by Mark McConnell
He has a nice beard. He also has a unique fashion sense, makes friends easily, and enjoys travel. He can also ride fast. Very fast.
Dreams. We all have them. Not the kind of dreams you wake up from, but the kind of vivid imagery that runs on quiet loops in the conscious recess' of our minds only to remind us of what could or could not be depending on how much we feed them.
Wants. They are constant, plentiful and desperate for our attention, always. Like a carrot and stick that drives the donkey in a multitude of directions, I believe following the right wants at the correct pace is the healthiest way to realize our dreams. Let me explain...
For the past fourteen years I’ve slowly begun to better understand how to give the right wants in my life the attention and grace they deserve in order to achieve and live my dreams. With a support network so vast that it now stretches across oceans, I believe the vulnerable fourteen year old Mark would be pleased to see the relationships we’ve built, wants we’ve pursued, and dreams we’ve unlocked. Are you listening to what your dreams are asking of you? It’s a path worth venturing down, as long as you’re willing to chase the right carrots.
When I was fourteen: I was overweight, a smoker, getting in heaps of trouble and generally hanging out with the wrong crew. I wanted to stop being bullied in school, I wanted to respect who I was but didn’t know how. It was my dream to lose the weight, become well liked and generally accepted by my peers at that vulnerable age.
When I was sixteen: I was spending lunch hours on the high school track covering five kilometres every day. I dropped my old friends and made kinder ones, improved my habits, healthily shed the weight and gained some self confidence in stride. I was enjoying running so much that I wanted to join a club and start racing. It was my dream to see where else running could take me.
When I was eighteen: I went to University and ran cross country for the U of C Dinos. I was getting an education, had a budding social life, a part-time job, and was running eighty kilometre weeks in pursuit of perfecting my athleticism. I wanted to be one of the best distance runners on the team along with so much more. It was my dream to win races on a National level. At least, that’s what I told myself before going to Sunday practice with the occasional hangover on those early crisp Fall mornings. I succumbed to injury from overtraining and exhaustion before the end of my first year that Winter.
When I was nineteen: I was attending physiotherapy three times a week recovering from surgery to my right knee. I wanted nothing but to run again. I missed the sport, my friends and community within it; I still showed up to practice to do core & gym work, but slowly withdrew from frustration whenever setbacks and other injuries took their toll on my rocky road to recovery. I wanted to run but didn’t have the patience to crawl first. It was my dream to go back and do it all over again. I dropped off the team and later, out of university. I set off alone to rebuild my identity without sport at the foreground.
When I was twenty one: I entered my first cycling race in the citizen class of the Alberta provincial time trial. I finished un-notably, somewhere mid pack -- I was absolutely hooked. After a couple years of commuting by bicycle to a job that was just a job, I found renewed joy in the pursuit of being excellent at something. I wanted to start racing again -- this time on two wheels. It was my dream to see what I could accomplish as a cyclist.
When I was twenty three: I was racing cat two on the road and winning Alberta open men's cyclocross races. I wanted to test my mettle beyond the province -- the pond I lived in now felt smaller than it once was. I ventured Stateside to a handful of UCI's that season and raced against people making an actual living in the sport. Professional riders like Powers, Trebon, Kabush and more were called up to the front, myself many rows behind them. It was my dream to get on their level someday, only this time I would have the patience.
When I was twenty four: I won my first and so far only C2 pro ‘cross race in California. Ego boosted I ventured across the pond to Europe to race against the World Beaters in the Heartland of Cyclocross over Christmas. Belgium was dreary, I was getting my ass handed to me and lapped out of big races, I missed my girlfriend. I wanted to go home but it was my dream to be the best at something again, now on two wheels, and this is where the best all lived -- I figured they were onto something.
When I was twenty six: I married my girlfriend Aimee (the best dreams do come true), but I was also completely off racing form due to the recalled lashings from that first trip to Europe. I spent the better part of the past year away from UCI's in general and kept it local. I was also working as a bike courier in downtown Calgary which had its perks -- I was getting paid to ride my bike all day, but all the while I still dreamt of earning a living as a blue collar pro in Europe instead. The track in the back of my mind wouldn't cease: "Go back." it whispered. Hard times. "What do you have to lose?" it rallied. My savings account for starters. Enter: Hot Sauce Cycling. Dreams are for free, but the act of realizing them would cost more dollars than I was earning schlepping packages all day. So I began selling custom caps & t-shirts at local races to fundraise on the side to fuel my next want: to spend three months overseas racing against the best once again. I continued dreaming of becoming a fully supported pro, I shared my stories and experiences through social media, like-minded individuals around the Globe were getting on board.
I am now twenty eight: I recently flew home from a bout of racing UCI’s which included two World Cups on US soil -- I finished 40th place in one of them. What does that mean? It means I finished 40th place in the World at something -- my best World Cup result to date. That’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s something I never thought I would end up wanting. It’s something I never dreamt of achieving the way I’ve gone about it. Through a combination of worldwide Hot Sauce Cycling supporters that continue to fund my racing through kit, cap and sock sales, to the generous sponsors that have come out of the woodwork over the years to help back a blue collar pro realize his dreams, to the friends, family & partner, Aimee, who believed in me even before I did – this village of supporters keeps my wheels turning year in and out, through each race and onto the next. The gains I’ve seen simply aren’t possible without each and every one of them.
What's next for me? Stay tuned. It's going to be an adventure.