interviewed with hired me.  I took a sufficient pay cut in an area with a higher cost of living, but I was in Colorado.

Side note: I went on to work my way up at that company, and landed a job with a competitor years later.  With that new job, I reclaimed the salary I lost when I moved, and more importantly it allowed me to work remotely.  Thus, allowing me to become a digital nomad!  But that’s a whole other blog.

After taking the leap of faith and moving to Colorado and having a woman by my side that inspired me to pursue greatness, I felt I could achieve anything.  Once in Colorado, I decided to take my newfound love of endurance mountain bike racing a step further.  I dreamt a dream so massive and crazy that to this day I can’t recall how I got the idea into my mind.  My lifelong pursuit suddenly became about one thing — becoming a pro level endurance mountain bike racer.

Dreams are paved with rough roads

As with everything in life, things didn’t fall right in place in my endurance mountain bike racing career.  My first year of racing in Colorado, I DNF’ed (Did Not Finish) two out of the five races I entered.  The ones I did complete, my placement was deep in the back.  This didn’t deter me in the least bit though.  After spending a lifetime of feeling like a failure, I knew how to endure defeat regardless of how much was thrown at me.  Let me tell you, there was A LOT of defeat thrown at me.

The second year went much smoother, and by the third year I won my first race in the 30-39 age group; which is essentially Cat 1 in the Colorado endurance scene.  My fourth year I landed on the podium a couple more times in 30-39, and was top ten for several races.

In my fifth year of endurance racing I decided to move up to the pro/open class.  Although I didn’t feel ready, I knew that if I was ever going to compete in the pro class I needed to race at that level. For this reason, I made the move up and never looked back.

For all the nitty gritty details of my biking career, see my MTB Resume.

To be pro

Even though I entered the pro/open class in 2014, I never truly felt pro.  For a long time, it was my belief that to call myself a pro I needed to consistently be on the podium. Admittedly, I have yet to reach this accomplishment.   Although top placement is critical, it took me a long time to realize that there is a lot more to being pro.

Even if I’m not on the podium all the time (yet), my passion and drive to reach my highest athletic ability is undeniable.  Consistently year over year, my athletic ability has substantially grown, and I have yet to reach my peak.  When I do reach my peak, I believe that the rest will fall into place.  In the meantime, consistently being top ten with the occasional podium will have to sacrifice.  Coupled with fact that I’m now on a pro level team, it’s time for me to start truly feeling like a pro.

An accomplishment to embrace

My acceptance onto Honey Stinger-Bontrager Off Road team finally solidifies my place as a pro mountain bike endurance athlete.  It’s hard to believe that a chubby, painfully shy kid with no self-esteem could achieve such an honor — or is it?  As the saying goes, it takes pressure to create a diamond.  Perhaps having low self-esteem was my own personal pressure in life. It could have easily broken me.  Instead, somehow, I turned it into something beautiful — a lifelong pursuit as an athlete.  I could not be happier with how my life turned out, and I’m especially happy with my new team. #StingorBeeStung

Special Thanks

Special thanks to my father, John Collier (1950-2014), for encouraging a chubby kid to try out sports for more than just a day.  You supported me wholeheartedly when I did pursue them and were my greatest fan.  I’m sorry you weren’t in this world to see this accomplishment.  More regretful, I’m sorry you never met your grandson Nolan.  At least in your last months with us we were able to tell you that little Nolan was on his way.  I know that gave you some peace before leaving us all.  Without a doubt, you would be as proud of him as you were of me —because I know I sure am.