Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Next Step

I'm going back to school!

Well...sort of. 

Discipleship Training School in Ensenada, Mexico. 

"Schwat are you talking about, Shane?"  You may ask.  Alright, I'll tell you. 

In 2014, I did two things that were legitimately transformational and life-changing.  I think "life-changing" is used way too often to describe a fun experience that you'll remember forever, so when I use it, I'm serious.  These two things, I believe, completely changed the trajectory I expected for my life.

One of these two things I already wrote about here.  In short, my trip to Mexico made me realize that serving others in need is an important part of life that I have been neglecting for far too long.  After the home build, I made the decision to continue to look for opportunities to serve, which was a big factor in my decision to attend this school. 

The second of these two things actually occurred much earlier, chronologically.  Back in July, while I was working another early morning, my thoughts turned to church and small group Bible studies.  Before starting my job at the golf course, I had found a church in town that I enjoyed going to, that also had a good young adults group.  My job had made attending difficult, though, as I worked on Sundays and seldom had the time or energy to get to church after I clocked out. I realized that I was missing out on a close Christian community group, and that was something I needed in my life.  I guess you could call it an "Aha!" moment.  Immediately, I knew I should start my own small group with some close friends from college.  I approached a few friends with the idea of working on a study and video chatting once a week, since we all lived in different areas.  The idea went over great, and before I knew it, the first discussion time was upon me.  And that's when it hit me.

I know how dumb this is going to sound, but literally, until this point I had not even considered the fact that there needed to be a designated group leader.  And until that point, it did not occur to me that by starting the group, I was the de facto guy in charge.  Suddenly the idea didn't sound so great to me.  Despite my inner reluctance to lead a group because of a frank lack of qualification, I decided that I would step up.  It's times like that when you realize that God puts things on your heart for a reason, and there's no point in trying to back out. 

When I made the decision to start the Bible study, I figured it would be a great way to stay in touch with some good friends from college, while getting to study God's Word.  What I got out of it was so much greater.  By leading a group, I learned to take my own study much more seriously, thinking critically about the material, coming up with questions, and dedicating more time to my faith than ever before.  On top of that, I've gotten to see some good friends grow in their relationship with God, and recognize that I've played a part in their growth, as they have in mine.  It was a far greater blessing than I could have ever guessed.

So what did I take away from these two things? 

1. Growing in my faith and leading others is awesome.
2. There is nothing like helping the underprivileged. 

And that's how I found my way to the Discipleship Training School.

While we were still in Mexico for the home building trip, Guy East took the time to speak with me about his experiences with the program.  After hearing the similarities in our stories, I was really interested in finding out about how he found his way into doing something he is so passionate about.  After the trip, he stayed in touch and pointed me toward some of the upcoming opportunities.  After a week or so of consideration, I made the decision to apply for the program starting in April in Ensenada.

Recently, I received my official acceptance, and I'm incredibly excited for this opportunity.  So without any further ado, here's what I'll be doing.

For 5 months, I will be living at the Youth With A Mission base in Ensenada, Mexico, where I will be attending the Surf and Skate Discipleship Training School.  Each of the programs have a separate focus on interests; i.e art, music, sports, etc.  In this case, it's surfing and skating.  Each day, there will be lectures (hence "school") and service opportunities in the community with the goal, "To know God and make Him known."  In my free time I'll finally get to learn how to surf, which I'm quite excited about.  After a few months, there will be an outreach phase dedicated to mission work.  I'll have more opportunities to build homes for families in need and other sure-to-be incredible experiences. 

This decision was both difficult, and incredibly easy to make. Difficult, in that I'll be stepping way out of my comfort zone.  Cultural immersion, for one thing.  I can't wait to use all that Spanish I forgot from high school.  But also, stepping out in faith is a huge deal for me.  I've always kept mostly quiet about my faith, which betrays the strength of my beliefs.  It has never been an easy thing for me to talk about, which has made it difficult to act out in my faith.  But it was so easy to make the decision, because I've never felt more called to do anything.  I guess it goes back to my decision with the Bible study.  If God puts something on your heart that makes you squirm, you know it's what He has planned for you. 

After the 5 months of DTS, then what?  Well, I don't know yet.  But I trust that God will use that time to lead me where He wants me.  

The last thing that made the decision difficult was finances.  Having left my job in Colorado and moved back to Texas, I have no current source of income.  The Discipleship Training School will cost up to $5,500.  The first lecture phase will cost $2,990, with payment due by March 10, roughly.  The outreach phase will cost $1,800-2,500, with payment due in June/July.  I believe that I am meant to go to this school, and, as such, trust that I will get the funds one way or another.  I have a very difficult time asking for help, because I was raised to believe in earning my keep.  However, it will be incredibly difficult for me to raise the funds on my own in time.  So I ask for your help in any way you can offer it.  Whether it be through a donation made through the fundraising site I have set up HERE, or through help finding work in the DFW area, I'd greatly appreciate anything you can do. 

