My Mother spent the better part of my formidable years researching and discovering better ways to teach children. She is or has been on staff at some of the finest universities in the country, improving the science of education by improving the methods by which teachers teach. She developed methods of teaching children based on the way the brain learns and then taught aspiring teachers her techniques. Novel idea, huh? Teach to the brain in the way it wants to learn. She chose to take a hard look at the traditional teaching paradigm and look for a better way. In doing so, she contributed to vast and positive changes in the curriculum and approach to teaching used by thousands of teachers today. And she taught me to always look for a better way…
My Mom, Dad and I lived in a farmhouse built around the turn of the century for most of these same years and we often challenged traditional paradigms. We showed horses against some of the wealthiest families in the equestrian world (and won!), yet we were a typical middleclass family. We made school dance dresses from original patterns that my Mom and I designed. We cleaned the house on Saturday mornings dancing and singing to music. We gardened, canned vegetables and produced our own beef and eggs and heated our home with a wood stove like pioneers, decades before the trendy organic wave was ever incepted. Life was fun and exciting because we did everything with zest. We embraced challenges, so much so that I often didn’t realized I was facing a challenge. Growing up this way, under the paradigm of creative thinking, has had a huge impact on my life and the way I see the world as not just haft full…more like three-quarters full and I know I can get more. Half empty rarely even enters my mind because I always believe; I innately believe there is a way.
All of those years of experience, utilizing the creative way of thinking, transferred directly to my athletic career as well. I have always fearlessly, almost naively, sought challenges and pushed limits of paradigms every day. I do realize that I can’t always change THE world but I can change MY world. And that’s where Curtis Cramblett comes in. We are all aware of my hip issue; it is the injury-still-to-be-named yet it does still exist. Recall that I sought out Curtis because I believed that there might be a better way than traditional physical therapy. Boy, was I right, now more than ever. I started seeing Curtis about a year ago and we spent three intense 2-day sessions working on nothing but making my hip work better.
After our last session, Curtis and I rode about 40 miles easy around San Jose. Although he was still my doctor, the dynamic changed between us when we got on the bike. The paradigm shifted, we were no longer in his office, we were on my turf! Paradigms, apprehensions, assumptions blew away with the wind; walls came down as he became simply my riding partner and friend. While we rode, our connection became more genuine and true, his passion for making me strong, fast and happy on the bike again like nothing I’ve ever seen in the traditional medical field. No doctor had ever ridden with me and no doctor had even seen me in my element, dealing with the challenges of my forty-one-year-old professional cyclist body!
Curtis taught me something that day that became paramount: toes to belly button. Sounds silly, right? Visualizing lining up the toes on my left foot to my belly button at the top of my pedal stroke made everything click. This simple phrase created a light bulb moment: my brain grasped the physical movement, it all fell into place and, with some effort and this phrase, I felt straight on my bike! Talk about a paradigm shift, this was revolutionary in my world!
But here’s why it’s such a big deal: shortly after that visit with Curtis and my “light bulb” moment, I retired from professional racing. That’s right: I retired, hung it up, called it quits, ended my career, and slid into the ranks of weekend group rider at best. My abrupt retirement came as a shock to some and went unnoticed by most. Curtis wasn’t surprised, he sensed my apprehension for another professional season before I did. Let’s just say that it felt, without a doubt, like the time to retire. Curtis, though, continued to stay in contact with me to make sure I was doing well. And each time he called or emailed, he triggered “toes to belly button” in my mind. Huh…right?
So fast-forward a few months to ironically our nation’s Independence Day celebration of July 4, and low and behold, I decide to race again. After over 3 months of “recovery” (i.e. not riding, staying up too late, having a lot of non-cycling fun!), I commit to race the World Masters Cycling Federation World Championships in St. Johann in Tirol, Austria. A good friend asked me to race the bikes he manufacturers (Stradalli) in pursuit of a championship and I relished the opportunity, I craved the challenge. Quickly, I hired a coach (Chad Andrews of TotalCyclist) and assemble my posse (Pam, Terry, Tom and Melinda) and we get busy getting me fit and fast again. Yet every single day, Curtis was there with me, his voice in my head, as I remind myself “toes to belly button” throughout each workout. I had just 10 weeks to prepare to win a WMCF World Championship and Curtis, yes Curtis, had changed my paradigm. Every workout counts in such a short training program, and Curtis helped me get fast again by getting my toes and my belly button in line every day. All Curtis’ work last winter is STILL paying dividends. Once again, Curtis has proven that he is amazing.
Sometimes, I don’t realize I’m pushing the limits of the traditional paradigm. Every once in a while, I will call my Mom just to catch up and hang up feeling like I was speaking Greek and my Mom was speaking English. This disconnect is almost always derived from some random paradigm I was instinctually pushing. I can only suspect that, since my Mom learned creative thinking techniques as an adult that the skill, although highly evolved and sophisticated, is not instinctual. But for me, I learned to think creatively as a child so it’s all I know and I can’t turn it off. These calls can be brought back on track by me slowing down and explaining my thoughts and ideas. This is all so ironic to me because, well, my Mom taught me to think this way from the very beginning of my life: my Mom created a monster! Essentially, she has greatly impacted my cycling career as well.
So, in the end, when I challenge the rules and I push your buttons…errrr…I mean limits and paradigms…what I’m doing is simply seeking to find the best way. And I want to know what you think, not because I think you’re wrong, but because I genuinely want to know your perspective. I’m hoping to learn something from you, from your words or even your body language, that might lead me to a new paradigm. On the bike, finding a better way meant seeking out someone like Curtis Cramblett who has an amazing intuition for the human body and soul alike, who takes years of riding, training and experience with cyclists and countless methods and practices and finds the best way to bring my body back to it’s most efficient and powerful self. He does not think of my body in the traditional sense. Curtis thinks about movement and space and efficiencies. Finding a better way to help my body move on the bike is his way of life. Curtis pushes the paradigms of science and he is a monster, like me. I’m thankful for Curtis, not just because his work continues to live on in my life but because he understands my need for more and better. For Curtis and I, the pursuit of new ideas and solutions will never end. It’s the ride, the experiences and the relationships built along the way that fuel me and the desire to challenge paradigms just to know if a better way does exist that fulfills me. I know no other way and nothing makes me feel more alive and more content.
So what happened in Austria? I won. I won a lot. I won 3 out of four races including the World Masters Cycling Federation World Time Trial Championship. It felt great, amazing, unbelievable. And guess what? My Mom was there, watching me live in my own unique paradigm. Awesome. So what’s next? I am open to your suggestions. I know I will ride my bike with joy and I know, whatever I do, I will find my best way to do it.