Megan Archer is a mid-30’s amateur cyclocross racer. Giving everything to the passion of sport, and for the power of the people.
When I sat down to write this blog post, I had originally planned to recap both of my races at ‘cross nationals. Due to the overwhelming love and support from the cycling community in the last few days, that original plan has been sidelined. Now, I am writing to celebrate the power of people.
A Little Background About Me
I started riding bikes consistently in 2012. My brother built up a Surly Crosscheck out of extra parts he had lying around the garage, and I began riding on the road that summer. I had one mismatched kit, mountain bike shoes, and a loaner helmet. I had been an athlete all my life, participating in traditional sports, but nothing would prepare me for the pain I experienced that first summer on a bicycle. It wasn’t easy.
Cyclocross immediately caught my eye, as I figured it would be the only cycling discipline I could be competitive in so early in my cycling ‘career’. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready physically, and had no clue how my first race would break me down mentally. “This is really hard”. In spite of my disappointing first impression, there was something about ‘cross that appealed to me. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
My First Season Racing Cross
My first season was spent clutching to the back of the race for dear life. I had zero fitness. I didn’t know how to start a race without blowing up, and I had no style or grace in any of the technical sections. My barrier skills were the most haunting, and I frequently crashed myself trying to leap over them like the pros. There was nothing pro about my skill set. Still, I found myself walking towards the light. Cyclocross continued to pull me in, and the spectators always made me feel important.
I was living a double life in the ‘cross scene. I would get up early, pin on my number, and suffer for 30 minutes off the back of every cat 4 race. By lunch time, I had my butterfly wings on, heckling everyone with my megaphone. I was an amateur bike racer, not even mediocre at the time, but I had found my calling as a super fan girl. I was actually better at being a super fan girl, and it allowed me to connect with some really awesome people.
It’s no secret I’m a very outgoing person. Those who’ve met me can attest to that. I met a lot of people that first season, many of which are now close friends. I was attracted to the family atmosphere of the ‘cross scene, and the people I ran across were attracted to my passion for life. It was a good match, and it motivated me to push harder.
I still had a lot of soul searching to do, and I wasn’t satisfied with where I was as a racer. I found myself dangling between racing and fan girl’ing, and struggling to make any major gains in my ability as a cyclist. I started getting approached by people wanting to help me. As someone who never asked for help, it was a tough pill to swallow, but I gave in and accepted the offers. I started a training plan that next summer.
I spent the spring of 2013 racing crits, and getting my ass handed to me every weekend. I still had a lot to learn, and crit racing was a completely different animal. I started to see fitness gains, and my equipment slowly got better with time. I now had a legitimate road bike and proper shoes. I had joined the Cycle-Smart Grassroots Team, and acquired more cycling clothing kits, even though they were hand-me-downs from someone’s previous season. I didn’t feel like a bike racer yet, but I definitely started to look like one.
I trained harder that summer, and I learned tactics and tips of the trade. I learned how to eat for the bike. I learned how to sleep for the bike. The biggest lesson I learned that summer was HOW TO SUFFER ON THE BIKE. I was in a weird place in my life, and cycling sometimes took a backseat, but I did the best I could. I accepted a lot of help from a lot of kind-hearted people, and my equipment continued to improve. I developed a deeper understanding of why people put themselves in such miserable conditions—the ‘hurt locker’ if you will. Bike racing became the medium for my feelings and emotions, and I embraced it with open arms.
The 2013-14 cyclocross season was much more successful for me. I won a few races early on, and eventually had to move up to the 3s. I learned very quickly just how competitive ‘cross could be once I landed in the pro 1/2/3 category, and I found myself starting from the bottom again. The outpouring amount of support was overwhelming at times, and still difficult to accept, as I didn’t have the means to return the favors. I found it interesting that people wanted to help a 30+ amateur bike racer, but I went with it anyway. I had a new (to me) ‘cross bike that season, and things started coming together, even though I was last in just about every race I entered.