If you'd like to learn a little more about the school, you can check out YWAM's webpage.  I'm incredibly excited for this next journey of my crazy life, and I hope that you can be a part in helping me get there.

Much love,
Shane/Baby Haga

Sunday, November 16, 2014

More Than Sport in Mexico

Over the past year, I've noticed a frustration that seems to be a common theme regardless of what I do.  When training and racing was my profession, I'd wake up, eat, train, eat some more and then go to bed thinking, "Is this all there is?".  When I worked on the golf course this year, I'd wake up, eat, mow grass all day so rich people could play golf, eat some more, then go to bed thinking, "Is there any real point to this?" Futility.  No matter what I was doing I felt like I was meant for something more-- Something more important, more challenging, and influential.  This past weekend, I finally did something truly worthwhile.

Just over a year ago, I picked Chad up from the airport on his return-leg from Tijuana, Mexico where he, along with a group of other professional athletes, built a home for a family that could not afford one of their own.  I expected to hear more about the people he was with, but instead he kept gushing about how incredible the home-building experience was. This year, he offered to bring me along, and there was no way I could turn it down. 

A week or two before the start of our trip, we learned who else would be joining us.  This year there were enough athletes to build two homes in a single weekend, including numerous professional cyclists, Olympic medal-winning speed skaters and gymnasts, a professional racecar driver, rugby player, and past Miss America contestant.  In all honesty, I felt way out of my league as someone who could barely be called a professional athlete in the first place, and gave it up after just a few months.  As excited as I was for the trip, I was equally nervous about meeting people I had watched on tv.  

Chad and I flew out of Denver Friday morning alongside Todd, a sports chaplain with the Athletes in Action Organization, who was also coming on the trip.  We landed in San Diego after Chad earned a dollar bill by (mostly) making the dollar bill origami ram in the complimentary airline magazine.  After meeting a few of our compatriots for the weekend and being picked up by Guy East, and his wife, Andrea, we enjoyed a nice brunch right next to the ocean.  Eventually, our cheerful troop was fully united and we headed towards the border where we all crossed completely legally and without concern because everyone had their passports... 

It's incredible how quickly scenery can change.  Just past the border lies Tijuana, where all Mexican deportees are being sent, and where thousands live in a canal, homeless, jobless, and eventually dependent on drugs; too embarrassed to return to their homes defeated, if they even have the ability to leave in the first place.  The stark contrast between the beautiful seaside village where we had just eaten, and this destitute area was a great reminder of the purpose of the trip that lay ahead.  Guy and his wife live in Rosarito, Mexico where they work for the Homes of Hope Organization, building houses every weekend for families in need.  As we drove, Guy told us heart-breaking statistics about the area.  It's easy to become desensitized when you constantly hear about the fight over the border and immigration, but seeing things first hand makes it all so much more real. 

We eventually made it to the YWAM (Youth With A Mission) compound where we would be staying for the weekend, and were given a chance to mingle and get to know our roommates before eating dinner.  After eating, we got to hear from Guy, as he told his personal story about struggling with the decision to quit cycling, and his struggle to figure out what he was supposed to do in life.  As I sat there listening, I felt like he had taken my story, changed the names for the sake of my protection, and then regurgitated it word for word.  Everyone else then gave a brief introduction and background, at which point I learned that I was one of four or so formerly professional cyclists.  Suddenly, I didn't feel so out of place anymore. 

The first night after dinner, we all went out to the soccer field for a little competition. I suppose the quickest way to get intense athletes to bond is to make them all play a sport they're terrible at.  Blisters and injuries brought us all much closer together that night.  I also confess that Miss Kentucky had me just about scared into the fetal position with her war cry anytime the ball came near me. 

Saturday was the first day of building.  At breakfast there was a lot of excitement and anticipation.  The room was pretty equally divided between first and second-time builders, but everyone was ready to go.  Our drive out to the build site passed a lot of reality checks.  Homes built with random pieces of lumber and plywood- obviously just a matter of whatever the residents could get a hold of- served as a reminder of how privileged we all are.  When the bus finally reached the site, the two families were standing there waiting to greet us.  They had not learned until two days prior, that they would be getting a home.  You could see the excitement in their faces as they rushed to welcome us off the bus.

The family we would be building for had lost their home in a fire.  In addition to the house, the fire had also consumed all of their papers, like birth certificates, etc. which are necessary for employment.  So unable to afford new papers, and unable to gain employment, they were staying in a borrowed room in a friends home.  Nearly a dozen people in a single room. 
The family introducing themselves with the help of our interpreter.

