The Homestretch Diaries
SoCal's Maddy Ward is a resident at the Homestretch Foundation. It's mission is to "level the playing field of salary discrepancy in sport, so that female professional athletes have the same wages and equal opportunities as male professional athletes." They assist up and coming pro cyclists with an environment and the tools to help with their progression as they prepare for the next level of the sport. Maddy Ward was chosen due to her hard earned race results on the national level and shares with us her experiences while at Homestretch.
The past 3 weeks have whizzed by. How is it NYE (and time for my next post) already?! So much has happened since I last wrote in.
I'm starting to feel pretty familiar with Tucson: I've made great friends, rode all the way to the top of Mt. Lemmon, did the Shootout, and experienced the Mercado. The Mercado is arguably of greatest importance, at least to anyone who considers themselves a cyclist in Tucson.
A huge part of feeling at home, wherever you are, is having a great group of friends to spend time with. Volunteering with my housemates has provided great opportunities to get to know each other better. So far we have volunteered our time at a Luminaries night and a local farm, and also did a self-organized trash clean up along a busy main road. The Luminaries event was a volunteer's dream. It was our responsibility to walk around the venue -- a beautiful botanical garden -- and relight any tea candles that went out. Having to pause occasionally to reignite or replace a candle actually improved my tour around of all the decorated pathways lined with Luminaries. I felt like I was essential to keeping the event running, and it was a wonderful experience that put me in the holiday spirit. A couple days later, three of us visited Felicia's Farm to provide whatever help was needed to the full time staff. Janelle, Emma, and I ended up working very closely with chickens. First we evenly dispersed new straw all over the ground in the chicken coop. Oh yeah, of course I caught and held one of the chickens. Then we shovelled sand into wheelbarrows and brought it inside the coop to create what could be described as a sandbox for the chickens. But the sand isn't for playing. It turns out chickens eat the sand in order to help their gizzards break down and grind food to make for easier digestion. Now there's a fun fact from Felicia's Farm. And most recently, four of us walked up and down Houghton Road picking up trash. It's sad to say that we filled up four big trash bags in a little under an hour. There was especially a lot of trash in the washes, which serve as the final resting place for garbage after it gets swept off the road by rain. Time spent doing such meaningful work and getting to share in giving back to the community really brought all of the Stretchies closer together. However, I must say that we also had the pleasure of bonding over a ubiquitous bonking that took hold at the end of a hike to Seven Falls. The scenery was very worth it though.
I personally feel close enough to everyone in the Homestretch that I consider us a family. As such, we have hosted several family and friends dinners over the last few weeks. Most notably, we had German food on Christmas Eve and Chinese food on Christmas Day. For Christmas Eve we were lucky enough to experience our friend Julian's homemade Labskaus, a flavorful corned beef hash with beets, onions, and other ingredients that my unrefined palate cannot remember. It was topped with an egg and paired with pickles and Herring in Wine. Let's just say I was happy I had leftovers to eat for the next few days. The Chinese food for Christmas dinner was not homemade, but fantastic all the same. Although I can't forget that there was homemade stuffing and cranberry sauce that perfectly complemented the lo mein, kung pao chicken, fried rice, Singapore noodles, sweet and sour soup, and broccoli beef. And then for the finale was the best chocolate torte with ganache and caramel that I have ever had, and probably ever will have, in my life. Just these dinners alone have made spending the holidays in Tucson one for the books. But Christmas festivities didn't stop there. A few of us went on a great ride through Saguaro National Park, we all opened stockings filled with little gifts from everyone in the house, and ended the night with the Polar Express. I couldn't have been luckier to get to spend my first Christmas away from home with such amazing people.
