They say those who can’t do, teach. And everyone hates that quote, especially teachers. On my first day of coaching I was burned out on bikes, nursing a handful of injuries, and totally convinced that nothing I had to say could possibly get through to the group of kids I was about to be responsible for— and then there was that damn quote.
I was in Moab, fresh off a climbing trip to Indian Creek, and my old coach had asked if I could bop over to the Lazy Lizard hostel to help her wrangle teenagers for a couple days. When I showed up they were all putting on sunscreen… under their jerseys. They wanted to optimize their tan line potential during their short time in the desert. I introduced myself, then mentioned that they could make cooler designs if they used duct tape. Things were pretty much okay from there.
The thing about mountain bikers is that we all like the same things. Going fast, looking silly, getting scared. We treasure our scars and tan lines, and I wasn’t about to tell anyone otherwise. Wrangling is easy when you’re all stampeding in the same direction! It took a while for the deeper lessons to sink in.
For one, I see myself in every kid I coach. I wasn’t what you’d call a great success in high school, in fact I hardly went— and bikes became my solace. Now I see so many others on the same path, and it not only makes me feel less alone, but it becomes almost a gift to help them on their way. I love seeing them find their tribe the way I found mine.
Once I spent an entire season riding behind the same eight year old girl, because she was always the last rider in the group and I was always the sweeper. I watched the absolute battle she went through every time we approached something scary, and every time I’d turn on the praise; “Come on, girl! You’ve got this! Relax, you can do it!” and sometimes she’d give it a couple more pedals before crashing or putting a foot down.
I shared her frustration and defeat, but you know what? She never gave up. And by the end of the season she cleaned her nemesis rock garden, and I shit you not, I almost cried. I like to think she’s got her own “you got this!” running in her head when she sees that scary stuff now, whether she’s on a bike or not.
Of course, it’s not all corny stories and life lessons. Sometimes I’m the one who gets the lesson— like when my kids get hurt, or lost, or sick and I have to find them, or bandage them up, or watch them be disappointed. I get scared for them. I doubt my ability to teach them everything they need to know. Sometimes I crash and get hurt trying to show them what to do, and then they all laugh at me, which is actually good for someone who tends to take herself too seriously.
When I started coaching, I was at the end of my racing life, and possibly riding altogether. I hated my bike, hated training alone all the time, and felt pretty cynical about it all. Coaching has given me back my love for two wheels. It’s made me realize that this sport isn’t about fast times or light gear or training the hardest— it’s about going outside with your friends and doing stuff that scares you, and then passing the feeling on. If that’s the difference between doing or teaching, I’ll choose the latter every time.