 The teams were quickly divided into Red (the better team) and Blue, and sent to their respective build sites, just a few feet apart.  As we stood in a circle on the foundation, introducing ourselves to the family, I couldn't keep my eyes off the concrete pad under our feet.  At best, it was a couple hundred square feet.  We would be building a single story house, for this husband and wife and their five kids. This "house" would be the size of a small room, but it would change their lives. 

We got to work quickly thereafter, which was good because I was itching to put the "construction foreman look" I'd been cultivating for the past few months to good use.  As part of the framing crew, I measured out the studs to be cut for the walls and then started swinging the hammer. 

Chad and I audition for Home Improvement

I nail studs next to Tanner Foust. 
One of the young boys from the family was quick to join in, and man did he like hitting nails.  As we worked, it was cool to see the family joining in wherever they could.  How often we take for granted the buildings we live in because all it took was a little money to get there.  This family had the privilege to be an integral part of building their own home.  That's something these kids will remember their whole lives.  

It appears the painting crew had a bit more fun...and bad aim.

Before long we had the walls ready to go up.  It was at this point that I realized that while athletes may know their bodies incredibly well, we all could use some lessons in anatomy and counting.  Our build leader, Brodie, instructed everyone to lift the wall to their waist and hold it there while we moved the bottom of the wall into place.  So on his mark everyone lifted just to the bottom of their necks.  Once the bottom of the wall was where he needed it, he said "Now we'll lift it all the way up on the count of three. Ready?" Then everyone  lifted it up immediately.  This happened with all four walls.  Great bunch of athletes. 

Here we show that athletes have exceptionally high waists. 

Before we knew it, the first build day had come to a close with the walls in place and the beginnings of a roof.  That night we enjoyed a very festive dinner with great food, drinks, and entertainment.  Where possible, entertainment from our own group was interjected-- mainly during the belly dancing demonstration.  I was secretly hoping to be picked, but my hips were kept quiet for the night.  

The next day, the finish line was in sight with the home build.  Dry-walling, roofing, and electrics were the main tasks for the day, and everyone was just as excited to get it done as the day before. At lunch, everyone pooled money together to help furnish the house and buy groceries for the families.  Each house was split into three rooms, with a bunk bed, kitchenette, and additional room.  When all was said and done, we stood in a circle just as we had before the build started.  Everyone got to hold the keys to the house while speaking to the family about the home, and their experience, before finally giving the family the keys to their brand new home.  It was during this time that the full impact of the weekend really began to hit me.  I realized that at the start of the weekend, we all thought we were coming to give something great to a family in need, but by the end all we could do was thank them for the blessing the building experience was to us.  Everyone seemed to have been humbled by the experience, their interactions with a family that had so much joy and energy despite their circumstances, and the chance to work along side great people who recognized that there is more to life than being good at sports. 

After giving the keys  to the family, we all got to watch as they unlocked the door and walked into their new home for the first time as a family.  We then got to knock on the door and be their first visitors.  As we all stood inside, nearly thirty people in the space of a college dorm room, we got to watch their excitement.  To me, it would have been a cramped space difficult to be grateful for.  To them, it was hope, security, and the chance of a new life.  I must have looked really interested in the ceiling with as often as I was looking up to avoid crying.  We prayed over the house and family before saying goodbye.  No one left the site the way they arrived.  

As cliche as it may sound, this experience was truly life-changing.  Everyone on this trip had to pay to be there.  Were it not for the help of others, I would not have been able to afford to go.  I met some of the greatest people in my life on this trip, and formed friendships in just a few short days that will hopefully continue for years to come.  For the first time in my life, I felt like I was truly a part of something bigger than myself.  In a single weekend, I got to be a part of not only witnessing, but helping a family's circumstances change completely.  When we showed up, there were two concrete pads.  When we left, there were two homes filled with hope. 

The Red Team and finished house. 

If you'd like to know more about the organizations involved in this weekend, you can check out their sites.
Homes of Hope: http://www.ywamsandiegobaja.org/homesofhope/
More than Sport: http://www.morethansport.org/
Athletes in Action: http://www.athletesinaction.org/

I'd also recommend watching this documentary about the Tijuana Canal.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWjsCts1Jpg

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bye Bye Weight Weenie

Last night before I went to bed I weighed myself, as usual, and what happened is something I never would have expected at the beginning of the year.  I looked down and saw the numbers: 189.7. POUNDS.  But what happened next was truly shocking.

I smiled.  Then I went to bed perfectly happy.

