ROAD magazine April 2013 : Page 21

By: Zach Bell / Champion System Pro Cycling Team / Photos: Brian Hodes T hey say that from your lowest of lows, your darkest times, you have the chance to fi nd the best of yourself and come back stronger and better then you were before. 2012 was supposed to be the biggest year of my competitive career. After the dust of the season had settled in the fall, I was left refl ecting on a year that held disappointment and uncertainty. Th is in spite of having a World Championship Silver Medal and a race in which I had bested some of the world’s top sprinters at the Pro Sprint Challenge in Quebec. Th e call from Kevin Field, Sport director at Team SpiderTech, came only days after a charity event where I had boarded a plane thinking that Team SpiderTech was heading toward bigger and better things in 2013. “We have a unique situation,” Kevin told me. “Basically, we are not racing this year. Not as a team anyway. But SpiderTech, the company, wants to ensure all the athletes can race as we restructure the sponsorship of the team to position as many of us as possible to make the jump to the next level on solid footing in 2014.” or they are out, and sometimes they are even out when they say they are in. Th is was a case where the sponsor was going to be in, while we were asked to be out – temporarily – only to potentially return should the team be able to restructure in a way that was more benefi cial to everyone. Th e next step was working to place us all with teams for 2013. Decisions would have to be made, and fast. It was now mid-October, and teams would not want to wait around while we considered the future. Was there anything I could do? Th at was the moment everything turned upside down for me. Th e day after having this conversation with Kevin, I was witness to the birth of my fi rst son, followed two days later by the impossible decision to remove his life support. Complications during the labor had left Paxton with a brain injury from which he couldn’t recover, and the doctors told us, “ there is nothing we can do.” Th is is a sentence that is drummed out of your vocabulary as an athlete. You are taught that there is always something you can do. You are in control of your own destiny. You can work harder, train smarter, make better choices. Every aspect of your person is under your control because you are the athlete and it is all about you. Yet I found myself completely out of control in 2012. At the Olympics, we mis-timed the taper, that holy grail of training and rest that brings you to your best. Th at mis-step left me racing through the biggest race of my life with no form. Th ere was What does that mean? We had a team with more money then the last year, and what? We were all being let go? At fi rst I didn’t really understand it. Sponsors don’t ask everyone to leave so they have time to better the situation for the riders, do they? It was not anything I had ever seen in cycling before. My experience has always been that sponsors are either in