Not only have I gotten extremely close with the other Stretchies, but I've had the chance to make new friends outside of the Homestretch as well. The Stretchie ride has been the perfect avenue for meeting local Tucson cyclists. In fact I just watched Love Actually for the third time with a friend I met on the ride. It's getting to know the cool people who show up on those Friday mornings that makes each Spin with the Stretchies better than the last. And to my surprise the Stretchie ride even attracts San Diego cyclists! My friend Miki came out to ride with us on his way to a cyclocross race. It was great to have the chance to catch up with him for a little bit after the ride. He's been an amazing supporter of the Homestretch. I've met two others, Asa and Nico, who are also doing their part in supporting the Homestretch. Everyone at the Homestretch was interviewed once by Asa for an article and once by Nico for a short film. Both Asa and Nico were inspired and impressed when they heard about the Homestretch's mission. They both asked to interview us in order to help spread the word to the outside world and cultivate notoriety for the foundation. I'm proud to have been included in both projects.
So am I actually training, you ask? I sure am, and holy moly I've put some good miles in. For one, I finally made it to the top of Lemmon. It's an incredible climb in and of itself, but at the top there's the much talked about Cookie Cabin, home of the giant face-sized cookies. Or so I've been told… because when I got there it was closed. I was two days too early before it reopened again after a week. I was a bit disappointed, but still content in knowing that I was at the top. Cookie-less, sure, but I'll get one another time. Then there's the Shootout. Yep, it's definitely fast BUT I made it all the way without getting dropped. I felt very accomplished. Since I rode to the start of the ride from the Homestretch, I got 106 miles in that day. Not too shabby. Fortunately, the Shootout ends at the previously mentioned Mercado, the ultimate cyclist hangout, so I had time to recover a little before riding back to the Homestretch. Enjoying Presta Coffee and cheap pastries at the Mercado is the essence of the Tucson cycling culture. We all sit around at tables, on chairs, even on the ground in an open square in the middle of shops and just chill. There are days when the entire ride is just going to and from the Mercado. That happens to be what I'm planning to ride on New Year's Eve, as a matter of fact. But there has been more to training than the Mercado. I just finished my first hard block of training since getting to Tucson, putting in a lot of hours and intensity on the bike. Each block is three weeks long followed by a rest week. Getting good sleep and really focusing on recovery towards the end of the block and during the rest week is absolutely vital to staying healthy. Unfortunately for me, I had a hard time sleeping several nights in a row and I ended up getting sick. I took two days completely off and am just now getting back into doing longer rides. So this entire upcoming week of training had to be completing revised to account for being sick. I won't be slacking anymore on letting my body properly recover from my hard training sessions. Lesson learned.
Thankfully I've also received positive lessons during this three week block. I attended two very important clinics: a sprint clinic from Lauren Hall and a bike washing clinic from Julian. I learned a lot from the sprint clinic, but there's no doubt in my mind that I needed more help with how to properly wash a bike. I'll have to keep reminding myself that a clean bike is a fast bike in order to inspire more regular bike washing. The last important lesson I learned has to do with weightlifting form and technique. The Homestretch works closely with CrossFit FIXX, a gym in East Tucson. CrossFit FIXX is so relaxed and welcoming that I feel comfortable asking for advice on anything I'm unfamiliar with. I've learned a lot since I started lifting there and now feel more confident with several different exercises.
Lastly, I can't talk about training in Tucson without mentioning all the flats. Tucson roads are notorious for heat cracks, sharp debris, and potholes, so flatting at one time or another is almost inevitable. That being said, all three of the flats I've had so far were in one weekend. Blah. I felt especially victimized. But it's been smooth sailing since then, knock on wood.
Before signing off, I have an exciting update to share: Kathryn offered me a spot at the Homestretch for February as well, so now I'll be here for a total of three months. I realized I went the entire last post without mentioning Kathryn Bertine, one of the founders of the Homestretch. I couldn't be more grateful for everything that Kathryn has done to make the Homestretch happen and for letting me take part in its mission, so I'm beyond fortunate to get to stay for an extra month. I'm looking forward to meeting the new Stretchies who will be arriving in January, and I am thankful to be ringing in the new year at the Homestretch surrounded by bikes, friends, and the Mercado. Happy New Year!
Maddy Ward is a Cat 1 from San Diego California. She rides for SDBC and unintentionally owns a lot of QOM's in SoCal. When she's not riding she takes deep dives into classic novels and loves local coffee.