I don't know exactly when it started, but at some point in my adolescence I became really body conscious.  I wouldn't characterize it as dissatisfaction with how I looked, just a hyper awareness of it.  That awareness usually fueled my competitive side and sparked my interest in exercise and weight lifting.  Both were very positive outlets for me.  I loved to see my progress from week to week, growing stronger and more muscular.

By the time I started playing baseball in high school, I was in love with working out.  I started doing P90X, and was lifting at least once a day.  On several occasions I was up by five in the morning to get a workout in before school.  Then I hit a snag with a tendinitis injury in my throwing arm and lower back troubles that slowed down my baseball practice and earned a doctor-mandated cessation of weight lifting.  Without that positive outlet for my stress, I got lazy.  By the time I was allowed to work out again, I never really wanted to.  I had lost the drive, and the excitement wasn't there anymore.

When I started cycling seriously in college, I developed a serious mental struggle with my weight.  I was not big by any means, but my natural body type was not typical of the world's fastest cyclists.  Cycling can basically be boiled down to one number for a gauge of your ability to succeed: Power to weight ratio.  Other things obviously come into play, like your pain tolerance, VO2, threshold, yada yada.  But the higher your power/weight ratio is, the faster you can be.  There are two ways to get this number up.

 1. Get stronger, and increase your power numbers.
 2. Lose weight

Since I considered myself above my optimal weight to really succeed, I fixated on dropping some pounds.

To set the scene:  I'm 5 feet 11 inches tall.  When I first started this process I was a little over 165 pounds, and hoping to get closer to 160.

My method of attack was to ride more.  Cardio burns fat, so you lose the weight you don't need.  But my legs just got bigger and bigger.  I put on weight!  So by my senior year of college I was hovering around 172, and dying to get back to 165.  Nevermind the fact that I was racing better than I ever had, I was fixated on losing the weight.  I just couldn't shed any though.

When I moved to Colorado, my diet got a lot cleaner and I was riding more than ever.  I quickly dropped down to the 165ish mark, and was fairly content, but not really.  I had become so accustomed to being disappointed when I stepped on the scale, that it didn't matter what number I saw.  I always wanted it to be lower.  I was so set on getting lighter that I stopped refueling my body the way I should have after hard rides.  I ate a lot, but it was always a struggle to not eat less.  When my legs felt terrible every time I rode, I refused to acknowledge my weight as the source of the problem.  You see, losing weight to increase your power to weight ratio is only effective as long as you are able to maintain your power numbers.  I should have realized that my power was dropping because I was too light for my body's own good.  But I refused.

When I got back from Team Smartstop training camp at the end of January this year, I stepped on the scale for the first time in a couple weeks.  I was 161 pounds.  I hadn't seen a number that low since before high school.  I was so happy.  Nevermind how terribly I rode at camp, and how exhausted I felt.  My weight was down as low I thought I could possibly go, and I was happy.  I was a twig, and it was wrong.

A lot of cyclists have similar stories.  Weight is such a concern in the sport that eating habits border on eating disorders.  I was weighing myself probably a dozen times daily.  When I woke up, after any meal, after any trip to the bathroom, after every ride, and before bed.  Obsessive is the only word for it.

When I decided to step away from cycling, my desire to push myself remained.  A door was opened up for me to start lifting weights again.  I quickly remembered why I loved it so much.  There's nothing like finishing an awesome workout with exhausted and tingling muscles.  There's even an appreciation for the soreness that you wake up with the next day.  With every workout comes a sense of accomplishment.  I was finally in a position to build around my natural body type again.  I started eating to gain weight and muscle.  I ate without regrets and the constant thought of how long I'd have to ride to burn it off.  I stopped caring about my weight.  I'd step on the scale, see a higher number and be happy with it.  Before long I was knocking on the door of 180 pounds.

Most days, after I get home from work, I hit the weight room for an hour and a half to two hours.  During that time, it's always about building, getting better, and getting stronger.  My focus is not on hitting a number, it's about being better than the last time.  I can't put words to how good it feels to be happy with my physique again.  Yes, I still pay a lot of attention to it.  A lot.  But it's always positive.
The difference a year makes is incredible.  I've gained nearly 30 pounds in less than ten months, and I could not be happier.  I've got muscles in places they've never been before, definition I always wanted, oh yeah, and a beard.

 I've finally dropped the weight weenie act.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I'm Single and Actually Okay With It

No, I don't have a girlfriend. No I'm not dating anyone.  And no, there isn't even a person of interest apart from that cute girl I just saw on whatever commercial just came on tv.  No I'm not really looking, and no I'm not stressed about it.  Yes, I'm single, and I'm actually okay with it.

