Determination and The Art of Bicycle Maintenance

Susan Zemlin

Susan Zemlin

I bought a new bike this summer — a fast road bike with skinny tires and a carbon frame. I wanted to be fast on the bike leg of my first triathlon at the Olympic distance. I had done a couple of sprint triathlons where I saw my swimming advantage disappear when I got on my hybrid commuter bike, and people on the fast bikes whizzed past me. I also bought clip pedals and cycling shoes. This was serious business.

Two miles into my first training ride, I tipped over after stopping unexpectedly while getting used to clip pedals and jammed the chain by not knowing how to properly put it back on. I had to hang my head and call my husband to pick me up. If you know me, you know I am not a fan of giving up, and I like to be able to fix things myself. So I kept my cycling gear on and took the bike to my friends at Trailhead Cycle, where they did not make fun of me, and they fixed my bike so I could finish my ride. While at Trailhead I signed up for a free bike repair class. I was not going to get in this jam again! It was a great class, and I got some tips about how to improve my speed as well.

Fast forward to the Maple Grove Triathlon. It was cold and rainy, but the other people in my wave were really friendly and gave great advice. We wished each other well and dove into the lake. The swim was fun, and I ran to my bike, waving at my husband and laughing with the announcer about being one of the only athletes without a wetsuit. I got on my bike and was doing really well. This time I was passing other people. Eight miles into the bike ride the rain caused my bike to hydroplane, and I crashed. I thought I was not going to be able to finish and that my fun was over. After realizing I did not need paramedics and might be able to keep going (though I had some nasty road rash), I turned my attention to my bike. Another athlete stopped to see if I was OK. My chain was off, my handlebars were stuck under the crossbar, and it took both of us to yank them out. I sent him on his way after thanking him, flipped my bike upside down, and used my new bike repair knowledge to replace my chain and inspect my bike properly.


The story has a happy ending. I finished the remaining sixteen miles of the bike leg and ran the 10k. I finished my first Olympic Distance triathlon injured and in pouring rain. While on the last lap of the run I encountered the nice athlete who had helped me with my handlebars, and I took the chance to really thank him and learn his story. Determination, collaboration, and preparation won that day.

I admit my world of choir was not on my mind at that time, but later on I reflected on the parallels between my success in the triathlon and my growth as a choral conductor and educator. This is my thirtieth year of teaching choral music. When I started out, I had no idea there would be obstacles. When I first encountered them I was frustrated. Luckily I was born with that “I can’t stand to give up” thing, so I kept going. I started figuring out that I needed some “Choir Director Maintenance and Repair” classes. I found them in Summer Dialogue, The VoiceCare Network, taking voice lessons, and singing in choirs. There were always other choir directors along the route who were there to help me when my “handlebars” were stuck. There has always been a colleague — sometimes even from another department — to “run in the rain” with me. It turns out that the obstacles are not there to frustrate us. They are part of the grand adventure that leads to an adrenaline rush that cannot be experienced by giving up.

I do not intend to cross the finish line anytime soon. This race is much longer than an Olympic distance triathlon and is gratifying every time a new obstacle is conquered. But what I have learned on the way:

1. It pays to have good, ongoing training.

2. You are never alone.

3. A lot of determination and even a little bit of crazy is a good thing.


Finally, to all of you who have been there to help me on my journey, please accept my profound gratitude. Some of you have given me advice, training, and tools. Some of you have run with me in the rain. This is why we have ACDA. We are able to enrich each other’s lives in ways that others cannot. Stay the course, friends! I will see you at Summer Dialogue for “Choir Director Repair and Maintenance” time!