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Holden Turning Up the Heat

Posted by johnnieraz on April 6, 2018 at 1:35 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an excerpt from my book "A More Simple Times, How Cycling Saved My Soul"

CHAPTER 68: Holden Pattern

 

     “Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, ‘I’ve never seen anyone run like that before.’ It’s more than just a race, it’s a style. It’s doing something better than anyone else. It’s being creative.”

— Steve Prefontaine

      Without question, my favorite Steve Prefontaine quote challenges you to look at athletics through a new perspective. When the women’s 1996 Olympic Trials opened in the searing heat and humidity in Martinsburg, West Virginia with a time trial, there really wasn’t any other way to describe what played out. The best women in the land creating something beautiful.

     As the temperature soared toward triple digits the question became two-fold: Who would survive the day, and what impact would it have on the rest of the Trials?

      The drama began with another star from the 1984 LA Olympics looking for a rebirth. Rebecca Twigg rolled onto the course, and a fairy tale began. Twigg flew through the course, passing riders at an unbelievable pace. The PA announcers shouted updates, riling up the sweating crowd at the start-finish line. Twigg even passed riders who started eight minutes before her! She hit 30 mph on the rollers. Would Twigg steal the show?

      Mari Holden couldn’t allow that to happen. She wouldn’t allow that to happen. Holden’s only chance to steal the automatic Olympic berth would have to start with victories in her unabashed specialty — the time trials. Then she needed to combine those wins with some luck in a road race or two, which might not be difficult since the road races just might stick together for pack finishes.

      Something special fills the air when the tiny Holden gets onto her time trial bike and drops into an aerodynamic position. She transforms into a powerful machine — a human engine perfectly integrated with the bike — willing speeds from a bicycle that others simply dream about, or only manage on extreme downhills.

      With the crowd buzzing from Twigg’s sensational reports, the shocking news hit — silencing everyone for a moment, followed by a collective “ooohhhh.” At the time split, Holden zipped past 12 seconds faster than Twigg. The two-time defending champion creating art from athletics.

      Holden’s art displays raw heart for the beholder to absorb. She gets on her bike and leaves nothing to chance. Absolutely nothing. While many athletes push themselves to their limit, most appear to have a governor that won’t allow them to extract that last 1 or 2 percent, least they inflict physical damage to their finely-tuned bodies. Holden pushes beyond that, some how, some way.

      Her relentless charge, combined with insane heat and humidity, began to hit her in the final miles. Her usual steady straight as an arrow, efficient line became a squiggle. She bounced all over the road as she milked every last ounce of her essence out of the ride, delirious from the hellish conditions. When she crossed the finish line, she collapsed. She got placed on a stretcher, and left in an ambulance. Amid the chaos, she didn’t know that she won, topping Twigg by six seconds even though those in her support car estimated she lost about 40 seconds in the final 5K. In fitting tribute, her mother stood atop the podium to receive flowers and a medal.

      “I’ve never had anything like that before,” Holden said the next day, relaxing, at her hotel after getting hospitalized for dehydration and heat exhaustion. “I can’t remember the final 5K. Afterward, in the van, I was just freaking out.”

      Hearing her split invigorated her. She pushed harder. Deeper into the abyss others back away from.

      “I just felt like I was going hard, but nothing really out of the ordinary,” Holden said. “I pushed myself, but it was a course where you had to keep pushing because there weren’t any opportunities to just settle in. I thought I was going great, especially in the final 5K. I didn’t even know I wasn’t riding that well.”

 

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