Carmen Small Journal: It was all a dream

In her first rider journal, Carmen Small reflects on how her dreams reflect anxieties and considers what it takes to overcome those fears

Photo: Emily Maye

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Editor’s note: Carmen Small is training to race the team pursuit at the Rio Olympics, and will be contributing rider journals to VeloNews throughout the upcoming season. She’s been a professional for nine years, and prior to that, she taught middle and high school mathematics and did a brief stint at Denver Community College.

I wake up wondering, “Could that have happened? Does it even make sense?”

I find myself outside on a velodrome, but it’s more of a running track with slight banking, and a little longer than it should be. Lauren Tamayo is next to me, telling me my hands can’t cross the line because we will be disqualified. Then we have to run in all our cycling gear — yes in helmets and bike shoes — in team pursuit formation for one lap before we mount our bikes and complete the four kilometers. I’ve got this! I used to run track, and I did cyclocross, so I will nail that bike mount. Wait this is crazy! I shake off the sleep, and I think anxiety is starting to creep in.

I sigh and realize it was a dream. Then, I get up and prepare. Only a few more days of training remain until team pursuit camp.

A few months ago, I was approached by the editors at Velonews who asked me to write a rider diary. It took me all of five minutes to consider the idea, and I wrote back saying, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” Their response was, “Most concise reply…ever! Ha ha. Great news.”

I laughed at myself. It never even crossed my mind that my curt response was unusual, but it says a lot about who I am and how I like to do things. Then I realized, “Oh my gosh … what did I get myself into?”

I never really enjoyed writing in school. I got my degree from Colorado State University in mathematics, which did not require a great deal of writing, as you can imagine. So maybe (just maybe) my “awesome,” “amazing,” and “exhilarating” stories will overshadow my novice writing ability, and you’ll be glad to have my voice on Velonews after all.

But back to the story, my dream.

I wake up in a bit of a panic, a little confused, wondering, “Where am I?” I shake off the sleep and start to figure things out.

The strange “where am I” feeling I get when waking happens frequently during the season, a side effect of traveling all over the world, moving in and out of hotel rooms weekly. There are those of you thinking, “Wow, that’s great, and how much fun!”

Believe me when I say it’s not really that fun when you wake up in the middle of the night, and it’s so dark you can’t see, let alone think. You have to stop and ask yourself, “Where is the bathroom? What hotel is this? And what country am I in?” Those of you who travel a lot know how it gets less novel and more than a little annoying, but I still wouldn’t trade it for anything! I have an amazing job, even when it’s dark and I end up in a hallway instead of the bathroom. So no complaining, and back to the point.

This is not abnormal, I believe that everyone, elite athletes and non-athletes alike, have dreams that reveal our stress and anxiety. When I was a triathlete (yes I said it), I had dreams about getting to the transition zone and not being able to find my bike, or forgetting my running shoes. As a cyclist, I would dream that I didn’t have my bike shoes and had to race in tennis shoes. As a volleyball player I would show up to the game late and miss the whole thing. See a pattern here?

I’ve even had crazy dreams when I was teaching, showing up to teach on a Saturday, or missing work because I slept in. The fear of failure and list of dreams goes on and on.

I think the real question is, what we do with the anxiety? Do we overcome it and still perform our best, or does it conquer our every waking and non-waking hour, sending us diving under the covers, hoping for a better dream. I’ll keep having those dreams — good and bad alike — but I’ll also keep pursuing life with passion, and I know that I’ll have some funny, stressful, exciting, and unique stories to tell you in 2015.

Hopefully, in the long run, I’ll be able to realize my true dream, to represent the U.S. at next year’s Olympics.

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