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Training For A Championship (7/9/13)

BY SHANI DAVIS 

Pedaling on the road to Sochi 2014
Training ride: East Canyon in Salt Lake City
Champions - again!

After finishing a six-hour day of training, I came to a revelation. I had just reached the top of East Canyon, one of the many challenging bike rides here in Salt Lake City, and, if I wasn't mistaken (it was a long ride and very hot on this particular day) I was in my 15th year of training.

Somewhere along the ride I passed a path that reminded me of when I first started road bike training in the summer of 1998 in Lake Placid (my first time away from home, as well). I remember approaching a gigantic climb thinking I needed to summon all my speed to get over it. So I got out of the saddle, shifted into my hardest gear to attack the bottom, and along the way switched gears to battle the resistance the mountain gave me. I grunted and gritted my teeth and pedaled as hard as I could until I reached the top. Or so I thought!

Little did I know that I had reached a false summit. Somewhere a few more minutes up was the actual top of the climb. I was exhausted and I remember the coach yelling at me from the top, encouraging me not to give up. When I finally got there he laughed and told me about all the others who did the same thing their first time up. I was frustrated at the time, since that climb hurt both my legs and my feelings. But upon reflection my perspective changed. I could see where I started from and where I stood now — so high up that I could see everything, even that false summit where I almost gave up. I had found inner strength and conquered the challenge, and I felt a true sense of accomplishment that day. The East Canyon ride triggered those same memories and emotions from 15 years earlier.

The ride also made me think about sports in general. All that week I was following the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup final. I was glued to the television, in pro sports nirvana, watching the best of the best give it their all and push past limits and boundaries to make the impossible possible. I try not to cheer against any team or individual since I can relate to all professional athletes: dedication to perfection of a craft, trying to make hard work pay off, being measured on the bottom line — whether the job gets done. But as a proud Chicagoan, I was feeling a duty to support my hometown team.

The last time the Blackhawks played for the cup in 2010, they supported me after my Olympic triumph in Vancouver, including an invitation to be recognized at a playoff game at Chicago Stadium on their road to eventually winning the cup. It would have been an honor and a memory for life to be given a Chicago Blackhawks jersey with DAVIS on the back, dropping the first puck, and being part of sports history in front of so many devoted and loyal Chicago fans. Unfortunately, the timing didn't work out and I didn't get the chance.

Watching the final minutes of the Stanley Cup finals was like a prequel for what could possibly happen for me seven months from now in Sochi. I was witnessing athletes who were the best in their profession, executing fundamentals in the clutch that they'd practiced for so many years, often away from the spotlight. The Blackhawks had the best record of the regular season and were the top seed — the favorite — but now they were far from home with a stadium full of fans rooting against them, under pressure. I got chills.

It also shook my nerves thinking that something that looked like a done deal for Boston — sure victory — could be far from over. The Blackhawks were down by a goal with less than two minutes left in Game 6 and seemingly had nothing left in the tank. But it was a false summit. They dug deep, stayed poised, and scored back-to-back goals within 17 seconds to reach the actual summit of the 2013 playoffs: Stanley Cup champions for the second time in three years!

I missed the Blackhawks homecoming party in Chicago, but their journey and the lessons learned, I will keep with me on the road to Sochi 2014.