Competitive Athletic Identity During a Pandemic When All Your Competitions Are Gone by Kaitlyn Shikaze

October 18, 2020

Sometimes it takes losing your identity to allow yourself to find and search for your true identity.

Before I dive in, I’d just like to give a shout out to the OCA and the amazing Molly Hurtford for simply doing what they do, truly caring about high performance athletes and seeing them as more than just athletes but as people. They inspired me to think about this topic and to reflect, realize and expand my identity as an athlete during this pandemic. Thanks!

I used to describe myself as a XC MTB racer. Not much else. I dedicated most of my time to being that and to becoming a better racer everyday. Which was far from a bad thing, it definitely allowed me to achieve some of my biggest goals. I solely focused on making every action contribute to achieving my goals in cycling, because my goals scared me.

A lot. Sometimes last year my fears of letting myself down in not achieving my goal of going to MSA for Worlds, would almost break me. So every step I took every day, I promised to make it count towards my goal so that even if I didn’t make it, I knew I had done absolutely everything in my control to make it.

That was me last year, 2019. My second (and final) year as a junior racer. Extremely motivated and goal orientated. Constantly racing, improving, refining and seeing my results getting me closer and closer to that huge scary goal of mine.

But, you can’t compare yourself to who you were last year. Last year we weren’t in a global pandemic. Last year we weren’t forced to socially isolate. Last year we weren’t surrounded by global crises. It doesn’t make this year bad, it just makes it different.

“Different isn’t bad, it’s just not the same”. – Anne with an E (My most recent Netflix show obsession :)).

This year, by the time racing would have ramped up in April/May, it was looking like there wasn’t going to be much racing at all this season.

With the season being canceled and the world turned upside down I struggled to find my description, my identity.

Off the top of my head I can count 3 times this summer I felt extremely burnt out. Where honestly the last thing I wanted to do was ride my bike; we weren’t even racing and I wasn’t formally training so there was no “overtraining or over competing” to blame. I felt lost. I am beyond grateful for what cycling has given me and taught me, from an incredible cycling community to countless life lessons and opportunities of a lifetime.

However when I found myself, done school for the year, with nothing else to do but train for races that were not happening, I hit a mental wall. I didn’t want to ride, but I still wanted to train. I recognized how fortunate I was to be able to ride, to have time to train hard for the races that I knew would eventually return and for cycling to be a sport where I could train almost normally given the pandemic, but I felt like I couldn’t. This inability to ride took a toll on me. If I wasn’t training to be a bike racer, then who was I? What else did I do? What else could I do?

“If I’m not racing a bike, I’m not a bike racer, then who am I?” I thought. Many days I despised my bike out of frustration of not being the focused racer it thought I was and not knowing who I am. But, this year I learned I was so much more. I am a racer, I am a cyclist, I am an athlete, I am a person. I am a person who enjoys riding and racing bicycles but I also enjoy A LOT of other things. Things that I’m not necessarily as passionate about as cycling, but I still need to find time to enjoy them and make them a part of my identity. It took this halt of the world for me to stop and realize this. I had to lose, what I thought was my identity, to find and continue searching and creating my true identity.

This year I learned I’m a cyclist. I learned I’m an artist, a guitarist, a writer, a student, a coach, a friend, a leader, a photographer, an activist, a believer, an adventurer, a chef, an explorer, and a creator. It doesn’t mean I’m any less of a bike racer and it doesn’t mean I need to stop dreaming of racing and becoming a better racer than the day before. It just means I’m more than just that. And not everyone has to know or see me as all of those and that’s okay. It also doesn’t mean I’m as good at all those things or spend as much time on all of them either. There’s a reason I don’t hope to open a restaurant and why you’ve never seen a video of me singing in public ;). But they are still part of my growing identity and things I am truly passionate about.  I also learned that identities are not categorical. That an athlete can also be an artist. That an introvert can also be very friendly and social and that you don’t have to call yourself a political person to have passionate opinions.

I learned that I don’t HAVE to be who I think I NEED to be in order to be successful. I will be SUCCESSFUL if I allow myself to be whoever I WANT to be.

I think the most important part of exploring my identity was realizing that I love cycling not only for racing. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing quite as rewarding as working hard and having the legs to perform well and suffer on race day. However, there is so much more to cycling than racing. 2020 taught me that. The biggest thing that made my summer was my love for adventure and challenge. This definitely comes with racing, but I quickly learned that it can come without racing too. Crazy epic distances and epic rides and going out just for the purpose of exploring nature. I definitely fed off of adventure and the amazement of where a bike can take you this year.

Some of the most memorable epic rides this season have been, riding 420km in a weekend for the Queen’s Cycling Distance Challenge, riding the 320km Cannonball bikepack route in one day, riding 600km of local singletrack in 7 days on my DIY stage race, riding 330km from Oakville to Queen’s University in Kingston, and the latest adventure, bikepacking the GNR in 3 days with legends who have bikepacked all over the world.

I recognize I am extremely fortunate to be able to speak of growth from this year as so many have been negatively impacted from COVID-19. But I know that I was able to grow and learn because of the honesty and expression of vulnerability that others have shared.  And that although it can sometimes look like people are having highlight adventure years, that its important to share honesty as well and connect to others who may be struggling though these times. I hope that if I share my honest lessons, open myself up for vulnerability and am able to help one person in some way – it is worth my time and worth the risk.

I want to thank my Highgate girls and especially Deirdre, the woman behind the whole masterpiece who inspires me to be truthful to myself and look in the best interest of others. Joining Highgate this year for my road team has been one of my best decisions. Even without any road races, I am beyond grateful for a group of incredibly encouraging and accepting women from the Highgate community who have allowed me to be comfortable to share and express the important lessons this season has taught me.

To conclude, this year I’ve learned that I am a bike racer not BECAUSE I race, compete and train hard. But, because IN SPITE of NO races, competitions and normal training, I am dedicated to the things that I am passionate about and strive for creativity, adventure and challenge.

I’m still trying to find my identity. I’m not sure if anyone ever completely finds it. But I know that the acceptance of growth is one of the most important steps. And growth doesn’t happen in a straight line.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading <3

Kaitlyn Shikaze