Nevertheless, She Persisted | Mint

Nevertheless, She Persisted

The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Summary

  • There’s a new people’s champion in endurance cycling.

Many professional athletes have to think about calling it a career once they reach the age of 30. But that’s about the time a rising champion of endurance cycling first entered the sport. Now the improbable newcomer who only recently paused her day job as a physician’s assistant has turned in another remarkable performance.

On Saturday Paige Onweller completed one of the sport’s most grueling events in just over 8 hours and 32 minutes. Lyne Lamoureux reports in Cycling News on this particularly exhausting stop on the “un-road" racing series:

The Third Annual Belgian Waffle Ride North Carolina covered 131 miles and 14,000 feet of climbing in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A little more than 40% of the course consisted of non-pavement, called “bone grinding roads" by organisers, that provided sandy and rocky paths, arduous climbs and single-track strewn with water crossings and cacti.

Run in very hot and humid conditions over undulating terrain and difficult off-load sectors, the race promised to be among the hardest if not the hardest course of the series.

As a matter of policy your humble correspondent declines to participate in events marketed as “bone grinding" and also tends to forgo vigorous exercise in areas with visible cacti. Fortunately for cycling fans, Ms. Onweller is made of sterner stuff. She also seems to have a rare ability to maintain her good cheer even through extremely difficult conditions. Here’s an excerpt from her blog reviewing the events of last weekend:

This was my first time riding in this area and it was absolutely beautiful through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The course had a great mix of what I would call “true gravel" roads but a fair bit of road and single track sectors. I also appreciate that [Belgian Waffle Ride] does such a good job with traffic control out on course; I always feel safe at these races because of their commitment to rider safety through intersections. Now your safety on the dirt sectors…that part is up to you!

... A lot of the dirt descents were pretty loose so you had to be cautious to avoid flats but also to keep rubber side down! I really enjoyed the road descents, many of which were windy - but in a good way. Like the ones you can really lean the bike and whip your body around the turns and feel like a kid out there as you meander through the mountains at over 40mph. What a thrill!... As many of us experience this, it’s often quite nice to see friends or make new friends at the end of such a long day smashing pedals.

A separate post on her blog describes how she only just recently entered a sport in which she now competes at the highest level:

I started cycling in 2020 as a way to crosstrain when I was injured running. I had a history as an endurance athlete and had been a long time distance runner and ran collegiately (many moons ago). As it turns out, when I started riding bikes, I fell in love with cycling and soon discovered I had a lot of raw talent on the bike. There was only one problem…I didn’t know how to ride a bike outside, let alone race a bike among other people....In 2021, I signed up for my first mass start gravel race and the rest is history. I dedicated myself to becoming a student of the sport and I’m still learning every day, even now!

Her big breakthrough came last fall at a race called Big Sugar. Here's an excerpt from her recap:

... I had no clue where I was relative to the other riders. It wasn’t until the last 8-9 miles when the road was mellow and our group was flying that I allowed myself to process and think, “wow I am going to win this!" I started to get goosebumps and tear up while riding. I kept telling myself “hold it together Paige!!" Only those closest to me know how much I have sacrificed to make this happen.

As I crossed the line and was flooded with interviews I knew I was no longer the dark horse. During the course of the day, I went from the media car next to me... not even knowing who I was during the race (could hear them talking about that lol) to the biggest underdog who won. I don’t think I was on anyone’s radar to actually win this thing, but I knew I was capable of it. I rode with confidence and was fearless out there. This really changed things for me and will give me even more confidence to ride at that level in the future, which is exciting as I grow in this sport.

For all the dark horses out there and the total newbs who are just getting started - never give up on what you know you are capable of. You can start riding in your 30’s and learn how to ride a bike at this level. Keep fighting even when you don’t have the support, eventually it will come. Ride with confidence even when others put you down or try to intimidate you. And lastly, you can be fast and fierce, but also nice. Win with class knowing you are the same person on the bike as you are off the bike.

How can anyone not want to celebrate Ms. Onweller’s achievements?

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