Earlier this month, I attended a bicycle ride event for charity in Iowa. It’s an event a friend of mine puts on and I’ve seen the pictures on Facebook every year and decided this time I was going to go, because I can!
I started getting into cycling the way I wanted to be into it. I went out two or three times a week on a local trail, and I came to love every bit of it. I loved being outside, getting to see the nature scenery as well as the historical sites. It was like a perfect back road! I joined the library and listened to audiobooks that I “borrowed” for free. One day I rode more than 20 miles and stopped for lunch!
On the day of the event, I felt ready! I was going to bike for the 25-mile portion which has several stops.
I shoved off, riding with two other women, and by the time we made it to our first stop, I felt like I might die. It was not even 7 miles in.
My body was hot. My face was purple. Like, purple-dinosaur purple. I felt extremely dizzy. Oh hello fibromyalgia.
Now, to my credit, of the two women I was riding with (who are literally half my age), one was riding an electric bike and the other was riding a proper street bicycle. I had no idea how terrible my hybrid/mountain bike is for rides like this. I didn’t know because I always went out and rode by myself. This day, at least a couple times people rode by me telling me my old bike was making me “work 10 times as hard.”
Great. Just what I need. Yet another disadvantage!
But the truth is, I had a tremendous advantage. I had the sag wagon.
The “sag wagon” was a guy in a truck who will come to the rescue. Before the ride, I wrote his cell phone number big across my arm in permanent marker, to be funny. But also genuinely in case I needed it.
While it was available to everyone, it was my own personal advantage, and I’ll tell you why….
First, I’ll tell you I was the only person who used it all day. There were HUNDREDS of people at the event, and they weren’t all Lance Armstrong. At that first stop, as I peddled up an incline, I passed a woman who was walking her bike up the hill because she couldn’t make it. I was but within a range of a multitude of fitness levels and abilities. I’m sure there were others out there with chronic illnesses, too.
But I’m the only one who called the sag wagon for a rescue. I’m not sure what others might have done. They may have had spouses who went for the car. They might have ridden back to their nearby homes.
Why they wouldn’t call the sag wagon was made clear to me when I had said sag wagon drop me off at the next stop (the next bar) after picking me up from the golf course stop. He unloaded my bike, and I climbed out of the truck, and people laughed at me. They seriously stood and pointed and laughed. And I didn’t care one bit. “That’s right, everyone! I used the sag wagon!” I yelled, and then I went inside and bought myself a delicious cold beer. (I chugged a Gatorade at the previous stop.)
Which brings me back to my advantage. It wasn’t just that not caring. It was a chronic-conditioned history of learning not to care and using what’s out there to help me do my own best in whatever situation.
While others avoided calling that phone number for help, it was a no-brainer to me. It was blessed second-nature. I’m the one who added a special bar to my handlebars so I could change my posture during a ride, because my back hurts. I’m the one who’s carried a lumbar pillow into a movie theater. I have the disabled parking placard to use when I need to use it. I stand during municipal government meetings. I take days off and spend them in bed when my fibro is flaring.
I feel as little shame in using any available means to feel my best as I feel every morning when I put my contact lenses in to see better. Any shame at all is in the minds of the people who point and laugh, not mine, and I feel sorry for those people, imagining everything they don’t do to better their own lives because they don’t want to be “different.”
Even before my life with fibromyalgia and arthritis, back as far as childhood, I’ve always been thrilled to be different, and what a great life it is. Be different. Be weird. Just be happy. And use what exists to help you be happy, whether it’s getting the hearing aids, using accessibility services at college, or asking your neighbor to help you move that heavy thing. Let your courage to be your best be your superpower. And applaud anyone you see doing the same.