Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Power of the White Jersey

Riding with the Diablo Cyclists in the "Tour of the Leaves" this past Saturday just North of Santa Rosa. I'm just behind Long, blending into the team with my new white jersey.

What is it about team-gear? The matching jerseys of cyclists, the singlets teams of runners wear or the matching suits and caps of swimmers? Why this need to belong?


I've been a solo athlete nearly all my life. Or, all my adult life, anyway. 
For both races and workouts alike, I'm often the odd-man out. Or mismatched-single. Red top, yellow shorts. Cycling jersey I bought on sale that was really for little boys that reads "I love my bike" across the chest.  Swimsuits that have the most awful combination of colors (hot pink and neon yellow!) that usually do not match my cap and goggles. I wear what fits both me and whatever the weather's doing. After all, as I've been told, life is not a fashion show. 

Plus, mismatching is my own (subtle) nonconformity. My je ne sais quoi nonchalance that says I train hard, but not hard enough to look the part. 
There's something in that. Or so I've thought. 


My membership to teams has been, really, unremarkable. I was a member of several high school teams. But then again, that was high school. And I came from a very small town in eastern--rural-- Nevada. What else was I going to do with my time, if not cheer and run and run some more and pole vault and sing and dance and lift weights? 

I had a cheerleading uniform, a cross country uniform, a warm-up uniform, a track uniform, a dress for choir we were all required to wear, a nun's habit for the musical I performed in and at the end of it all, a graduation cap and gown which was really just another uniform among the many I wore.  

But that would be the end of my fashion conformity. 

After I drove away from Spring Creek at eighteen years old, I wouldn't put on a uniform for a long time.  


I didn't join a college team. I didn't run for Cross Country. I didn't cycle for the cycling team. Back then, I could hardly swim. I was an English Literature major, which is the middle-finger-to the-world-major if ever there was one (which is why it's so hard to get a job, maybe. Or so hard to say you do anything impressive to family members who ask. But that's another blog post.)

I participated in a few club sports, but none that really required a uniform. Unless you count karate which I did until the third or fourth semester when I found myself alone in a room filled with older men. 

Men that suggested I spar against their ten-year-old sons because I was no match for them.

I sold my gi at a garage sale. Some woman bought it for her twelve-year old son. Since I'd hemmed the pants and arms to fit my petite frame, it was sized perfectly for him, she said. 

And that was the last uniform I wore until I was 29 years old.


I guess looking the part is the visual marker of belonging. Or, of some level of expertise. If you look the part, you might know a bit about it, right? What is that saying: "fake it to make it." Maybe that's a part of a uniform's allure. You might be scared as shit or greener than the grass but hot damn, strap a jersey on that girl and she's a pro. 

But I fear: 

I never know enough. 
I'm never fast enough-- running or swimming or riding. 
I'm not thin enough.
I'm not the person who knows anything at all. 
I'm the sort of person who least belongs in a uniform. 

Or so I've thought all of these years.


So, what changed? 

Since I've graduated (last May with an MFA in Nonfiction), I think I've grown up. Or, at least, a little bit.

No, I'm not a pro at anything. And no, I'm still not a slave to fashion. Even sports-fashion. 

But there comes a time in life when it's nice to know where you are. When it's nice to be able to use the verb "to be" and follow it with a solid noun that others can nod and say, "me, too" to. 

I am a cyclist, dammit-- I ride with a club! An awesome club that knows routes that tangle their way through the Bay Area of California. I've spent hours with this club. Climbing hills. Riding in a straight line, drafting. Screaming-fast downhills. I'm not always in front. Not always behind. 
But I'm always a part. 

Something that says it's OK to have a jersey. It's OK to belong. 

For the first time in my life, I feel like I somehow, strangely, do. 

There are days I feel like I ride well. The most recent, climbing 14-20% grade for a few miles, my heart rate rarely below 190.  I can't believe I did it, but I did. 

There's others I don't do so well. But I do those miles, too, and there are people who hang back for me, who wait.

That is what being a part of a team or club is all about. 


So, I bought my white jersey and wear it proudly. Even if a corner of it already has chain-grease on it. Such is the hazard of our sport.

I imagine I ride faster with it on. 

I don't want to disappoint anyone, after all. 

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