By Marv Zauderer
In the last installment of this Sport Psychology column, we discussed Recovering from Injury with guest experts Ted King, of the Liquigas-Cannondale Pro Cycling team, and Dr. Renee Newcomer Appaneal, Assistant Professor at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This month, we learn from a 29-year-old Israeli man who has just completed an arduous, exhilarating cycling odyssey around the Earth.
Just under four years ago, I was riding through Marin County, California, when I saw a cyclist stopped at the side of the road. With his red hair and bushy beard buried in a map, and heavy panniers on his bike, he looked to be on a long journey. I slowed. “Can you tell me how to get to the Golden Gate Bridge,” he asked, with an unmistakable Israeli accent. “Sure,” I said, “I’m headed that way.” I introduced myself, using the Hebrew words for “pleased to meet you,” and after his double-take, we struck up a conversation (in English; my Hebrew was way too rusty). I learned he had started in Alaska, and was riding through California on his way to the southern tip of South America – the first leg of Roei “Jinji” Sadan’s amazing four-year journey around the world.
Since that day, I have been moved and inspired many times by Roei’s e-mail dispatches from the road. So many extraordinary stories, photos, movies, and people from his 40,000-mile journey, and so many challenges overcome: being hit by cars (twice), being robbed at gunpoint (once), incredibly long, high and hard climbs (many), not knowing where his next meal was coming from (often), near-death from malaria, and hundreds – even thousands – of miles of solitude without a living soul in sight. What kind of mind survives – no, thrives on – such a journey? What are the mental skills he used, skills that we might apply to our own riding? PEZ was honored to speak with Roei, shortly before his brief vacation in Asia and a ceremonial Amman-to-Jerusalem ride home, where he would be met by his family, friends, sponsor, and the president of his country.
PEZ: Before you started your journey, what were your goals?
Roei Sadan: I hiked [900km, alone] from the north of Israel to the south. After that I had a small dream – I went to the Himalayas for a year and a half. I hiked, and I did a mountain-climbing course for 3 months with the [Indian] army. I got to know myself…I always say that I get to know myself in the most extreme conditions. If it’s loneliness – that’s where I find myself.
PEZ: The solitude.
Roei: Exactly. I’m not a nomad. I like company. But, if I want to listen to my heart, I need quiet. I don’t like to ride with other people who like to measure me….I don’t need to look powerful in order to feel powerful. People who don’t know me can’t tell me if I’m capable or not capable; only I can….The goal was not getting to Sydney. The goal was the journey. The goal was to know who I am as a human being.
PEZ: So rather than being consumed with the outcome of your journey, you were immersed in the process, the experience of the journey. It sounds like your goal was to be as fully in your experience as you could be.
Roei: Yes, and I did it my way. Yesterday I went on a ride [with some people]. It was nice, but people looked at my bike, and they said there’s no way that I can ride with that kind of bike. It’s not the bike, it’s what you do with it….If you want to be a good athlete, you need to be a good person to yourself, not pushing yourself too much. I’m not a sprinter in my mind; I’m a marathoner.
PEZ: Like marathon runners, our readers struggle with suffering. When you had pain and fatigue on the bike, what helped you?
Roei: I embraced it. If you have pain, it’s not bad. It means that you’re growing.
PEZ: Tell me about a time when you embraced the pain.
Roei: One of the tools I use is [having the perspective of] a wide-angle lens. For example, in the Andes, the big mountains – a 70km climb, dirt road, no escort cars, and 40 kilos [of gear] on the bike. You don’t eat well. You need to climb to 5000m. And you’re alone. It’s you and the mountain. Now what? I could think like a victim. But I chose it [the climb] two years before when I made my first step in Alaska….There is a saying: he who has been in the lowest valley, he is the one who will appreciate the summit. I’m dealing with nature, I’m dealing with culture, with things that are stronger than me. So who am I that I’m going to be against it? I’m with it.
PEZ: So embracing the pain was about being fully in your choice rather than backing down from it. And there was meaning in it for you – you knew you would grow from climbing that mountain, and you wanted that.
Roei: Yes. I had to zoom out. For example, when I came to Perth, in Western Australia, before starting this huge continent. And OK, I already had [ridden] five continents, but still, it’s a big one. You look into the desert, 1000km of nothing, nothing, nothing. You don’t know when you’re going to finish it. I said OK, I’m going to get to the Sydney Opera House. So if there’s going to be pain I might as well enjoy it.
