There are two kinds of people in this big, wide, beautiful world – the ones who take on a 4,300-mile bike race across America and don’t quit even when a pit bull bite in Kentucky leads to a subsequent rabies shot, and people who…don’t. Janie Hayes jumped back on her bike to finish 3rd overall in her second Trans Am Bike Race in 2017, a complete self-support cross-country race that begins in Oregon and ends in Virginia. What drives Janie ripples through all facets of her life.
Janie was a wild child – always in the dirt and playing hard with the boys. As her teenage years approached, this instinct was stifled by messages to fit in as a typical girl who lived a little more softly. “I felt this conflict between being a girl and liking boys and wanting to respond to what I really was, which was a girl who wanted to be running around and sweating. I shut that part of myself down.” It wasn’t until just before her senior year in college that young girl re-emerged. During a summer at home, wrestling with that feeling we all know too well at this point in life, marked by a confusion and emptiness of what’s next when all of a sudden it’s all up to us, drove her to consider attempting a marathon. She bought a book at the mall, trained like it told her to, and 6 months later finished her first 26.2 mile running race. This was the start of the last 20 years of racing in Janie’s life.
Starting with running, Janie quickly became addicted to what racing gave to her, which was much more than a medal or the sight of a finish line. “I like the urgency that racing gives to solving and addressing problems. I love riding my bike to ride my bike, but I also love the camaraderie. I love being pushed and challenged by other people; that’s another accelerator for me. So much of the comparison we get trapped in our daily lives is around our jobs, our social media feeds, our social life. This is one way to me that comparison is really healthy. Where you can you look at other people and think, ‘If they can do it, why can’t I at least try?’ I get that out of racing.” Through 16 years of triathlons, running, and road bike racing, Janie has now found a true love and inspiration in long distance peddling.
Janie and her husband moved to Salida in 2012. At that time, it was becoming apparent that racing wasn’t filling Janie up with the good stuff like it once had. Despite multiple Ironman triathlons, including the Kona World Championships, and the opportunity to work with a coach to try to reach the professional level, racing had become wrapped up in pressure and expectation. Taking a break from it needed to be the next step. Janie needed a new direction and found it one night in a community movie night that was showing “Inspired to Ride,” a piece about the first Trans Am ride. She left that night knowing she had to at least try.
Janie describes her first year in this cross-country race, “I didn’t know what I was doing. This is a great adventure and a woman named Lael Wilcox won the race outright. That was super inspiring when I realized that women can be really good at this kind of racing.” She signed back up for 2017, hired a coach, trained specifically, and got 3rd overall. The gratification of seeing what was possible was back.
Today, Janie is planning to launch her own business to help women with the mental side of challenges. “When you’re in the midst of it, I have two choices, I can try, or I can quit. Inevitably, you try, and it turns out you can do it, and you learn something about yourself.” When this lesson is applied to all areas of life, the sky truly is the limit. “Progress, not perfection, is an important goal to reach for. Especially for women because we grow up thinking we need to just nail it all. Doing this kind of racing allows me to be easier on myself because I get a better picture of can the reality of how it happens. It’s not about flogging yourself every day. It’s about taking good care of yourself,” Janie explains.
What keeps us on a path of passion? What inspires us to attempt what may seem insurmountable? Janie believes it’s incremental progress. Getting up and doing something every single day, and some of the time it’s not enjoyable, but then the point where it all comes together arrives, and something so much bigger is accomplished. Her strength and resilience surmount the voice that says no, and I think we can all use a little more of that magic. From what I can tell, it all begins with simply giving it a go.
by Anna Sitton
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