Issue Forty Seven

A Stolen Dream

Abuse, Assault, and Dreams Lost

5 December 2018

 

 

 

I spent my entire life as an athlete feeling mediocre at everything I did. I was a mediocre skier and a mediocre runner. When I started bike racing I knew THIS was my sport. It felt like I was born to race my bike, and I did everything possible to chase my dreams.

But that dream came crashing down when I was sexually assaulted. I became one of thousands of victims who lost everything because they spoke up. 

This is my story.

 

Abuse and Control

This story starts with a relationship that conditioned me for abuse and control.

It was my ex-husband who encouraged me to enter my first race. Ironically, he’d ultimately be one of the biggest challenges I would face in the pursuit of my passion. I started bike racing to impress him. I wanted him to think I was a badass.

I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but I had upgraded from my Specialized Rock Hopper I bought from working at the local Dairy Queen to a Klein which was light as a feather with a rad paint job.

I got “good” where we lived. Then we moved across the country together after college. He started dabbling in racing too and I tagged along as his #1 fan– intimidated that I would not stack up to the competition where we now lived.

Several years later, I decided to test my skill and give racing a good go again.

I surprised myself with my performances. I honestly didn’t know a single thing about racing, but I KNEW I wanted more. I was hungry. I found a sport that challenged me in all the right ways. I put in hard work and hours upon hours of training. In return, I saw results and rose to the top of the local rankings.

Through all this, I thought my partner would be my biggest support system. After all, it was him who told me I “needed to find a passion”.

Well, I did. Turns out, he didn’t like it. He couldn’t stand my success on a bike. When I got good enough that I wanted to compete at the national level he threatened to DIVORCE me over it. As I got better and started to get offers to ride as a “pro” he repeatedly threatened to leave me. It didn’t matter that his career was more successful or that he made three times as much money. He could not stand that I was more successful than him at something.  

I didn’t understand it at the time but his control over me was abuse (in addition to his drunken tirades and physical abuse). Over the course of a decade, I became conditioned to everything.

Yet, I stuck through it all much longer than I should have – the marriage and the racing were important to me. I sacrificed my passion for someone who lied, cheated, abused, and controlled me.

I still rode and competed at the local level, but I couldn’t shake the fact that I had more to prove. I had an unwavering desire to see what I was really capable of. I had never been so gifted at anything in my life – career or sport. Let’s not get carried away, I wasn’t THE BEST, but I was damn good and only getting better.

My resentment and contempt built to a level that couldn’t be undone. Or maybe it was just that I was finally so dead inside. Whatever it was, at the 11 year mark I finally had the courage to leave him and try and find the happiness I knew I deserved by putting everything I could into my bike racing.

 

My Dreams are Finally Here 

Oh.my.god. I was on cloud nine. I had never felt so empowered or strong.

The minute I decided to end my marriage, my racing level shot up. I immediately signed a pro deal. I didn’t ask many questions. I was elated.

FINALLY I was able to pursue my dream on my terms. I signed a two-year deal – without pay – because “no one was getting paid.” To top it off, I had met an incredible guy who I was head over heels about. HA, I had really been missing out on life!

It took all of 2 races to realize I had made a huge mistake, but I was fiercely in denial. The management was dysfunctional and the other people on the team were horrible to each other and the expectations were pretty damn high – especially given that I wasn’t being paid (in fact I maintained a full-time job the entire time).  

My new boyfriend pushed me to cut my contract, but I refused. They were taking me overseas to race! They were my friends! I was committed! Of course I wasn’t going to bail. I had waited years for this opportunity, I had been through years of abuse and control and I had left my ex-husband to make it here.

My plan: I was going to fight through it and make the most of it, learn as much as I could, put in my time, and look for a new team in two years. I’d be fine. I’d been unhappy for far longer. Two years was nothing.

After four months, my new “perfect” relationship ended. I was flat out broken. My divorce hadn’t wrecked me – I was already dead from years of verbal and physical abuse. But this new relationship ending rocked my world. It went from perfect to done, literally overnight. Then the start of something far worse happened. Something that would shake my foundations and rip my life apart.

 

Bouncing Back

I was back racing fresh off this heartbreaking split, but managed a pretty good result. The entire week some teammates teased me about the single cute guy, “David*” – who just so happened to be closely involved with the sport and with my team. (*Not his real name)

So on the last night we all got drunk before flying out. I 100% admit it was a flat out rebound. At this point, I had barely been single a month since I was 20 and I was scared and insecure. I had no idea how to cope so I threw myself at David. He was the first person to act interested in me and it made the hurt a little less painful.

I was back in a good place again. It felt great to have someone be so dedicated to me and my sport that they’d come to my races and support me. I was stoked to finally be able to race at the level I wanted. I quickly rose through the ranks. No one had any idea who I was, yet here I was up next to the best in the WORLD.

But it wasn’t all good as the stress and financial toll of it all started to eat at me.  

Being a female pro rider meant doing it all for the “love” of it. I had taken a $15k pay cut and had spent $15k on my own racing agenda. No one paid my race entries, bag fees, airline tickets, or medical bills throughout my crashes or injuries.  

