By Novo Nordisk Pro Cyclist Becky Furuta
Walking into Primal Wear Headquarters in Cherry Creek a month ago to talk to a room full of women about cycling and nutrition, I was reminded that there is never a moment in the life of a woman when “size” and “shape” cease to be relevant. I entertained a few dozen questions about weight loss and, more specifically, about how being thinner might translate to being faster on a bicycle.
This experience made me think back to a race a few years ago in the Arizona desert. I thought of the race’s long ascent under the blazingPhoenix sun. It was a race that was going faster than I expected. I knew only one woman in the field – my friend from Colorado, Kim Turner. As we made our way through the cactus covered landscape, I was desperate to move up as legendary cyclist Evelyn Stevens was forcing the pace as we approached the base of the climb.
I knew that if I stayed where I was, I’d be off the back and my day would be over. I glanced to my right and saw another rider making a move into the wind. She was a short, muscular girl with broad shoulders and thick quads. To be honest, I hesitated while trying to decide if I should grab her wheel. I questioned if she was the strongest person to follow up the climb. While that thought shuffled through my brain, I found myself out of the saddle and searching for air as the woman rode away from me.
The mind of an athlete is a complicated landscape. For every podium and every medal tucked away in my closet, there are hundreds of unsated desires and moments of self-doubt. As much as I love cycling, there’s also a hint of obsession in my pursuit. In 2008, I told myself I’d quit racing and that I was walking away from cycling altogether. By 2010, I was at a training camp in Tucson with Team Type 1. I tried to leave it behind,but I couldn’t do it. With this new team, I found another aspect to bring value to my cycling. Team Type 1 eventually morphed into Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first all-diabetes cycling team. As a female racing with type 1 diabetes, it was empowering to show others that I can still achieve my goals while racing with the disease.
When it comes to body image, I’ve at times found myself on a loop of restrictive eating and compulsive exercise so that it felt like I was on a never-ending rollercoaster. When I returned to racing, the process of getting everything under control again was both imperfect and deeply human. I learned more about why I loved to race and figured out what I wanted to accomplish. To no surprise, it had nothing to do with how much I weighed. I decided to ride toward my best self, without the anxieties that accompany wearing the tightest lycra skinsuit or based on what companies and magazines say an athlete should look like.
By the time I returned to cycling, I had gained maturity and perspective. I was a mother with a daughter of my own. I knew that equating athletic success to a number on a scale or linking control and deprivation were not traits I wanted to pass on to her. Suddenly, I no longer felt like I needed to apologize for not being thin enough or for being too muscular and for defying other’s notions of “femininity.” Self-esteem is not a prerequisite to gender equality.
For me, cycling has always been an empowering journey into myself. I can’t simultaneously push my limits while disparaging the very vessel that carries me across the finish line. From my crooked, calloused fingers to the bunions on my toes, this is my body. I have to own it…every bit. And so, with a kind of restless joy, I keep climbing.
That afternoon in the Arizona desert, I had hope. There is always optimism in sitting at the base of a hill and pointing a bicycle toward the sky. You’re only “too heavy” if you let your fears weigh you down.