Going through college without having any really serious relationships, I began to notice a growing pressure to have a special someone and be moving toward a happily ever after.  To be honest, I always pictured myself meeting someone while I was in school that could eventually be my wife.  But it didn't happen.  Now that I'm in the real world, working for a living and supporting myself, I feel like that pressure is growing even stronger. It seems like I'm constantly enduring recommendations of where I should go to meet girls and what kind of girl I should date or being asked what exactly I'm "looking for".  It has become a frustrating topic for me, because to be honest I'm really not looking right now.

My parents were a bit old fashioned when it came to setting up dating rules.  Specifically, I wasn't allowed to date anyone until I turned 16.  I'll pause for a moment to let you recover, because I know that blew a lot of minds.  I'll admit I was really frustrated by that rule growing up, and tried to bend it as much as possible with unofficial "girlfriends" in elementary and middle school.  Looking back now, I don't mind so much.  I mean, what's the point of being able to date if you can't even drive to pick them up? However, as I got closer and closer to 16 I started seeing all my friends with girlfriends and I was always the single third wheel.  I always felt lonely, and began to develop a sense that my worth was found in my relationship status.

After turning sixteen, with my license to drive and my sweet truck (which I got off ebay, true story) I was on the prowl as some might say.  It wasn't long before I had my first real girlfriend, but it didn't last long either.  It lasted just long enough for me to get emotionally invested and then let down.  I found my worth in that relationship status and then lost it at the drop of a hat.

I ended up in another relationship towards the end of my junior year, that lasted nearly to graduation. I was head over heels and I put everything I had into this one.  I was happy to have someone to give my attention to, to try to make feel special, but most of all make me feel worth something.  That was probably the first time in my life that I've cared about someone so much that I would have done anything for them.  I knew we were just in high school, but it felt like more than just a high school relationship.  And then it wasn't.  My walls came crashing down on me, and I felt lonelier than ever.

In college I got into some relationships either because of loneliness, convenience, or in effort to impress friends that really weren't worth the fuss.  I'd become much more emotionally guarded after being let down so hard, and put myself in the position to be the heart-breaker for a change.  I didn't like that side any better, and it made me feel even worse.

I haven't had a girlfriend in probably three years and I haven't been on a date in just as long.

Since my last relationship I've realized that my sense of worth was seriously misplaced.  I realized that I needed to challenge the notion that I needed to be with someone to be worth something or complete. I realized that I have way too much work to do on myself before I worry about bringing someone else into this mess.  One of my favorite quotes on this comes from Ben Stuart, the pastor at Breakaway at A&M (Whoop!).  He went through a similar process in college and said he realized, "there couldn't be a healthy WE, because there wasn't a healthy ME".

In this past year I've gone through some serious swings.  I moved to Colorado.  Whoa.  (Yeah, I miss you Texas and this CO drivers license is lame...) I joined a professional cycling team. Whoa. I left a professional cycling team. Whoa? I got a job that makes me wake up at 4am every day.  Whoa.

I've had to start learning financial responsibility and how to balance work life with personal time. I've had to figure out how to make new friends and get involved in a totally new area.  I've had to figure out how to grow spiritually and maintain my faith without the same close support system.  I've had to figure out how to keep myself accountable for my actions.

To be honest, I've got so much on my plate right now that even the idea of trying to find a girlfriend and figuring out how to balance that time commitment feels overwhelming.  Financially supporting myself is a big enough task that I don't need to worry about paying for nights out and dinners on dates.

In short I've got enough work to do to get a healthy ME, before I worry about a healthy WE.

What's that you say? Oh, I could still just have fun, and play the field?  Great idea, except that's neither how I was raised nor how I want to approach dating.  At its core that seems degrading and selfish, to just look for someone to meet  your needs and then move on.  I know it sounds stupid to a lot of you, because it's so contrary to societal beliefs, but when I'm ready to start looking, I'm looking for long term (read life term) and thinking of the end game.  And yes, I'm going to be "picky".

So since I'm not in a place where I can say I'm ready to meet that person, I'm not looking.  If we cross paths, great, but right now I'm not turning over stones.  So like I said earlier:

No I don't have a girlfriend, I'm not looking, and I'm not stressed about it.  I'm single, and I'm actually okay with it.  You should be too.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Woman Behind the Camera

The month of May is a difficult one for me. In a single month occurs my mom's birthday and Mother's day, just over a week apart.  Two days meant for me to show my appreciation for her and all that she has done for me.  Something I've never been good at.  To say my mom and I have had our fair share of rough patches is an understatement.  I was the kind of kid that heard their full name around the house a lot, if you know what I mean.  I'm embarrassed to think of how rude and callous I've been to her over the years, now that I've come to realize how much she has done for me.  So this mother's day, I've decided to do something different and actually look back on my 23 years with my mom and show some appreciation.

