SPOKE: Becky Furuta on Bikes, and Life – Entitlement

By Becky Furuta

A great burden is lifted in sport and in life when you come to the realization that no one owes you anything at all.

Athletes, by definition, have a competitive spirit. It’s why we do what we do. It’s the reason I am on the bike trainer at 4am, in the silent darkness with the moon reflecting off the window pane and the dog dozing lazily next to my bicycle. It’s the afternoons I spend running in the pouring rain or the quietly falling snow until my feet are so damp and my toes so wrinkled that I must peel them from my sneakers. It’s the time when I turned the last corner of the race, with my legs straining against the burn of my muscles and the taste of bile at the back of my throat.

And sometimes, that competitive drive to be better can dampen our happiness for others.

The more talented and driven the athlete becomes, the more inclined the person is to believe that they are special, amazing, one-of-a-kind. Eventually, some athletes come to believe that there are things to which they are fundamentally owed, and they go about expending every manner of physical and emotional energy in the process of collecting their entitlements. A great burden is lifted in sport and in life when you come to the realization that no one owes you anything at all.

Cycling has taught me a kind of selfless joy I might not have otherwise uncovered.

In my life, I wasn’t always eager to be happy for other people. It was as if I had two speeds: neutrality or jealousy. I could feign enthusiasm when my friend at the office got a promotion or my co-worker a big raise, but rarely did I feel any authentic sense of happiness or even satisfaction when confronted with the success of another.

When I began racing my bike, I was suddenly part of a team. I was tasked with earning the admiration and respect of others.

My teammates and I would spend countless hours together on the road, in hotels and host houses, our bodies dotted with granules of salty sweat on the sidelines of races and at the tops of KOMs, standing in kitchens where we would peel the papery skins from garlic and slice tomatoes the size of our palms for the evening meal of pasta shared with one another.

Buried in those moments, I learned that heartbreaks, like victories, are best absorbed with friends. I learned that my coaches and my sponsors didn’t owe me anything, but I owed it to myself to be the best person possible. (And when you become that kind of individual, others want to provide you with the things you need in exchange for what you are giving back to them.) I learned that it is my absolute privilege to witness the bones and bruises another has healed to exist in the moment of their success. I remembered how lucky I was to travel if not in the physical presence of my teammates, but in the confines of their hearts. They travel in mine, as well.

And I learned to extend my hands and aching tendons, to feel the skin pulling against the woody bones of my fingers, past my own longing and disappointment and toward the happiness of others. It costs nothing at all to remove your own desires from the equation, and to feel relief and joy for another.

The world is a blank slate composed of abundant opportunities and fabulous adventures. Cycling taught me how to make the best of it all, and how to share those possibilities with the people around me.

{For my longtime teammate and friend, Sam Brand, who was recently selected to represent Team Isle of Man at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, alongside Mark Cavendish. I have never in my cycling career had a happier or more satisfying moment than when I got word of Sam’s accomplishment.}

 

Becky Furuta is an elite cyclist who has spent the last seven years racing for some of the most recognizable teams in cycling. She has worked to advocate for greater equality in the sport of women’s cycling, and volunteers for programs aimed at teaching kids with disabilities to ride bicycles. In her spare time, she works as a sports vision specialist at an optometric practice in Golden. She makes her home in Longmont with her husband, two children and her hound.

“SPOKE” Series background:
My life could be as easily measured in the passing of minutes as in the strokes of pedals. Much of my 39 years on the planet has been spent riding, from the moment my dad bought me my first black and white BMX bicycle to the afternoon when a large cardboard box arrived on my front doorstep containing a sponsor provided road bike that looked more like art than a machine. For more than seven years spread over a decade, I have raced a bike all over the world. I was given the kind of opportunities most bike racers can only dream of having, and I knew it could all be gone in an instant.

Elite cycling can be exhausting and relentless, physically and psychologically stressful and entirely unforgiving. It can also be absolute magic. I made it work because, for the most part, I was able to remain present in the moment. I never looked too far ahead or worried about what would come next because, just like riding itself, there were way too many variables. Instead, I drank up every thirsty moment and was grateful for the chance to just be a part of the show.

Cycling has a spectacular way of creating human connections, breaking down barriers and cultural differences, and creating unity. For all the solitary hours I spend inside the space of my thoughts, training and traveling by myself, I am rarely alone. And for the last five years of sponsorship, I have kept safe in the pocket of my pants the best of the people I have met and the lessons I have learned. I wish, in retrospect, that I were the kind of person who could keep a journal, but I rarely had time to write much of anything on the road. Instead, I kept the bits and pieces of wisdom and advice in a series of memos and texts stored in my phone. As you can imagine, there are hundreds of these little snippets, cast over Girona and Copenhagen and Lisbon, Dickinson, North Dakota and Tulsa, Oklahoma. They have become the patchwork of my experiences that will last long after I cross the final finish line of my racing career.

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