There’s nothing I value more than a bold question. A question that demands nothing less than vulnerability.
I was recently speaking at a conference where an attendee asked me how I moved from feeling like a victim of my disability to understanding how it expanded me as a person.
The first thing I’ll acknowledge is that this perspective didn’t happen overnight. There wasn’t a binary switch to flip. It has taken me 25+ years to fully own my story and its power. And I still have regular doubts about different facets of my life and how they intersect with my physical abilities.
There are a lot of things and people that helped me along this journey, but one vehicle that really helped me take control of my story is my Peloton.
Someone once lovingly mocked my Peloton and my frequent trips to SoulCycle, calling them “bike rides to nowhere.” At the time, it was something we laughed about, but in looking back, I can safely say that a ride to nowhere couldn’t be further from my truth.
After having the sudden onset of paralysis on the left side of my body as a child, I was unable to maintain balance on a two-wheeled bicycle. And training wheels weren’t a great look on a teenager…so it was seeming hopeless.
And then, cycling studios became all the rage and I was hooked. I could ride a bike, even if it was to “nowhere”.
Now, when I approached my first class, one thing I didn’t realize going into these cycling classes was that you were expected to stand up and pedal. (Feel free to throw an eye roll in here — but guilty as charged — if you know me at all, you know I rarely do research and usually jump right into something)
In that first class and for the longest time after, I was too scared to try standing up and cycling. I would simply sit and cycle while everyone else stood up.
I was too scared to stand up because of the stories others had told me as a child — stories that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do things for fear of injuring myself. These stories I heard as a child are the stories that caused me to view myself as a victim as an adult.
However, I remember one Saturday, pedaling along to Lady Gaga, I heard a small voice inside me saying “Stand up, stand up.” And after a few deep breaths, I did.
Perhaps to my surprise, I didn’t fall and I was strong enough. It felt great and I stayed up running in place for about 30 seconds. For as long as I live, I’ll remember racing to get out of the studio immediately after class to tell my friend Tim who was at the front desk what just happened — I had run for the first time since I was 8 years old.
In that moment, I learned the power of listening to myself and my version of my story versus what others told me I could or couldn’t do.
A stationary bike has been my vehicle for recovery and expansion — far from a bike to “nowhere”.
From gaining the strength to stand on a bike in DC to unclipping my paralyzed left ankle on a Peloton for the first time three years later, a stationary bike has taught me, in the words of one of my favorite cycling songs “Superheroes” — how to turn my pain into power.
Back to the question of — how you move from victimhood to expansion — everyone moves at their own pace.
Just as I wasn’t ready to stand on the bike on Day 1 or even Day 60, everyone takes their own time to rumble with their story.
But, what I know for sure is moving beyond victimhood for me started with the story I was telling myself. Am I going to accept not being able to ride a bike? Or am I going to trust that I will learn, grow, and ride at my own pace and in my own way?