It was time for a break. At this point I had been racing for 18 months straight and I was exhausted. I was broken emotionally, physically, and financially. But damn it, I persevered because it’s what I do. I don’t quit. I love to suffer. It’s all I know. I can suffer harder than anyone.

 

Complications 

My break from racing came with complications.

I had been casually dating David throughout the season, but I had been clear that I didn’t want anything committed. I wasn’t in a place to be able to commit myself to someone, but I appreciated his friendship. I told him dozens of times through tearful conversations that I didn’t want him to be closer to me, but he moved closer anyway. He left his life behind to be near me despite me telling him not to.

Of course, I felt a sense of obligation to him once he moved. It’s so easy to fall into our old habits – trying to please everyone else. I had been pre-conditioned. My past made me feel like I had no choice but to sacrifice my well-being for that of someone else’s. I didn’t have the coping power to stand up for myself or demand my independence. David would remind me of all the sacrifices he had made for me during my season, so I begrudgingly hung out with him.

The race season picked up again. I was tired before it even began.

Then I revisited a past relationship desperate to be with the person I really wanted. Life became even more complicated.

In the first race of the season I crashed.

I remember saying “check my helmet, I hit my head” but those around me said, “Ha, barely scuffed the paint!” Anyone who has ever bike raced knows two things – you don’t hit your head going 25+ mph and come out ok, and you certainly never admit to having a concussion because, duh, then you can’t race for 6 weeks! For a little while after this everything was cloudy.

I don’t remember the next several days. I remember the struggle of trying to dress myself once I was back home alone – I was in pain as I tried to get my bra on or get a shirt on so I could drive to work without missing any time. Within a week I was back on my trainer doing intervals so I wouldn’t lose my fitness. The stress and chaos were slowly building.

 

Back Off  

Then I tried to get David to back off. I simply didn’t want to be with him. I told him I couldn’t give him what he wanted.

He started cornering me at races to talk about why I didn’t love him (nevermind I barely KNEW him!). Others that knew him loved him so I didn’t want to cause drama in an already dramatic environment. I didn’t want to rock the boat – I was afraid of losing my dream, the dream I had struggled so hard to find.

I repeatedly told him I didn’t want to date him. He kept telling me he loved me – which was impossible since he didn’t really know me.

This behavior began a steep descent into more and more chaos. David showed up randomly next to me as I was out for a long solo ride and drove past my house repeatedly. He denied stalking me. He then began showing up at my house demanding I let him in to talk late at night, without warning. It got worse as we dove further into the season.

At some point my ex-boyfriend and I got back together and I stopped sharing my personal life with my cycling fraternity. After all, this was now a job and these were my co-workers.

Despite my best efforts to separate my personal life from my riding one, David found out I was back with my ex. As you can imagine, he wasn’t thrilled. I should have been more direct and upfront, but again, I wanted to keep the peace, after all David was part of my riding circle and I was afraid of his power, influence, and control. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, I just wanted him to leave me alone. But his scary behaviour continued – even increased.

David would come into my room at night while I was in bed recovering and reading. Or hunt me down while I was ice bathing. Or corner me in the laundry room. All the while, demanding to talk about why I didn’t want him. It was getting intense and I didn’t trust anyone enough to tell them. How could I? “They” were also friends with David.

 

That Night

At the end of one particularly hard race, I finally snapped – in front of everyone. 

I told him to get out of my face and stop talking to me. I was so tired – mentally, physically, and emotionally. I felt bad for snapping in front of teammates, but I had reached my limit. That night we drove to a teammate’s house before flying out in the morning. I had one glass of wine and dinner before heading to bed early. My teammate and “friend” came in to check on me before bed. I was sobbing out of exhaustion and stress. She knew some of what was going on, but was friends with David as well and always heard his embellished version of the truth. After she left, I fell asleep.

(My previous assumptions about not being able to tell others were now tested and true.)

At some point in the night David came into my room drunk and angry.

Initially he tried to talk to me by forcing my face towards him. Then he proceeded to assault me, despite me telling him, “stop, you’re hurting me.” Similar to the instances of my ex-husbands abuse, I froze. He put his hand around my neck while on top of me.

After he was done, he put his pants on, walked out, and said “I’m going back out to drink with my friends”.

For someone typically so strong willed, it’s not how I’d picture myself reacting if I was being assaulted. Then again, I had certainly never expected to be assaulted by someone I knew. Turns out, most assaults are by an acquaintance and it’s totally normal to freeze. It took a lot of therapy to accept all that.

I don’t remember much after that. I was in a haze of WTF. A week later I was due to start racing again and knew he’d be there every single day.

 

Don’t Make A Scene

I tried to put on a nice front as to not cause drama. I couldn’t help but think of the fear and the power he had over me – he was in a position to influence my racing. I arrived at my next race pleading with him not to pick me up. I didn’t want to be alone with him. Despite that, he showed up at the airport. He tried to physically take me by grabbing my arm and bike – in front of my boyfriend! Then he declared we were dating – which we had not been for nearly five months at that point!

