This blog is courtesy of Grant Koontz. Follow his journey at Find The Road Less Traveled or on Instagram.
|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 get lost in my mind almost daily to make sense of things and writing my thoughts down might help me come to terms with it all.
I have taken a series of risks over the past few years which seem to always pay off eventually. Even still, sometimes I wonder whether the good fortune will run out and hang me out to dry. Obviously money isn’t everything, but money is a component of what it takes to be successful at just about anything and is usually a component of “good fortune” in just about any definition of the term. When you’re young, money seems to be evidence that people believe you have potential to be productive in the future. But when you’re older and more developed, money shows that people value the work that you are actually doing. For a while I didn’t care what society considered worthy of pursuit. I threw practicality out the window in order to chase my love and passion for cycling. I moved into my 1995 Ford conversion van and chased bike races across the country through college. After some successes on the bike which (surprisingly) resulted in financial gain, I took another leap of faith and moved into a 1985 Ford F-250 with a camper in the bed. I finally reached the decision to buckle down and give this sport the attention it demanded. In order to do that, I moved to Boulder, Colorado which is the Mecca of road cycling in America. Some people considered the pursuit naïve, but others told me they appreciated my courage to follow my dream.
Over the past few years I demonstrated steady progress in the sport and was fortunate enough to race for some teams that compensated my efforts accordingly. Every year I was faster and smarter than before and the sky seemed the limit. Last year I was able to sign a 2-year contract with one of the biggest and most successful teams in America. I fully intended on continuing my progression as a bike racer; bettering myself daily in order to secure a future in the sport. I’m still trying to figure out if the outcome of the situations that followed are fortunate or unfortunate in the grand scheme of things, but its definitely a mix of both in the short run.
I have poured everything I have into the sport of cycling only to see the monetary returns completely vanish. I am apparently too old to be paid for my potential and too spry to have the skills to pay the bills. My progression as a cyclist continued but the growth came through struggle rather than success. All throughout last year I suffered from a debilitating breathing disorder and struggled with crashes and anxiety. The year came to a climax last fall (pun intended) with a training crash that ended my season prematurely and left me with a shattered bone in my right elbow and my two-year racing contract cut in half. The rug was pulled out from under me, so to speak, which left me scrambling to secure a contract for the 2019 season. Catastrophe turned my optimistic naivety into a seemingly matured sense of pessimism. I contacted a handful of teams foreign and domestic, amateur and professional. No other team saw me as a valuable asset enough to compensate me financially. The fact of the matter is that the situation caused me to question heavily whether or not this dream was over. If the powerful people of the sport didn’t believe in me, how could I possibly believe in myself? The idea of doors opening and doors closing ran rampant through my head. Was this string of bad luck actually self inflicted? I decided to pull the plug on it all and started thinking about life after cycling. I fell into a bit of a depression.
Through the recovery process from my arm surgery, my desire to race my bike again came back with undeniable force. I contacted some friends who run the small but stout DNA Racing team out of Oklahoma City. They agreed to help me get a bike and some other equipment to get me back on my feet. They believed in me more than I believed in myself at that point, and I am forever grateful. Not long after that I was contacted by a friend from college who miraculously heard about what I was going through and wanted to help. I regained my energy and motivation because of these people who didn’t lose hope even when I did. Over the winter I decided on a plan that would either make or break me. One final crack to see if I could “make it”. I was going to use up the last of my savings in order to jump across the pond to Belgium where I felt I had a better chance of finding financial compensation for my skills. I have friends through the Texas cycling community who agreed to help me pursue that dream in Belgium and assist facilitating some of the trip. If I succeeded, I was back in the business of bike racing. If I failed, I’d likely have to move back to Texas, hang up the bike, and flounder for a bit to find a “real” job and “settle down” (blah). Cycling demands extensive amounts of time and dedication in order to be successful. I decided that getting even a part time job in the meantime would decrease my chances of success and take away from my pursuits on the bike. Success would require my everything.
Throughout the winter of 2018 and spring of 2019 I used what little money I had to chase the biggest races I could get into thus racing for a number of different teams in a number of different countries. I trained hard, raced hard, and achieved some of the biggest race result of my career. I am fitter and faster than I have ever been. Following my successes racing on the road, I attended a training camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The track cycling program was scouting talent in order to build itself back into an internationally competitive program. The program has suffered over the years due to lack of interest and monetary support but has been given a new lease on life because of the announcement of the 2028 Games being held on home soil in Los Angeles. Track cycling is new to me, but the training camp at the OTC went surprisingly well. A week after the track camp, I received an offer from a professional road team for a mid-season contract and the promise of a stage race campaign across Europe. The caveat was that it would require everything in my savings account and more, and the trip overlaps with track events necessary to having a shot at making the 2020 Olympic team. The Belgium endeavor also had a similar price tag and timeline. I deliberated over the following weeks on which of the three routes I should take. I did not reach a conclusion easily and take the decision lightly. I’m not acting according to anyone’s desires but my own. I have decided to pursue track cycling wholeheartedly and try to help the United States become internationally competitive again. I have temporarily moved my truck out to Colorado Springs in order to make this endeavor more practical and have essentially assumed the role of “house-sitter” for a couple of friends here locally which has made this transition infinitely easier.
Over the past few months I have moved around to try and re-establish a home. A home where I can thrive in life and in sport. I have called my truck “home” for almost 2 years now and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I legitimately enjoy the freedom of “truck life” but it definitely doesn’t come without it’s challenges. I try to hide it, but I definitely struggle with feelings of dependence. Some days I feel like a professional athlete chasing big dreams and fighting the good fight. Other days I feel like a homeless bum who leeches off other people’s hard earned resources in order to pursue childish dreams and impossible goals. I don’t say any of this to gain sympathy, and I do not want handouts. I guess I just want people to understand what is real. I have mostly used Instagram as the medium to communicate my life with people and while I try to be real and show the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’m not sure that point always gets across. So here is the story… Here is the struggle. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it certainly isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I am fighting daily to stay positive and better myself daily both as an athlete and as a human being. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if the fight is futile. How long can I keep living like this? Or better yet, how long do I want to keep living like this? What I do know is that I still wake up every day with a burning desire to keep bettering myself as a cyclist in order to reach my peak as a racer. As long as that fire keeps burning, I’m going to do everything I can to fan the flame. The Olympics might be a long shot, but someone important told me there’s a chance… and that’s the most encouraging piece of information I’ve heard in quite some time.
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.