|Grant Koontz is a current and/or former (depending on how you look at it) professional cyclist trying to make sense of his pursuits and give insight into his life for whoever wants to read|
I’ve had a few people ask me what brought me back. How I rationalized returning to a sport that seemingly chewed me up and spit me out in a matter of months.
Honestly what it took was a resurgence and renewal of perspective and desire. I realized that cycling wasn’t just my job for the past few years.. it was my life. Cycling has given me a community of friends I would die for. Cycling has shown me this beautiful world in the most intimate way possible. The people and the places and the lifestyle are enough to keep me engrossed in this sport and that is the perspective that I lost. Achievement is important, no doubt, but it is not everything and can never be everything.
The sport of cycling, at the professional level, can be all-consuming. You’re either all-in or you’re cutting corners. It requires a lifestyle that revolves around not only maximizing training load, but also minimizing outside stresses to maximize recovery from a high training load. Calling it a “full time job” is truly an understatement. It is a lifestyle which requires you to give it everything some days and do absolutely nothing other days in order for the “gains” to catch up. Only those who can manage their lives and make sacrifices accordingly will be successful in the long run. But the bus doesn’t stop there. A major, but often overlooked, aspect of success is a sense of balance in order to maintain a healthy mental state. Finding and defining what success looks like for you requires a holistic perspective on life and cannot be totally dependent on crossing the finish line first. I discovered that success is extremely subjective and even more, it changes over time. What I viewed as failure last season opened up doors which led me towards life experiences I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
I was giddy like a child on Christmas morning at the team camps in early spring.. so much so that i seemed to have forgotten everything cycling had taught me up to that point. I threw caution to the wind and put my head down and worked myself to a point of building unrealistically high expectations. I don’t regret it; the cliche rings truer than ever — you learn more from your failures than your successes. The events of last season taught me a valuable lesson on perspective and how in life (and cycling) A+B rarely equals C. One of the things I love so much about cycling is how humbling it is at times. More often than not, it pummels egos into the ground. No matter the work ethic, quality of preparation, or good intentions, sometimes you’re simply dealt a hand (or two or three) of lousy cards and you’re forced to figure out how to press on. I don’t say this to displace the root cause of the failure, which was as often my fault as much as it was the circumstances, but it is to say that overcoming adversity (self induced or otherwise) truly is the most growth oriented aspect of sport. I’d like to say I’m on the other end of it now, but I’m not. It’s always a process. Everything is a process and it’s no wonder there are so many catch phrases about overcoming adversity. It is a human condition to need to be constantly reminded that “it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight… but rather the size of the fight in the dog” and “it’s not about how hard you can hit… but rather how hard you can get hit and still get up.”
For the longest time I considered last season a disaster largely because I was straight up told by someone that it was. I viewed it mostly as a missed opportunity to really achieve greatness in this sport and to pursue it to its fullest extent. But what I didn’t realize until recently is that as soon as I signed my professional contract last season, I lost my perspective about how I defined success for myself. It’s easy to dream big, and that’s what I’ve always done. I worked hard and checked all the boxes, but I didn’t ever consider that I might fall short. My desire to try and please everyone caught up with me, and I failed to balance that with how to make myself happy. I got lost in the cloud of chasing what my “superiors” considered success, and what they considered an acceptable way to get there; even if I didn’t always heed their advice, it always lingered as a stressor while trying to prove them wrong. I know that I’ve told myself and others that winning and performance on the bike isn’t the key to happiness, but I don’t think it really sunk in until I lost enough to renew my perspective. Obviously failing to achieve what I believe I’m capable of is still frustrating and disappointing, but I now have the wherewithal to remind myself in most situations how many other beautiful opportunities I’ll get to live through regardless. I think that sense of hope is key to moving forward.
I look back on the past few years of my life and reminisce not only on the victories where I crossed the finish with my hands in the air, but also the experiences and the emotions felt while traveling the world and experiencing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I love that phrase largely because happiness is a pursuit and not a destination; realizing the cliché of appreciating the journey is the whole point of this adventure. Obviously success on the bike is a piece of the puzzle, but success in life isn’t as connected to that as I used to think. I overheard a cycling coach, who is nearing the end of a long and successful career as a racer, coach, and director, say that out of his top 10 moments in his life not a single one was cycling related. That was an eye opener to me, and it speaks to how one defines success for themselves. He backpedaled a little bit and emphasized his love and admiration for this beautiful sport and how it had given him so much, but the significance of those moments have taken a back-seat over time. The successes and failures of sport aren’t insignificant, they just develop over time in ways you can’t necessarily see in the moment. Perspective is everything.
I just watched a Lance Armstrong interview that came out recently where he said, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” His story has been full of ups and downs and lessons learned but he realizes that without the “bad” he wouldn’t be the man he is today. He said he still cherishes so many memories and life experiences that wouldn’t have happened without the terrible things he did. That’s obviously an extreme example, but I can kind of relate to where he’s coming from. Through the good, the bad, and the ugly… you have to keep on living and realize that life is beautiful and by the grace of God, life is renewed regardless of the ruin you perceive to have caused yourself.
So looking back on last season I see the good, the bad, and the ugly and I wouldn’t change a thing. I lived through those experiences and look back on them with nothing but a warm heart. From the highs of simply signing a contract with the team I grew up idolizing, to the lows of crashing (many times) physically and metaphorically and losing my contract. I see those experiences line up in order to put me where I am today. They’ve forced me to look at the bigger picture and realize that wallowing in the past doesn’t accomplish anything. I’ve felt all the feelings of disappointment and frustration enough to cherish my life, my health, and my community more than ever. I try to see everything as a learning experience and a part of the process. I haven’t arrived at some “light at the end of the tunnel”… I just realized that the tunnel is a figment of my imagination and my perception. The light at the end is just the hope which keeps me pushing through the joys and the pains. I’m simply striving to find joy in the process — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The growth never ends though. I just came off a simultaneously humbling and confidence boosting series of criterium (road) races which showed me that my fitness is improving and I’m on track to be fit and fast at track nationals next month. I’m currently in Trexlertown, PA for my first big round of track races. I’m *very* inexperienced on the track and the training I’ve been doing recently has been solely focused on the Team Pursuit event which isn’t until next weekend. I showed up to the track last Thursday to see a sea of national teams from around the world. I should’ve expected it seeing that these are UCI (international cycling federation) events, but I didn’t really piece it all together beforehand and found myself a little shell shocked. I tried to play it cool and fit in, but I ended up not even making it through the qualifying rounds for the scratch race (the only other race I had signed up for on opening weekend). With my ego smashed, I honestly wallowed for a couple of days before I remembered there is a bigger picture and there is obviously work to be done. Over the past few days I’ve tried to get my training back in check and reminded myself that failure is necessary for learning and growth. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’ve got more UCI events on tap this weekend including the all important Team Pursuit. These will be important test events leading into the national championships next month, but regardless of actually winning or losing I’ll be farther down this road (track) and more experienced than I’ve ever been. With that perspective, I literally can’t lose and writing this all out has renewed that perspective. So whether or not this means anything to the reader, it means something to me. Welcome to my world.
Special thanks to the sponsors who believe in me and support me. It means the world.
DNA Racing, Allied Bicycles, Cantu Wheels, Orucase, Vittoria Tires.