Two summers ago I started my mountain biking journey with a beginner mountain biking course in Buena Vista with VNTRbirds. I pieced together some gear and showed up with a shitty bike, ready to make it work. It was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying – I loved it! After that, I was hooked.
The following summer I invested in a real bike and made a commitment to myself to ride three days a week all summer. And I rode…a lot. I improved my riding and gained confidence. I learned that biking helped me be present. You really have no other choice than to be entirely in the moment when you are dodging certain death. No to-do lists, no worries, no wondering if I unplugged my curling iron. Just grueling climbs with music in my ears, and downhills filled with “weeeee”s and yelps of excitement.
Biking taught me to stop saying sorry and instead say thank you. Almost everyone I ride with has more years of biking experience than me. When I found myself apologizing for being slow and inexperienced, that didn’t feel good. So instead I started saying “thanks for waiting” and what a relief! It freed me from judging myself and my performance. It silenced the voice inside that isn’t always kind.
Biking also taught me to appreciate the burn, to cultivate the desire to go just a little further. I needed the healthy push out of my comfort zone that makes me stronger. What I didn’t realize last summer, while I was growing as a rider, was that I was secretly training for a bigger challenge.
In October of 2022, I learned that I had breast cancer. I was shocked. I was only 43 years old and probably the fittest I’d ever been in my life! I didn’t feel sick, but I could feel the lump. Like most things in my life, I attacked it head on. I made a decision to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction, and scheduled the surgery. I thought after surgery I would be cancer free and could put this behind me. Done and done. But, ironically, the hardest part came after they removed all the cancer and told me I was cancer free. The aftermath is living in a body that suddenly doesn’t feel like my own and dealing with the side effects of hormone altering drugs. Brain fog and depression take over my days turning me into a version of myself that I don’t recognize.
In this struggle, I try to be present like I learned with mountain biking – taking care of myself and practicing gratitude in the moment. Like biking, I try to say thank you for help even though I feel like a burden and my instinct is always to say “I’m sorry”. Not long after my original surgery, I lost an implant to infection. It was painful and now I only have one boob. My doctor said this surgical journey is like the uphill portion of a bike ride. In the beginning, it is challenging and there are obstacles, but when you get to the top it’s all “weeeees” on the way down. I have one more surgery to go in October. So for now, I’m struggling up this mountain. It is not easy and I fail often, but I continue to push and am stronger for it.
I’m looking outside as I write this and it’s snowing on April 21st, and all I can think about is driving far enough away to ride my bike. I know I will feel more like myself when I can ride again. Biking will mend me, which is why I’m collaborating with Underground Snowboards and VNTRbirds to create a scholarship for Breast Cancer Survivors. Mountain biking has given me so much, the least of which is this amazing, supportive community of women. I want to give this experience to someone else who might be climbing this same mountain.
Words by: Jenn Fuhrman @jenn_fuhr
Photos by: Leanne Wren @photoleanne