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Life in the Saddle Part 1 – Olympian Monique Sullivan’s Guide to Riding and Racing

courtesy of Monique Sullivan

August 04, 2016 – Monique Sullivan started bike racing at the age of 12, and chased her Olympic dream for the next 11 years. It wasn’t easy. At the age of 23 the hard work paid off and Monique proudly joined Team Canada at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England. Against the best track cyclists in the world, she finished 6th in the Keirin (a track cycling event where cyclists follow a motorized pacer before sprinting to the finish). It was the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and the roller coaster ride that is high performance sport.

 ©  courtesy of Monique Sullivan
Following the Olympics, Sullivan took two-years off the bike to work on her mechanical engineering degree. She recently returned to racing, and in her words, she’s “having more fun than ever on the bike.” In this 5-part series, Sullivan describes what it takes to become an Olympian and shares some advice about the journey. In Part I, she suggests the gap between the athletes you see on TV and yourself may not be as big as you think.

Sullivan is a multi-time national champ and took home three golds from the PanAm 2015 Games; placed 4th in Women’s Keirin on the final day of 2015 UCI Track Worlds in France; won bronze in the Keirin at the World Cup in New Zealand in Dec. 2015; placed fourth in the Team Sprint with Kate O’Brien at the World Cup in Hong Kong in 2015; set a national Team Sprint record on the Mattamy Homes track in Milton, ON in July 2016 before heading to the Games; she’ll race the Keirin, the Sprint and the Team Sprint in Rio. – ed.

Part I: Racing at the Olympics
There is something very misleading about watching the Olympics on TV. There seems to be an invisible barrier that appears between you and the athletes competing on the screen. It’s very easy to put the Olympians into a box and yourself in another.

Monique racing at the Olympics  ©  courtesy of Monique Sullivan
I want you to know something: Olympic athletes are the same as everybody else. They just found something they love so much – in this case, sport – that they were willing to devote their entire life to it. Even now, even though I can call myself an “Olympian”, I still sometimes watch TV and hold those athletes on a pedestal. I sometimes feel like a fraud when people think I’m cool just because I went to the Olympics. I want to tell them “I am just the same as you”!

I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity to train with a World Champion and Olympic Champion a few years ago. She is my favourite cyclist of all time, and I couldn’t believe I would get to train with her. When I did, I had a remarkable realization: the world’s best athletes do the same things I do. They wake up and eat a healthy breakfast, lift weights and drink recovery shakes. They rest and then go to the track where they do the same type of workouts I regularly do at home. They get tired. They get cranky. They have good days and bad days. There are no secrets. Sure, the teams with a lot of money have fancier bikes and the riders don’t have to mix their own shakes or analyze their own power data. But at the end of the day, those things don’t make the biggest difference.

Here are some tips that helped me along the way.

  • Staying healthy so you can train properly each day makes a difference;
  • Rest and recovery makes a huge difference;
  • Not being sick on race day makes a difference; and,
  • Having the guts to wake up each day and try my hardest even when things aren’t going well… that makes a difference.

Try not to get too caught up in the fancy stuff. I raced in Burnaby (a small, old track near Vancouver, BC) for many years before I travelled overseas to race on fancy velodromes. You know what I learned? Racing in Burnaby is fun. Racing with grown men because there weren’t enough ladies made me fast. Riding bikes is riding bikes, no matter what bike you’re on or what track you train on. If you train hard enough, someone will give you a fancy bike to ride on someday. Until then, ride the bike you’ve got, have fun, and kick some butt!

Life in the Saddle Part 2 and Part 3

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