Now the goal here is to get some tears rolling on your side of the screen, so if you prefer not to read sappy writing, read no further.

My mom always got the short end of the stick when it came to my affection.  I've always had a really strong bond with my dad through sports.  We spent a ton of time together practicing baseball and doing other athletic activities.  We shared my biggest interest, so the relationship came naturally.  My mom never had it so easy.  Learning to cook, clean, and type were not high on my priorities list so she had to drag me kicking and screaming through all of it.  It was an uphill battle to say the least, but it was a battle won.  I remember spending a couple of summers in elementary school sitting at the computer playing games.  Not your usual kid games, though.  Paws in Typing Town.  If you give me a minute I'm pretty sure I could still sing the intro song. 
I spent a lot of frustrating hours, under my mom's direction, learning how to type correctly. There was no way I was going to grow up, the son of a transcriber, without knowing how to type with proper form.  I never really enjoyed it, but I can see now as I type that it was worth it. 

In middle school I finally began to develop a shared passion  with my mom:  Music.  I spent a couple years taking guitar lessons in elementary school, but it never really took. When I joined the middle school band to play the saxophone I finally got interested.  My mom comes from an incredibly musical family, so I grew up listening to her play the flute, hand bells, and the piano.  I still remember how much I loved watching her play Pink Panther and Pop! Goes the Weasel on the piano. There's a point in Pop! Goes the Weasel where she would cross her hands over each other while she played, and it blew my mind every time.  When I took up the saxophone I was able to get extra help at home with reading music.  My mom spent a lot of time helping me out and it really showed.  Thanks to her help (and forcing me to practice every day) I progressed to the point of being invited to join the 8th grade band as a 6th grader, and later made all region band.  Unfortunately as I entered high school sports took precedence and music fell by the wayside.  I just recently took up the saxophone and guitar again, and found an old competition piece that I played. It was a duet, and my mom accompanied me on the piano. We spent so much time working on that piece together to perfect it. It's incredible how just by playing it again, I'm taken right back to that time when we shared the piano bench and played together. 

In high school I really started to make things tough on her.  For whatever reason there always seemed to be tension between us.  Any chance I had to get out of the house, I took full advantage of.  We had a lot of arguments that I still remember and regret, and I cut her down a lot.  But even through my hardened words she kept loving and supporting me in all that I did.  She spent days on end making a really special presentation for me with photos she has taken throughout my life.  My mom has always been a great scrap-Booker so her photo records are impeccable.  If you've spent much time around us, you know that my mom has her camera ready at a moment's notice.  She catches a lot of flak for it, but it's when she puts something together like this presentation that you realize the meaning behind it.  Over forty five minutes of photos, put to music, chronicling my entire life up to that point. Almost a thousand photos. 

 At first, I didn't really have much appreciation for it, but I looked through it again today.  You see I wanted to find some great pictures of her and me.  But I haven't really been able to find many.  That's when I realized, that's because she's spent all these years behind the camera, taking photos of us. She's so proud of my brother and me, that she doesn't put herself in the picture.  My whole life, she has done anything and everything to help me along the way.  Well today I'd like to make her the focus of the picture.


Thank you for everything.  For spending all these years helping me to become the best that I can be.  For making me type, clean, cook, and do my best in school so that I can be a decent, self-sufficient human being.  Thank you for making things tough on me, even though I didn't enjoy it.  For teaching me financial responsibility and work ethic.  Thank you for getting me out in the yard, pulling weeds at a young age.  It stuck! And thank you for all the little things I never noticed.  I'm sorry I waited until I was all moved out and on my own to learn to appreciate you.  I'll do my best to make it up to you. 

One of my most distinct memories from my early years is from a night with fitful sleep.  I remember you coming to my room and taking me to the wooden rocking chair, and sitting me on your lap.  I remember how you slowly rocked me as my head rested on your shoulder until I fell back asleep.  I know I've always been your baby and you've just been looking out for me.  Looking back I wouldn't ask you to do it any differently.

And remember, no matter what:
I'll love you forever
I'll like you for always
And as long as I'm living
My Mommy you'll be.

Happy Mother's Day!


Monday, March 31, 2014

Time Heals All Tanlines

For a while now I've considered starting a blog to chronicle my adventures as a professional cyclist, much like dear old big brother.  I think it a little ironic, then, that my first blog should be about my choice to end a very short-lived career as such.  I'm sure among many cycling friends, this decision is one that will garner little sympathy, but I'm fine with that.  In the end I have had to boil everything down to what I consider to be in my best interests and disregard everything else.  If you care to know the reason behind the madness, then strap in, because you're about to get a crash course in my life.

