By Becky Furuta
“Go on…get your hopes up. Have some faith, and stop holding yourself back. Look up, and get ready to rise above.”
Saxophone player at Union Station, Washington, District of Columbia
I stepped off the metro and on to a street I had walked every day for two years more than a lifetime ago. Past the brass bell embedded in cement outside the Heritage Foundation, across the street and up two flights of stairs. Nathanael Goldberg, who once retrieved my mail and made my photocopies, was now a fellow at Innovations for Poverty Action, and his work was cited in every policy journal in the country. The legislative associate with whom I once sat in the White House Rose Garden during a bill signing, Rene Bryce-Laporte, was now seated on the Board of Directors for the prestigious Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. The Development Director who looked at me gently and told me that it was time to go home to Colorado when my mother called to say she was going to die, Kim Posich, had himself passed away that very month on the back porch of his home after a long battle with ALS. And the man for whom I worked all those years, Dr. Mohammed Yunus, had won himself a Nobel Peace Prize.
And on that street, I felt the lump in my throat swell at the thought that I had walked away from my own hopes and ambitions to care for a woman who never cared as much for me. I took a long breath and inhaled the low notes of a saxophone echoing beneath the pillars of the station, and took a seat. I was there with the chill of the cement beneath me, the melancholy wail of jazz and the intersection of 1st Street NW that hadn’t changed in a decade.
I sat for a while, remembering all the things intentionally forgotten, and wondering how my life might have turned out if I had stayed in Washington. I told myself that I had won the lottery. I had made a career in cycling, I was paid to travel the world and race my bicycle. I was given opportunities that my younger self could never have imagined all those years ago, working as a lobbyist and researcher. Still, I could no more shake my regret than I could my shadow.
The man with the saxophone came over and sat next to me on the concrete bench. He clasped his hands, and looked down at the shiny, black shoes on his feet.
“Who are you waiting for? ”
I shook my head. “No one,” I replied.
“Then what? What are you looking for?” And then, intuitively, he understood. “Don’t look back there. There’s nothing for you. It’s long since passed, and look at you now. You’re doing just fine.”
He was, of course, entirely correct. I laughed, nodded, replied, , “yes.” And then, after a moment, I said, “And there’s a lot still ahead.”
He patted my shoulder, picked up his sax, played a few notes. He looked at me firmly and with great kindness, and said, “Go on…get your hopes up. Have some faith, and stop holding yourself back. Look up, and get ready to rise above.”
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.