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Is she really still talking about the bike?
When I was nine-years-old, my club soccer coach used to have us start every practice with the same warm-up activity: juggling. We were expected to arrive at practice 30 minutes before the designated start time, and as soon as our shin guards and cleats were on, we tossed our soccer ball out into the grass and began the routine: roll the ball back toward your body with the bottom of your cleat, quickly move your foot to the ground to get your toe underneath the ball, lift your foot ever so slightly to get the ball in the air, gently kick it up between your two feet until it drops to the ground. Repeat. It probably took us all a few months of clumsiness and awkward movements, but soon enough, at nine-years-old, we were juggling the ball on our feet and thighs like it was another part of our body. We could hold full conversations, walk across the field, fix a ponytail, and still never let the ball drop to the ground.
I played competitive soccer until I couldn’t anymore, with a left knee that had done all it could do for me for 16 years before it needed a hefty dose of surgical repairs. That’s when I had to stop juggling for a while.
But I will never forget the moment in 2015, six months pregnant with my third child, when I was out in our backyard with my other two littles. Right there on the grass, old and worn and definitely a bit deflated, an old soccer ball was lying against the fence. Instinctively, I walked over, put my foot on top of the ball, rolled it back toward my body, quickly moved my foot to the ground to get my toe underneath it, lifted my foot ever so slightly to get the ball in the air, and began gently kicking it up between my two feet until it dropped to the ground.
I think I juggled something like 25 or 30 times before the ball fell.
I looked around for a witness, someone to be impressed that after ten years, three pregnancies, and ten knee surgeries, my feet still knew exactly what to do. There was no one within sight but my three and one-year-old, and they didn’t notice, nor would they have really cared. My juggling display didn’t look as smooth as it used to, certainly. But as soon as I saw that free soccer ball in the yard, my body knew it, as if it was telling me, you’ve done this before, Katie, you can do it again. Muscle memory, just like our other memories, can be a very powerful tool.
Right now I am training for the bike portion of a triathlon with my husband–my first “real” competition since I stopped playing soccer. If you have been around here or listened to the C+C podcast for a bit, you know about my deep affection for the Peloton bike. What started as a pandemic and post-baby purchase that would allow me to workout in my own house became something I will forever credit to helping me through one of the most challenging seasons of my life. Stress and anxiety drove me to move my body, and moving my body, without a doubt, helped metabolize the pain. In the process, I racked up over 550 rides in the last year and half and, before registering for this triathlon, I no doubt had an irrational sense of confidence in my ability.
Then I started riding outside. And friends, it’s not exactly the same thing. Being outside, navigating traffic, unclipping my feet from the pedals before I fall, and knowing that on the Peloton you can quit halfway up a hill and there is no consequence, but that is simply not true on a real hill–you either go forward, or you go backwards. It’s all more to manage, and it’s harder work.
But that doesn’t mean I have done any work to get here.
Last weekend during an outdoor ride, when I was trying to train at my goal speed for the triathlon, my legs felt done. Done done. And I was on a mostly flat trail, which made me feel defeated because if I can’t maintain the strong pace I need when it’s moderately flat, how will I do it on rolling hills?
And then I thought back to the several hundred Peloton rides. Sure, the rides were indoors on a stationary bike, but they were still very hard. I’ve climbed lots and lots and lots of tough hills. I’ve made it through tabata sets and very heavy resistance. Maybe it’s not exactly the same, but I have done this before. I remember what a challenge feels like.
And that’s what I started telling myself.
Because that's how I know I can do it again.
In some miraculous way, I think all of my life has been like this. Nearly every “first” was prefaced by something I could draw on to prove to me I was ready. Of course you cannot duplicate everything in life: the first time you travel out of the country by yourself, the first big fight with your spouse, the first few weeks of sleepless nights with a newborn, or the first time you walk through a life-altering diagnosis with your child.
I haven’t had six children before. I haven’t had pre-teens. I don’t have years of experience fighting hard for the marriage I want. We certainly can’t always say “we’ve done this before.”
But we can say we know what a challenge feels like. We’ve put in some reps of hard work in this life, because life demands that from us. And that, friends, is a really good thing.
I mean, look what you’ve made it through. Look where grace has carried you.
Just this week, with 12.5 very fast miles on a bike in just 4 weeks heavy on my mind, Alex mentioned to me another triathlon the following weekend, this one with a 20-mile bike portion.
“You up for it?” he asked.
My eyes got very wide, because I know how hard I will have to work in the next month to feel ready for that.
But I’m saying yes, not because it will be easy, or pretty, or impressive to anyone watching. I’m saying yes because I remember.
And it’s all just got me thinking, isn't it amazing how God uses everything in our life to prepare us for the rest of our life?
Pictured: Harper teaching Braylen to drive the Power Wheels, and me watching and praying they don’t hit the fence on one certain neighbor’s side. Maybe things like this will prepare me for everything they will learn on their own, with me just watching, and praying.