You see, I've got this older brother that has managed to find a lot of success in life.  Great guy, great values, incredibly smart, and talented on a bike beyond belief with determination for days.  In short, growing up, I had an incredible role model to look up to and emulate to replicate successes and avoid mistakes.  Despite my admiration for him, we didn't always get along as well as we do now.  I like to joke that we never shared a room until we were all grown up and in college.

We both grew up playing baseball on teams our dad helped coach.  Baseball was, and still remains my first love.  I still get nostalgic any time I put a glove on, and hesitate to let anyone use the gloves I so carefully broke in and maintained.  Whenever Chad's team was playing I would make sure to ride to the game with him and our dad and get there an hour early for the warm-ups.  I would always hang out in the outfield and run down any over-thrown balls that got by.  Even though I was three years younger than most of the guys on the team, they usually didn't mind me hanging around since it meant less running for them.  I even got to sit on the bench with the guys during the game, so long as I didn't distract them.  I learned a lot from those years of watching baseball at a higher level, and developed my playing skills even further.  I got to know the guys on the team pretty well and grew fond of my nickname, "little Haga". The name stuck, as I found out years after Chad had given up baseball for music and bicycles.

I don't remember much  about my first day of high school.  I remember being nervous and wondering if I'd be able to find my friends in the freshman class of almost 900 students.  I remember taking the wrong lunch period and having lunch twice that day.  And I remember walking into the room for the baseball class period.  If you never played organized sports in high school, you may not know how seriously the seniority system is taken.  The class for baseball was held inside a coaches office with very limited seating.  If you were a freshman, you were guaranteed to sit on the floor.  If you managed to grab a chair, any guy from a higher class had the right to boot you to the floor.  When I walked through the doors of that office, I had no idea what to expect, and what I got surprised me more than I could have guessed.  As soon as I walked in, I met the eyes of a lot of familiar faces I didn't expect, and almost immediately heard the yells, "Little Haga!!!"  Suddenly all eyes were on me.  I'm pretty sure I almost broke my tailbone I sat down so fast trying to avoid the attention.  I wasn't on the floor for long, though.  Some jaded sophomore got the boot from his seat, and it was given to me.  I was set.  I had the protection of the senior class, and the coach already knew I was someone to look at.  And from then on, I was "Little Haga" and it felt good.

After seeing Chad race mountain bikes at one of the the local courses I was intrigued.  I ended up riding with him at the local trail on weekends.  He likes to take credit for improving my abilities by leaving me behind and forcing me to get faster if I wanted to keep up.  It's true, though. I eventually got better, and had some success of my own in mountain bike races.  Together we made our road racing debuts in the Cat 5's in the Tuesday Night criteriums.  For me, the racing scene was still back seat to baseball, but I really enjoyed it and the way it brought the brothers Haga closer together.  Eventually, though, I had to give up baseball when I was faced with the prospect of being underplayed.  I was frustrated, and heartbroken to leave my first love behind, but cycling was there to ease the pain and give me something to chase after.

I found the Texas Highschool Cycling League my senior year.  Since I wasn't going to be playing baseball, my weekends were freed up.  My mind was set.  I would travel all spring to races around Texas with my mom and dad, and I would win the overall category. I knew my dad had grown frustrated along with me as I played less and less in the baseball games.  When I made the switch, he became my number one supporter.  We spent a lot of hours in the car together traveling to races.  He was always in the feedzone when I needed him, and always there to see me across the finish line.  When I got my first win and saw the pride in his eyes, my motivation got supercharged.  I won just about every race that year.  I became a huge target to the other racers.  They would watch me all day, but I'd still get away.  My dad likes to reminisce that it wasn't a race until I decided it was time to do something.  I was downright cruel in my tactics at times, but I loved every minute of it.

The high school races were often held in conjunction with collegiate events, which meant I got to show off in front of Chad and his Texas A&M teammates.  I got to hang around the team and get to know a lot of them while he raced, just like the old days.  Many of the riders would compare their time trial times to mine, and we had some good rivalries going.  I remember suddenly being taken seriously when my time in a hill climb tt would have placed me in the top 5 in the collegiate A category.  I imagine it was sometime around then I got my next nickname "Hagasita" modified from "Hagasaki" which Chad had been crowned previously.  When I finally made the decision to follow Chad and pursue a Mechanical Engineering degree and race bikes at A&M, my place had already been made among the team once again.

