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.
I've always identified as an athlete. I grew up playing soccer and softball, and competed in track and cross country all four years of high school. Now I'm proud to say that I can add another descriptor to my identity: I am a Stretchie. A Stretchie is a resident of the Homestretch Foundation, a non-profit organization in Tucson, Arizona established to help support professional and elite female cyclists’ as they pursue their cycling careers and personal goals. On oftentimes less than a $10,000 salary, female cyclists have to find a way to cover their cost of living while also putting in the hours and hours on the bike that professional cycling demands. Thanks to the Homestretch, Stretchies are provided with free housing and several resources to alleviate some of this financial pressure - pressure that could detract from the ability to put in the rigorous training required to sustain their career.
For the months of December and January, I've been given the opportunity to benefit from the incredible work the Homestretch Foundation has done and continues to do for women's cycling, all while experiencing the amazing cycling scene in Tucson. Professional cyclists come from all over to train in Tucson during the winter months thanks to its great weather, varying terrain, famous group rides, and amazing cycling community. So... I'm living in the mecca for winter training, free of rent, in an absolutely beautiful house, with five other female cyclists who are incredibly dedicated to their cycling careers and aspirations. In other words, this is a once in a lifetime kinda deal. I'm still trying to wrap my head around how I managed to make it into a program as special and generous as the Homestretch is. I can't express enough how thankful I am for everyone who helped me get here and for everyone who I know I'm going to learn so much from during these two months.
My first week at the Homestretch has just about come to an end. I arrived Friday, December 1st after a little road trip from San Diego with my mom and then Saturday morning I jumped right into the Tucson bike life. My mom and I took two beater bikes from our Airbnb and hit the River Path, a 60+ mile bike path that goes all around Tucson. It was a chilly morning (something I'm going to have to get used to), but my mom and I had a great time. I moved into the Homestretch later that day, got a tour of the house from Lauren Hall (!!!!) who is the Homestretch general manager, and did my best to settle in. In this case, settling in meant going on a 4.5 hour ride the next morning with the other Stretchies. I definitely felt that long ride later in the day and into the next, but it was fun getting to know my housemates while seeing the new roads and desert scenery. Speaking of new roads: Mt. Lemmon is the famous climb in Tucson. It's probably what Tucson is most known for, along with the Shootout on Saturdays which is a huge, fast, and challenging group ride that I'm excited to try out. I'm hoping to do it next week. However, I have had the chance to check out at least part of Mt. Lemmon, about a 23 mile climb that reaches over 8,000 ft. On Tuesday, my allotted 3 hour ride allowed for me to get to about Mile 18. This coming Sunday though, I'm making it all the way. I can't let my first week pass by without witnessing the entirety of Lemmon.
My most recent ride was the Spin with the Stretchies, a weekly Friday coffee ride with cyclists from the community, and we got caught in the rain. The storm system made its way from San Diego to Tucson and the rain came down pretty heavy. So much for the ideal Tucson weather, huh? But the rain didn't stop me from having a good time so I take back all my complaints. The Spin with the Stretchies ride is just one example of how the Homestretch works to give back. Stretchies are required to do 2 hours of volunteer work per week and there is no shortage of fun community service opportunities we can delve into. It'll be a great way to learn more about Tucson and I have a feeling it will add to my appreciation for my time here.
One aspect of this Homestretch experience that struck me almost immediately is how the Homestretch provides us with the ability to dedicate time to recovery without having to worry about outside stresses. The Homestretch has given me the luxury to structure my day to day life around my training schedule. And I don't say luxury lightly. I realize time to chill, kick back, and relax isn't something most people can afford to fit into their day. The Homestretch is a cycling utopia that is not only a place to call home while intensely training, but is also a place where you can intensely recover, just as important an element for improving performance.
So when I'm not biking, I'm recovering. Recovery so far has included hot yoga, reading, eating, learning some cooking tips from my fellow Stretchies, and lots of Netflix. We've watched Love Actually twice already this week. At home in San Diego I did feel pressured to be more productive while not on the bike, even if I was exhausted from training. But here that outside pressure is lifted because recovery time is considered productive. I have to say no longer feeling that pressure is liberating and something I will never take for granted because I've struggled under that weight for a good part of this past year.
So with that, Week 1 is pretty much complete! I can't wait to see what the following weeks have in store for me. I have a hunch it's only going to get better from here.
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.