Steamboat cyclist uses mental toughness to push through injury on Tour Divide
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On June 14, Steamboat Springs native Michael de Jong began the Tour Divide, a 2,700-mile journey from Canada to the Mexico border. He was planning on finishing the route, which takes bikers along the Continental Divide, in 31 days.
However, on the third day, he fell head over handlebars, ripping open his right calf on a stick. The fall prompted de Jong, 56, to get stitches and spend a day resting. The injury may have knocked back his original schedule, but it didn’t stop him from continuing.
Two weeks later, on Tuesday, July 2, de Jong pedaled into his hometown, greeted by friends and family outside Orange Peel Bicycle Service.
“Every single day has moments where you go, ‘This is exactly what I want to be doing, and I’m so lucky to be here,’” de Jong said. “Then three hours later, it can be like, ‘This is the worst moment of my life.’”
In a race as grueling and long as the Tour Divide, physical fitness isn’t enough. Mental toughness is the key to pushing the body to the brink, something de Jong practices regularly at the local CrossFit gym.
“Being mentally ready from CrossFit helped a lot, but it’s mainly just struggling through adversity because we get thrown curveballs every day,” de Jong said. “The passes we go over are incredibly hard and test you mentally, but we get through it, and tomorrow is another day.”
A handful of CrossFit friends and family members welcomed de Jong and a small group of riders with a cow bell, signs and balloons.
“We think it’s incredible,” said Sarah Coleman, a fellow CrossFit member and coach. “We have a hashtag. It’s called #BeReady, to be ready for anything. Whether that’s helping someone move a couch or coming back after having a baby. It can be anything and everything in between. Michael blows everyone out of the water going out and doing something amazing.”
While he has been biking for about 20 years, de Jong had never done any race of this scale before, but a knee replacement a year and a half ago served as a new surge of inspiration.
“I thought, it’s time I got to do something epic and see if I can still do it because time is running out,” de Jong said. “The other (reason for racing) is trying to control your mind and your body and seeing if you can do something like this. If you can overcome this, you can do anything.”
Riding alongside de Jong, a local real estate agent, is Simon Maindonald of New Zealand and Martyn Gibbons of the United Kingdom.
“For me, living in England and coming south of Canada and coming through the U.S. and seeing all the different parts of the country through Wyoming, Idaho and coming into Colorado,” Gibbons said. “It’s been amazing, just fantastic.”
The group of three, which is 1,600 miles into the ride, met early in the race and have been biking together ever since, facing adversity together.
Suffering an early setback, Maindonald spent two days out of the saddle with food poisoning.
“When I met Michael for the second time, I had just left Helena (Montana) after two days of doing nothing with food poisoning,” Maindonald said. “To be fair, I was completely struggling. … Michael was incredibly generous in taking me under his wing at that stage because I was in a pretty bad way. I was pretty weak. He patiently coached and coaxed me up those next two or three days of hill climbs, and we’ve been riding happily ever since really.”
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