The road season was short-lived. I had an unfortunate incident with my income, and racing wasn’t even an afterthought. Life was pretty rough for me that spring, but my friends and family kept cheering me on. I received word that a friend of mine had registered me for the last few races of USA Crits Speek Week, and I had a difficult time wrapping my head around it. “Listen, I’m doing really well now, and I want to see your hard work put to use. A lot of people helped me out when I was racing, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. You’ve worked your ass off and you deserve a chance to showcase it.”
I took the offer, and landed on the podium with a solid 3rd place finish at Gaffney– a perfect end to a not-so-perfect spring season. I spent the summer training for what would be the best season of my short-lived cycling ‘career’.
This past August was record-breaking for me. I rode 50+ hours and climbed over 53,000 feet. I finally felt like I might accomplish something big, and made my plan a reality with a great result in Providence.
Then life threw me a curveball.
I went over the bars while bunny-hopping logs in the first NCCX race, and nearly knocked myself out. My helmet was ruined, and my head was a close second. I took the next month off racing to recover physically and mentally. I had doubts that racing was an option for me, and I took a pretty big hit financially, so I was ready to hang up racing for good. My friends didn’t let that happen, though. For whatever reason, everyone wanted to see me on that bike, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t want the same.
At the NCCX Charlotte race, I came back with a vengeance, the muddiest and “crossiest” of the year. I proved to myself how much I deserved to be out there, and had the best ‘cross result of the past 2 seasons. I was also in the best head space I had ever been in, and I felt like year 34 would be the biggest one yet. I had some decisions to make, and goals to achieve, so I sold my powder skis in order to register for the 2015 Cyclocross Nationals– something I had hoped to accomplish in 2014, but didn’t have the means financially or logistically.
I pinched pennies and sold my remaining ski patrol gear. I watched what I put into my body, and made sure I got in bed early every night. I treated myself like a professional racer, because I didn’t want to ruin all the sacrifices I had made to get to Austin. I received some amazing support, both morally and financially from sponsors and friends. I hugged, thanked, cried and loved all those people willing to help me for little to nothing. I still couldn’t believe anyone would be willing to help out an amateur bike racer in her mid-thirties.
Nationals. Wow. There’s nothing I regret from either of my two races. I placed in the top 36% of the non-championship race, well beyond my expectations, and had a solid ride in the master’s 35-39 race on Friday. I left everything on the course. I didn’t need to prove anything, but I wanted to show all those people who supported me that their offerings didn’t go to waste. “Hey guys. Thanks for all you did to help me get here. Now I’m gonna turn myself inside out for you.”
And I did.
I closed my ‘cross season with a fundraiser to benefit Trips For Kids of WNC. What had originally started as a plan to get my friends together for an end of season party, quickly turned into a last-minute fundraiser with very few expectations. I rallied bike shop owners, local businesses, and the North Carolina ‘cross community for all the help they could give. I solicited donations, put up flyers, and promoted like it was my job. I spent a lot of time worrying if it would even be successful, but I kept pressing forward because that’s what bike racers do, right?
I got home from Austin approximately 36 hours before my fundraiser doors opened, and scurried around to tie up loose ends.
We raised $1000 in 3 hours of selling raffle tickets. I finally had a chance to pay it forward.
I don’t have much, but I have this, and it’s yours.
I’ve learned a lot in the past 3 years. Bike racing has given me a second chance. Cycling has opened doors for me that I never thought were possible. Bikes have given me the best friends anyone could ask for. Riding has forced me to discover things I never knew about myself. The cycling community, specifically the ‘cross community, has given me more joy than a person deserves.
Thank you guys for believing in me. Thanks to those who’ve given me the means to race bikes. Thanks to those of you who donated time, money, and gear to my fundraiser. A BIG thanks to my brother, Brian, for building my first bike. I wish I had enough paper to thank all those people who’ve paved the way for my passion. I don’t think there are enough trees on this planet for that.
We’re a family, and we take care of each other. It’s what we do.
Featured Photo Credit: Chris McIntosh