In the middle of the airport, I broke down and told my boyfriend everything. 

Not feeling safe I got a hotel room. I called my team boss in the morning telling him I couldn’t race, I wasn’t mentally fit to. I was still too scared to tell anyone about the assault, but told them about the harassment and stalking by David.

I was told “If you don’t race, you’ll be letting down your team and our sponsors”. Then I was asked “Is there anything physically wrong with you?” After pouring my heart out to these people, they assumed I was just caught in a “love triangle” and making a big deal out of nothing.

I bought a plane ticket home and never heard from any teammates ever again.

My “best friends” vanished overnight and and I was off the team – losing everything and at the same time without a finger being pointed at David. I have no idea what my team boss told my teammates, but I’m certain it wasn’t anything accurate or nice.

The days/weeks/months that followed were a blur of depression, chaos, sadness, confusion, anger, loneliness. You name it. Riding was what I used to fight off the stress and I still rode almost daily, but quit “training.”

 

Why Not End It All?

While those jerks thought I made this all up because I was “too in love with my boyfriend,” they didn’t know that every time I rode my bike I hoped I’d get hit by a car or fall off a cliff so I wouldn’t have to endure the pain of living through it all every day.

Overnight I walked away from the sport I worked my ass off for. The sport that I sacrificed so much for. The sport that was going to fulfill my dreams of achieving my highest physical feats. Poof. It was gone.

 

Justice Is Not Blind 

It took about 2 months before I had the courage to file a claim to open an investigation with the official sanctioning body – about the team’s duty of care and responsibilities in relation to the assault and actions once notified.  

I spent the summer retelling my story a dozen times. Technically the claim had to be against my team to determine if they did enough after they were notified of my allegations. While I clearly felt I had been reprimanded for speaking up, it was determined otherwise.

When the results of the investigation came back in support of my old team, I couldn’t even bring myself to read it. No one spoke up for me, no one supported me, I was sick to my stomach. To this day I still haven’t read it and my lawyer assured me I wouldn’t want to. 

With such a small cycling community around me, I felt I had no choice but to leave the place that had been my home for ten years. One day, I finally left. It was the hardest, but most liberating thing I’ve ever done.

I moved over 1,000 miles away where I didn’t know anyone so I could start over and no one would know I was a bike racer. I could make new friends and have a new life. I could love without fear of running into “him” around every corner or my teammates who had betrayed me.

 

Recovery

It’s bullshit that I was assaulted and had to give up my sport and my life, but I can honestly say today is the first time in my adult life that I know what true happiness feels like.

I’m healthy – mentally and physically (or at least working to sort out the old injuries, finally). I’ve created a new network of amazing friends that I’m so grateful for and have advanced my careers in ways I never imagined.

I won’t lie. It’s been fucking hard. There have been dozens of weekly therapy sessions and I still have days where I cry to myself while out riding because I miss the racing.

Thankfully, the nightmares at night have become rarer. I’ve maintained a few solid friends – the ones who stood by me in support. I’ve also learned to be more guarded with those I let in. Most people can’t understand my emotions or story.

When asked why I quit racing, it’s confusing so I usually lie and mumble something like “I was too sick and injured”. Because, let’s be honest, people don’t want to hear “I was sexually assaulted and when I told the governing body and my team no one believed me or did anything about it.”

Every day in the news there are new reports of sexual assaults and with it, women being dismissed, not believed, victim shamed, and demonized.

 

#whyididntreportit 

One recent #whyididntreport trend hit home. Hard. I read one that said “I did report it. I was disparaged and made to feel blamed.”

It’s infuriating to not be heard or taken seriously. To be told you made it all up. To be blacklisted from the sport you love because someone else hurt you. I’m angry and sad. I’m disgusted with our culture which is so quick to quiet women and not believe them.

So now what? What does my future look like with me and getting back to racing? I miss some aspects of it, like the competitive outlet and feeling strong.

I toy with going back but I’m reminded by social media that he’ll be there.

David is still part of racing, was never punished, hasn’t had to uproot his life and give up the sport he loves. He’s still out there working with women. If I show up to race, he’ll be there. Every time I’m feeling strong and like I want to pick up where I left off, I get anxiousand I’m reminded that I can’t.  

 

Strength In Speaking Out

Ultimately, they can take away my dream of racing at the highest level; they can scrutinize my character and they can pretend I no longer exist. But I’m a strong, driven, independent, highly educated, hard working women.

I don’t always do a good job remembering this, but these are the things they can’t take from me.

I don’t want someone else’s dream to be stolen from them. I want women to feel confident speaking up when they aren’t being treated fairly or abused. I want our organizations to support women, without making them feel like they are at fault for the horrible things we experience.

No one should be sexually assaulted then wake up everyday feeling guilty like they should have fought harder or told someone sooner. It shouldn’t be a fucking battle to be heard! One day we will win.

It might not be in my lifetime, but I’m confident that the battles we fight today will lay the groundwork for the future.

 

 

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