I DID IT!!!!! Well, I did most of it, but still - I DID IT!!! And you get to read allllllll about it!
When I was younger, I never thought of myself as an athlete although I
tried every sport possible. I was fat, I was slow, and I didn't always
understand the game because I wasn't allowed to play much given the
first 2 things. I just didn't think I had any athletic capacity until I
started training for the MS150 and did the Mellow Johnny's Saturday
scout-a-route with Stephanie and Julie. I was having some issues since I
was on a hybrid [Read: Really heavy and generally a bit slower than road bikes.] and I didn't know quite what to do until Julie stayed back a
bit to help me get better acquainted with the route and the bike. She
did more than she realizes! She helped me understand that I am actually
really, really strong, pretty fast, and very capable of doing long
distances with some speed. Apparently, I am pretty athletic! (Thanks for
that, Julie!) That ride was actually the longest I'd done in one day
before the MS150: 25 miles. Saturday, April 20, I completed 70 miles. Sunday, April 21, I completed 40 miles, making my grand total of 110 miles,
just a bit shy of the total mileage of our route! I feel like a
different person after finishing the MS150, complete with brand new
thighs as if I traded in the other ones for super powered ones. (I was walking kind of like a baby gazelle with new legs the first few days after! If
you need a visual, watch this video for a few seconds.)
I'll be honest, I was pretty nervous. I had been nervous about it for months, trying to curb it with different flavors of psychobabble like, "It's only 2 days out of my life," and "I am great at recovery," and "It's not as bad as it seems, I'm sure." I found out that I was exactly right: it was only 2 days out of my life, I am great at recovery, and it was no where near as bad as it seems! Way to go on that self-talk, Anslee! (Breathing exercises really came in handy, too.) Coming out of the experience, I have a sense of pride and accomplishment like never, ever, ever before.
The weekend was so much fun! Being apart of a team, and I'll get to some more of this later, was really awesome for me as I haven't been a team player since I was in 10th grade. There were fun moments like when my teammate Hannah gave me a drive-by Clif bar because mine had fallen out of my pocket, when I saved the day during a road-side tire change with the use of my foot pump, and the big slumber party the first night of the ride, complete with the best shower I've ever experienced in my life and the most beautiful display of food and love imaginable. Everyone was so encouraging and so much fun, and the fact that the team was part of my church was really important to me as my church community has been a strong support system for me since I found them around the time that I moved to Austin. They were there when I wanted to run a 5k. They were there for my first fashion show. They were there for countless other events and milestones in my life, and they were definitely there for the MS150.
Most of the route was made up of back roads, roaming through the countryside with cows and farmland and the occasional lingering skunk (Mmm!), so the scenery made for a beautiful ride most of the way. I had to remind myself to look around every now and then to really take it all in, providing a very nice break from the constant, "You can do this. Only a few more miles. Don't think about parts of your body that feel like they are burning/numb right now." Along the way, people were cheering us on from their homes, sides of the road, lawn chairs, tractors, pop up DJ booths, you name it! One family filled their tractor with ice, water, Gatorade, and Natural Light for riders, and invited us to "pop a squat" if we needed to behind their trucks. I will say it was the best Natty Light I've ever had in my life!
Not only was it physically challenging, it was mentally challenging as well, and if you're going to do a ride like that, you should be comfortable with your own thoughts because that is really all you have unless someone is right beside you talking to you the whole way. On the same token, the ride provided a great mental break from life for me. Most of my thoughts were, "You can do it!" "You are a beautiful athlete, Anslee Nicole Connell!" (Yes, sometimes I talk to myself in my head as if my mom were talking to me.) "Just __ miles until the next stop!" "It's like a ride downtown and back, NBD!" Anything I could say to myself to keep pedaling, I said it, and at times, I said it out loud. Saturday night, I realized I didn't think about anything that day that had been bothering me before. I didn't think (a whole lot) about my best friend living in Boston with the bombings and chaos that week. I didn't think about the work I was unable to finish before I left. I didn't think about my bank account balance. I didn't think about Austin Fashion Week or Renegade or how I'm going to make everything I need to make for my business in May. None of that filled my brain because there simply wasn't room for it. I needed every single brain cell to vibrate, "Keep pedaling! You can do it!"
Speaking of mind chatter, a realization I had on the ride may have been a turning point in my life. Back up a few weeks ago to a conversation I had with a close friend of mine when we were talking about giving each other space when we need it. "It's almost like you think you're going to be left behind," he said. I responded with silence because that was the idea I was used to: I always felt left behind. Fast forward to the ride weekend, and the first day I was mostly left behind because I was slower by default as I was on a hybrid and I'm sure for other reasons, too. It didn't bother me that day because I expected it and I turned it into a grand journey the whole way. The second day was a different story, even though that expectation was there, and I almost didn't make it. I sent a text to my group saying that I wasn't sure if I could do it that day when I stopped to have an emotional breakdown in the first couple of miles. I felt extremely disconnected and it was really tough. I remember very specifically thinking, "I do not feel supported and I do not feel safe." A very kind bike martial, named Richard, rode with me to the stop ahead, after so graciously rescuing me in my distress, and at the stop I shared some of my concerns with Angel, another awesome teammate. She just listened and empathized, even though we both knew my issues and frustrations were with myself and not with the team as a whole. She encouraged me and went on her way while I took the bus to the lunch stop and allowed my heart a rest. I met up with the group for lunch and set out a little early so they could pass me in a few miles.
Here's where the turning point in my story happens. After a rough morning of feelings of self-doubt and abandonment, I decided to change my mind about being left behind because I accepted where I was physically, mentally, and emotionally. All I could do was my best, and that was what I set out to do for the rest of the ride to Austin. My team met up with me about a mile or so down the way, and something in me kicked into overdrive and I started to pedal hard. I reached the perfect cruising pace with them, keeping up mostly with Angel and Sam, and then I discovered that I was actually leading them for a bit! It was beautiful in that there I was just a little bit before, feeling sad and sorry for myself with thoughts of giving up my dream, until I decided to fully accept and support myself when they came along and I somehow turned into a leader. I didn't lead the rest of the ride, but that window of realization of my weakness being turned into my strength and being "left behind" was my choice in life turned this seemingly life-long struggle on its head. I choose to lead now, and I'm really excited about where I'm going, on and off the bike.
I couldn't have done the ride without my friends and family. All of my
social media outlets combined with texts all day and into the night, I
was constantly reminded that I really could do this ride, that I was
doing a great job no matter what, and there were so many people behind
me, cheering me on. I was especially excited to hear from Cynthia, my MS
champion! She's a really cool lady, and I look forward to meeting her
one day. My family really came through for me, and I was delighted to get so many texts from them, one in particular read, "Do what u can. We are proud of what u have accomplished to this point. You have gone farther than any Connell/Ball has gone before on any bike on the road to date. LVU." It was a proud moment for all of us, I believe! Thanks to everyone who came along on this ride with me in spirit, prayer, and words of love, and thanks to my team, especially our fearless and wonderful leader Rachel, for being so amazing, so loving, and so wonderfully graceful and encouraging the entire way.