Everyone wins when everyone pulls-Cycling Lessons on Leadership

A few years ago I made a commitment to ride my bike across Canada with the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation as a method to raise funds and awareness for paediatric cancer. I expected emotional and physical challenges as we crossed the vast landscape, but what I never thought was that I would learn lessons on leadership at the same time.
Organised sports have long been cited as being the foundation for adults and youth alike to take on challenges as a team and work to achieve them. However, in the more traditional team environment the role of leader is traditionally filled through a coach or manager who comes with more experience. This often limits the opportunity to have those not comfortable with leadership roles to step up and try them on.

Everyone Pulls

What road cycling taught me was that in a great team EVERYONE holds a leadership position. Certainly there are those that are naturally stronger and are able to carry more of the weight, but a great peloton (cycling formation) is formed with a balanced approach.

When each person takes a turn in the front of the group (referred to as pulling), the rest of the team can take a moment to recover their strength at the back so they are ready for their next turn. This small reprieve from the wind or weather provides each individual a chance to rest and reset.

Short Turns

Now, not everyone is ready to pull for hundreds of kiliometres, but even just a short stint at the front can help to build confidence and skill for those with less experience. It also provides those with knowledge and talent to pull beside the less accomplished rider and help them to improve as individuals.

Is it the journey or the destination?

These short stints as group leader might not be as fast or as smooth a ride as those led by one of the more talented riders in the group, but in the end the whole team can arrive at their destination just the same. Each time I was empowered to pull despite being the least skilled rider, I felt more connected to my team and was able to push my own boundaries further. As a result of pushing outside my comfort zone I improved and became a better contributor to the team as a whole.

In business we often default to doing things with the same people “pulling” because it is what we know. This leaves the bulk of the team hiding from the weather and wind and coasting along behind without a chance to learn and grow. It also often causes a rift between those at the front and those at the back because they never get the time to bond and share skills if they don’t switch positions and see the view from another persons saddle.

Maybe it takes a few more minutes to arrive so everyone can contribute, or maybe it means getting rained on, but each person got to grow through the process. This results in making the whole team more capable of meeting the next challenge.

In the end if the entire team meets its goal, does it make any difference how you got there? 

Are we there yet?

The other day I was chatting with a friend about road trips. I love them. Assembling meals from the gas station, scenery, random giant landmarks, debates over the best choice of radio station.

I used to struggle with long trips as I viewed my destination as the goal and the drive to the destination as the cost rather than a part of the experience. Today that is not the case.

A few years ago I went on a road trip in an RV and surrounded by some of my best friends I experienced the journey. I discovered that the trip including late night coffee stops, peeing roadside and trash talking one another for their choice in music, snacks, apparel, etc. was as much a part of the vacation as the things that we stopped to see or do. I have more pictures and fond memories of us in that RV than at any other location and would go on the same adventure again tomorrow (SNCKR’14?).

Along the way I learned things about myself and that somewhere in between here and there is when I truly realized that memories do not require destinations to be made. They happen with every kilometre you cover, so no…. we aren’t there yet, settle in and just enjoy being here right now.

My name is Erin and I am an ATHLETE

For the last few years I have been working on my image of myself.  It wasn’t until recently that I actually came to terms with the idea that I am an athlete.

Growing up I was not particularly sporty other than riding my bike everywhere as transportation until about the eighth grade.  I was never a dancer or a track star like my friends were and accepted the fact that I could be the smart one not the skinny fit one.  That badge of smart not sporty stayed with me until about a year or so ago when I realized I was more than just the label I had assigned myself at thirteen.

I went in for my annual doctor’s visit and she actually said that it was refreshing to deal with an athlete.  My health was good because I was so engaged in activities that support bone mass and heart health and keep my weight in a good zone.

I was concerned because the BMI scale had me as overweight despite having a roughly 20% body fat measurement. She brushed off my worry about my BMI because in her words “they don’t account for someone with as much muscle mass as you, BMI is not designed for serious competitors. Most of the Olympic team would show as overweight or obese because the scale is designed for averages.”

WAIT just a second!  She changed my label.

The word athlete was never my badge, and it felt wrong.  It didn’t fit me.  How could it fit me?

Over the next few days I started to work through my definition of what an athlete was.

Very active (4-6 times a week)-Check

Multi sport-Check

Dedicated to a life of fitness-Check

They have strong, muscular bodies-Check

They are constantly pushing themselves harder-Check

WHOA!  Hang on here…. That makes me one of THEM?


So the defense arguments kicked in.

They don’t have cellulite-yes they do

They don’t get tired and feel weak-yes they do

They don’t struggle to improve-yes they do

By my own definition I had become someone who doesn’t casually ride a bike or go for a run, I was committed to a lifestyle of activity.  My idea of a fun weekend was going out for eight to twelve hours of cycling with my friends who I could easily define as athletic superstars.

Then my world changed.

About two weeks ago I broke my leg and damaged the ligaments in my knee playing a sport I love and I realized my world was at risk.  I am in rehab and just now understand that instead of accepting an injury and going back to that sedentary life I have to train at recovery.

I have to commit to doing the exercises for healing at the same level and with the same dedication I would put forth of a century bike ride, running a marathon or achieving a 5:10 climb.

I am in training for an event right now.  That event is my everyday life, because I am an athlete.