At this point in my life, I'd given very little thought about my future.  Chad and I had been good at most of the same things in our life up to that point, so it made sense that we were on the same track.  However, if you sincerely asked me why I was in Engineering, I wouldn't have been able to give you a good answer.  I was great in math and science, like Chad had been, so it was the logical choice in my mind.  It wasn't the right one, though.  The spring semester of my second year, I had an epiphany while sitting in class.  I could not have cared less what the professor was talking about.  In fact, I was sure I would hate my life if I had to deal with the things he was talking about, daily.  It was that semester that I decided I no longer wanted to be in the engineering program, despite my 4.0 GPA the previous year. I was pushed to my breaking point that year.  My epiphany came just after the add/drop date, so I was forced to endure a year of differential equations, electrical engineering, and thermodynamics despite knowing for a fact I would be changing majors.  It was during that time that I was forced to finally sit down and think about my future and determine what I was interested in.  My love for the outdoors, combined with my passion for sports (especially baseball) and background in landscaping and yard work made my choice clear-cut.  I was welcomed into the Turfgrass management program with open arms.  I loved every minute of it, and never looked back.  When I'd finally thought about it, I realized that just because I was qualified to be an engineer like Chad, didn't mean I had to be one.

In school, I traveled to a lot of collegiate races with the team on the weekends, and to Texas races on open weekends.  I progressed rapidly when my focus shifted to the bike.  In one season I jumped from a Cat 3 without any upgrade points, to a 1.  I started the season on a DFW area team that had very limited support at races and managed to work my way onto the same Cat1 elite team Chad was on.  They'd seen me progress and kept a close eye on me.  With Chad on the team they were able to lock me down before any of the other teams came knocking.  I spent the rest of my college days on the Austin-based Super Squadra team.  I got to be close with my teammates and came to be fond of my nickname "Baby Haga" that stuck after Chad moved to Colorado and into the professional ranks.  I continued to progress on the same track as Chad, and naturally people started talking about the Haga bros racing professionally together.  It sounded logical.  If Chad can make it, so can I.  So that was my aim.

When I finally graduated college last summer, I was frustrated.  I had set out to secure a professional contract in 2013.  I didn't have the financial cushion leaving school that Chad did due to the difference in pay between an internship at a golf course and an engineering internship.  In my mind, if I didn't have a professional contract leaving school I wouldn't be able to support myself.  I had very few offers from anywhere.  I didn't do as well at U23 nationals as I'd hoped, and I figured that was my ticket.  And then I got a text from Chad that Michael Creed was interested in me for Team Smartstop.  I couldn't believe I was actually going to get my shot.  When I finally signed the contract, I didn't care that I wasn't a salaried rider.  This was going to be my big break.  I worked really hard.  I dropped the 5 lbs I'd been trying to lose really quickly.  I did two-a-days, I lifted, I did core work, I ran. I rode more than I ever had. I wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

Training camp eventually came, and I was excited to show off my form.  I was caught off guard, then, when every day of camp I struggled to hang on.  Each day I got crushed by my teammates and I was amazed at their strength.  I realized that as hard as I had worked, I still needed to work harder if I wanted to get a shot at racing.  But something changed when I got back from training camp.  I knew the riding I needed to do, but I struggled daily for the motivation.  Each day it was tough to get out the door and get on my bike, and many times I would turn around after only a few minutes of riding.  My motivation was drained.  I realized I was not enjoying my time on the bike.  Each ride was just one big countdown.  My thought process went from "want to" ride, to "have to" ride.  I was stuck riding out of obligation and I grew more and more frustrated when I didn't do the rides I was supposed to do.  Training had driven me into a reclusive, verging on depressive state.  It was time to reconsider things.

When I was forced to think about it, I realized that much like engineering I had pursued this career because it was expected.  I loved cycling when I started, but over the years it lost its excitement.  For a long time, I realized, my head had been fighting my heart to keep chasing what I thought was my dream.  Several years ago I endured the most miserable semester of my life trying to get away from engineering.  I know how it feels to be stuck doing something that your heart is not in, and I owe it to myself to get out before it's too late.  If I were to continue, my team would be counting on me to perform at a level requiring training I cannot sustain.  At training camp I saw how excited and motivated my teammates were, and to risk taking away one of their opportunities is the most irresponsible thing I can imagine.  I've realized that I am not obligated to be a professional cyclist just because I'm good at riding bikes.  So after talking with my family and close friends I've decided to step away from racing indefinitely.

I'm excited to take cycling back to its recreational level and let the fun back in.  When it's crappy weather outside, I won't ride and won't have to feel guilty or worse, ride the trainer.  I'm going to mountain bike, a lot.  And I'm not going to stress about how good or bad I feel on a given day.  But best of all, I'm going to think about where I want to go in life, and what I want to be doing.  And I'm going to chase that. If one day the desire to race strikes, you better believe I'll be back. And you better watch out, because I'll be there because I want to be and I do like winning.