PEZ: How did fear or worry come up for you along the way?
Roei: Listen – when you’re riding alone [like this], every feeling comes in an extreme way – worry, jealousy, faith, love….
PEZ: It sounds a lot like being on a meditation retreat. So when fears came up, how did you handle them?
Roei: I’m looking at the world and I’m looking at my life. I’m 29 years old, and I’m living my dream. How many people in the world can say they’re living their dream? I’ve been in places, I’ve seen how people lived, I saw the poverty in Africa – and they lived with a smile. So who am I to complain?
PEZ: Fear or worry is about the future – so rather than letting yourself be drawn into the future, you brought yourself back to the present: how fortunate you felt, how grateful you were to be exploring the world, meeting new people – is that right?
Roei: Yeah. People always worry about the future. If you want a better future, you have to act now.
PEZ: How did you get support from people when times were tough?
Roei: Sometimes you only need a smile. I learned that people who have nothing want to give you everything.
PEZ: What did you learn about your own limits?
Roei: I knew that I was living for the challenge, but I knew that it could also kill me. I’m not going to do something that doesn’t challenge me, and that is a little bit frightening….When I had 2000km of desert, where even the camels think they get lost, it’s not a place for a human being to be on a bicycle.
PEZ: Was there ever a time when you considered giving up?
Roei: Never. Even when I had a gun pointing at me, when they robbed me in Mexico. Even when I got hit by cars, when I had extreme malaria. If you believe in yourself, other people will believe in you.
PEZ: It wasn’t just that you believed in the dream of this journey; you believe in all of your dreams.
Roei: I believe in myself. The dream is me. The map is me. To say that I’m giving up on myself, there’s no way. Maybe my journey didn’t begin in Alaska. Maybe it began in the Himalayas, before I knew how to fix a flat tire. Maybe it was when I was in the army, when I always pushed myself to be the best and help my friends. My first dream was to be a professional basketball player. In 7th grade, I’d wake up at 6am, my mom would make my lunch, and I’d go and shoot hoops for an hour before going to school. Noone told me to do that. I didn’t succeed, but it’s OK.
PEZ: You named your bike “Emuna,” the Hebrew word for faith. It sounds like who you had faith in was you.
Roei: Myself, and the way.
PEZ: The way – say more about that.
Roei: The way – it’s how you treat people, how you treat the mountains, how you treat the people who are helping you, how you treat the obstacles. If I want to be better, I have to have a challenge. If you want to do something big, it’s OK to do it for yourself only. People think that doing what I did – I needed to do it for a greater cause: world peace, [curing] cancer. I did it because it was my dream.
PEZ: So it was like Gandhi said – “be the change you want to see in the world.” You did it for your own growth, to become more fully yourself.
Roei: Exactly. People look at me and see themselves. People look at the mountains I climb and they see their [own] mountains.
PEZ: So by doing it for yourself, you also did it for others.
In the interview, Roei illustrated a number of mental skills, each of which you can read more about and apply to your own riding:
• Self-awareness, a crucial element in mental fitness
• Goal-setting, and particularly the value of process goals
• Comparing yourself with others
• Increasing your tolerance for suffering
• Managing emotions such as fear and anxiety
• Supporting yourself, including using effective self-talk – the self-coaching that is central to overcoming adversity
• Getting support from others
• Sustaining motivation and the power of your desire
• Setting and challenging your limits
• Putting failure in its place
• Using your riding for personal growth – the power of cyclotherapy
I leave you with one of Roei’s favorite quotes, from T.E. Lawrence – “Lawrence of Arabia” – who said:
All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.
Make it so!
Marv Zauderer, in his sport performance coaching practice, works with amateur and professional athletes from all sports on the mental skills needed for peak performance. He works in person, by phone, and by Skype, and speaks to groups about the mental side of sport. Marv co-leads the Mental Skills Training program at Whole Athlete, a performance center in Marin County, California that provides a comprehensive set of coaching, testing, fitting, and consulting services to athletes. Having had a 20-year career in high technology previously, he also coaches business professionals on improving their performance at work. He is a licensed psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, USA Cycling Level 2 coach, and Masters road racer for Taleo Racing. Marv would love to hear your thoughts on this article – you can email him at email@example.com. His website is www.marvinz.com.