Flying Squirrels

A lot has changed for me in the past year. Among the many adjustments I’ve made in my approach to training and racing, perhaps my most significant decision was to work with a new coach.

I trained under the mentorship of Jayson Gillespie for nearly seven years. He took me on my first road ride all those years ago late one evening in October. Jay rode with me as I pedalled my 26” Devinci hard tail mountain bike while the rest of the provincial athletes rode their road bikes. I did what I could to keep up, and more than once Jay put his hand on my back to push me as I rode, ensuring I could keep up and complete the 70 km ride.

Coach Jay on the left on the podium with Danick and I after winning our respective 2014 Cyclocross National Titles. Assistant coach Lindsay Argue on the right.

Coach Jay on the left on the podium with Danick and I after winning our respective 2014 Cyclocross National Titles. Assistant coach Lindsay Argue on the right.

The hand on my back, pushing me along, makes me think now of the hand of a parent on their child as they push them along on their first attempt at training-wheel-free cycling. Jay was more than a coach for me for a long time. When I went through some rough stuff at home, whether he knew it or not, Jay was a bit of a father-like figure for me for a while.

I was less than well-behaved during those first couple years. He put up with me somehow. I would talk incessantly, goof off, swear and joke inappropriately. He patiently taught me to behave better. He taught me to always have my bag zipped up in team vans, to thank volunteers and to shut-up sometimes. Perhaps the most important lesson he taught me was to control what I can control.

Eventually I moved to Victoria. He remained my coach for the two years I raced on Russ Hays. What I didn’t realize was that for me, long-distance coaching wasn’t ideal. I needed him to see me. Without the guaranteed face-to face interactions that we’d have during team training in Winnipeg, it was up to me to update him on what was going on. Up until then, Jay could see it at training. I didn’t have to bring it up if I was having a tough time. Jay saw me race. Jay saw me train.

This year, when my depression started to take control of me, Jay wasn’t there to see it. He wasn’t there to understand it. It was up to me to explain it – and I couldn’t do it justice through words. With no disrespect to Jay, and I absolutely mean NO disrespect to him, he was too far away to fully provide the support I needed on the mental side of cycling.

I decided that this winter I need to train my brain. More than anything, my mental health needs strengthening, support, and understanding. I wanted a coach in BC, someone who I could see once in a while. I also wanted someone who would be able to help me train effectively while I dealt with depression and anxiety. When it comes down it, I need to be 100% mentally fit in order to race. I could train 25 hours a week, like I did in February, but if I’m not paying attention to my mental health, I’ll crash and burn.

The first name that came to me when I decided I needed a new coach was Jacob Schwingboth. Other, possibly better-known names floated around my head for a while as well, but something about Jacob seemed right.

Jacob racing for H&R at the 2015 Whistler Gran Fondo. Being chased by one of his athletes.

Jacob racing for H&R at the 2015 Whistler Gran Fondo. Being chased by one of his athletes.

Jacob had been through some of his own shit when he raced. Mentally, he had really struggled for a while. And he’s very open about it. Knowing that he’s experienced similar challenges to what I have faced, do face and likely will face, and his openness about it, gave me a sense of confidence. I knew that he would be understanding, empathetic, and encouraging. I also knew that he would have strategies in dealing with and working around my struggles while riding.

I approached Jacob to coach my mind first and my body second. I told him everything I went through, asked him to read my blog, and met him for coffee after the Fondo to discuss working together. We hit it off really well and I knew he was the right coach.

Jacob cares. It’s obvious. He created a spreadsheet after we met which I fill out after every ride. I rate how I felt mentally and physically, I explain the rating, and describe whether I enjoyed the ride and why or why not. Every Sunday I fill out a form he created to explain each day of the week in detail. There are questions regarding my mental health, my physical health, how confident I feel, what I want to work on, as well as spaces for me to ask him questions. He then has all of my feedback in writing to aid in developing my plan for the next week We then have a call, typically the following Monday, to review the week and plan for the next one.

He listens to what I want and need. We train around my mind. We’re training my mind. I don’t hesitate to tell him if I didn’t like something, or if I had was particularly anxious at some point. We back off when I’m not doing well, and charge ahead when I’m feeling great. He’s instilled in me a confidence in my coach, and more importantly, a confidence in myself.

Jay got me to where I am now in the sport. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. I say that with utmost conviction. I am so grateful to know him and to have been so fortunate as to have him as a coach. He’s taught me so much. From the bottom of my heart, I’m utterly grateful for the time and effort he put into developing me. It was a very tough decision to stop working with him, but it was a necessary one. Thanks for everything Jay!

Conversely, my decision to start working with Jacob was an easy and obvious one. I’m extremely grateful to him already for taking me under his wing. Jay developed me, and Jacob will continue to help me excel in the sport. I’m incredibly excited to be working with someone who gets the different me.  I’m the proudest new member of Jacob’s Flying Squirrel Academy!