Zach Bell

Zach Bell

BELIEVE IN CYCLING<br /> <br /> They say that from your lowest of lows, your darkest times, you have the chance to find the best of yourself and come back stronger and better then you were before. 2012 was supposed to be the biggest year of my competitive career. After the dust of the season had settled in the fall, I was left reflecting on a year that held disappointment and uncertainty. This in spite of having a World Championship Silver Medal and a race in which I had bested some of the world's top sprinters at the Pro Sprint Challenge in Quebec.<br /> <br /> The call from Kevin Field, Sport director at Team SpiderTech, came only days after a charity event where I had boarded a plane thinking that Team SpiderTech was heading toward bigger and better things in 2013.<br /> <br /> "We have a unique situation," Kevin told me. "Basically, we are not racing this year. Not as a team anyway. But SpiderTech, the company, wants to ensure all the athletes can race as we restructure the sponsorship of the team to position as many of us as possible to make the jump to the next level on solid footing in 2014."<br /> <br /> What does that mean? We had a team with more money then the last year, and what? We were all being let go? At first I didn't really understand it. Sponsors don't ask everyone to leave so they have time to better the situation for the riders, do they? It was not anything I had ever seen in cycling before. My experience has always been that sponsors are either in or they are out, and sometimes they are even out when they say they are in. This was a case where the sponsor was going to be in, while we were asked to be out — temporarily — only to potentially return should the team be able to restructure in a way that was more beneficial to everyone. The next step was working to place us all with teams for 2013. Decisions would have to be made, and fast. It was now mid-October, and teams would not want to wait around while we considered the future. Was there anything I could do?<br /> <br /> That was the moment everything turned upside down for me. The day after having this conversation with Kevin, I was witness to the birth of my first son, followed two days later by the impossible decision to remove his life support. Complications during the labor had left Paxton with a brain injury from which he couldn't recover, and the doctors told us, " there is nothing we can do."<br /> <br /> This is a sentence that is drummed out of your vocabulary as an athlete. You are taught that there is always something you can do. You are in control of your own destiny. You can work harder, train smarter, make better choices. Every aspect of your person is under your control because you are the athlete and it is all about you. Yet I found myself completely out of control in 2012. At the Olympics, we mis-timed the taper, that holy grail of training and rest that brings you to your best. That mis-step left me racing through the biggest race of my life with no form. There was Nothing I could do. Team SpiderTech had done everything right. We had grown, gained results, and developed as a team to attract more sponsors. But the team operations were going to drastically change. There was nothing I could do. Then, finally, the greatest moment of my life had come. The thing I had been preparing for and expecting all year. The one thing that if everything else went wrong would at least help me keep my perspective on what was really important. My family was forming, and within seconds of his birth, my son was torn away. I was left a weeping mass at the foot of my wife's delivery bed, knowing there was nothing I could do. In that moment I was not a two-time Olympian, not a race winner, not even an athlete. I was a man who didn't even have control over his ability to stand. There was nothing I could do.<br /> <br /> After a few weeks at my lowest, I decided to ask Kevin Field the question: Was there anything left for me in cycling, or had all the opportunities for me disappeared while I was paralyzed by my own personal struggles?<br /> <br /> "Yes, there is something," he told me. "They have been interested and understanding of what is going on with you. When you're ready, you guys can talk." The team he Was referring to was Champion System, a Hong Kong-based Pro Continental team that was captained by Ed Beamon. Ed has been a figure in cycling for longer than I have been in the sport. He was the director of the Navigators when I first got started. This was a team that I spent the first four years of my career trying to beat. So naturally, Ed had always been the leader of the opposition for me. I knew he could pilot a team to race wins. This was something that had frustrated me and my teammates many times over. I guess I was just surprised that out of all the directors out there, he was the one that was interested in my skills.<br /> <br /> Sport is a funny thing. It means so little, and yet it is so full of emotion that players inevitably become charged with that emotion. Ed had been at the center of everything I had tried to defeat early in my career. And now he was offering to help usher me back into the sport with a new beginning on a foreign team that had riders from 14 countries. It was like something out of a movie.<br /> <br /> Normally, I think this opportunity would have been too far outside my comfort zone. However, the recent situation in my career and life had pushed me so far out of that comfort zone already that I was truly excited for the prospect of racing for a team as unique and diverse as Champion System. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is a team that represents the globalized future of cycling, and showcases athletes and locales from every corner of the planet.<br /> <br /> Now, as I sit here writing these words, I have just returned from the Champion System training camp in California. This team has the potential to live up to that expectation in the coming years. The camp has left me excited at the prospect of racing again. Racing with a group of guys that want to win. Racing in front of fans that are excited to see this beautiful sport pass by their door, many in Asia And North America for the first time. I am excited that there are sponsors involved like Champion System and SpiderTech that believe this is a sport worth growing, investing in, and ushering toward the future. They believe, like I do, that there are many athletes, fans, and participants of cycling that believe in the ability of cycling and sport to change lives, and bring a person up from some of their darkest places.<br /> <br /> Other sponsors are walking away from the sport because of the actions of those that have forgotten what it is all about. All that does is hurt those of us that believe in what cycling really is. It is the hardest sport in the world, and yet nearly everyone can do it. It can beat you down so much you are forced to look closely at who you are. With all the doping scandals, it is tempting to turn your back on the sport. But I say turn your back on those that have undermined the sport by selfishly poisoning it with ambitions of personal gain, and not on the sport that has given good people and honest athletes so much. Instead, put your support behind your local clean athletes and sponsors like Champion System and SpiderTech. Cycling and the sponsors involved have paved the road for me to continue to compete in a sport I love. It has given me the strength to find a new direction. I am eager to mix in the sprints and time trials with Champion System on my back, knowing that myself and 22 other riders on the team are charged with showing the world what this sport can do for people if they are willing to treat it with the respect it deserves. I am excited that I have found a place where they believe in my ability to win races and help others win races.<br /> <br /> It's a similar story for many of the other clean cyclist in the peloton. Cycling has given each of us the strength to face our greatest challenges. It has opened our eyes to the world. It has the power to unite us across cultures and generations. Anyone who puts that at risk for personal prosperity should forfeit his or her right to be involved. Those who support and foster the ideal of cycling should have our collective cheers of support. In the end, that's why I signed on with Champion System instead of walking away from the sport at my darkest hour. Cycling is offering me a chance to find the best of myself out of the struggles I have had. With sponsors and athletes like those at SpiderTech and Champion System, I think the sport of cycling has the chance to do the same. I finally feel like there is something I can do.

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
 

Loading