Team weekend

All 13 of us Hagens Berman riders traveled to the pristine northwest, the best corner of the country, this Friday and Saturday for a team sponsor camp/get to know one another weekend. Ian had a great blog post at the end of last year that introduced the cast of characters in his 2011 play. It was a great idea, but implemented about nine months too late. So I’m going to do it right this year and give a brief rundown of my teammates before the season is over. But first, a quick recap of the camp’s activities. (That was like when NPR talks about three or four interesting things and then says, “But first the news.” I always wonder why they do that because it makes the news seem extra boring).

Friday Morning: I met Dan at the airport. He’d forgotten to bring my pedals that he’s continuously forgotten to mail to me since Gila last year. He also almost forgot to catch the plane and drove half way to work before turning around to the airport. We had many cups of coffee while we waited for Danny and Jon to arrive from sunny southern California. To eat: oranges and some free samples from Starbucks.

Friday Morning-Evening: David and Ian picked the four of us up, took us Alans’ house (HB HQ) and everyone met for the first time. I took the opportunity to sew up the armpits of my favorite argyle sweater that I was currently wearing. Later, we crammed into the team van and dove to the Hagens Berman law firm in downtown Seattle. We took a high speed elevator up to the 34th floor and drank water from pitchers that contained the largest ice cubes any of us had ever seen. The next couple hours were spent listening to our Blue and Shimano sponsors tell us about all the cool equipment we’d be riding this year. Our eyes bulged with the excitement of school children on Christmas morning. We then got our feet molded to a pair of our new Shimano shoes, did movie camera interviews with Winger, and talked to Joe about our goals and aspirations for the 2012 season. Finally, when we were all about to pass out from hunger, Ian, Alan, and David came through for us with a box of pastries. The day was saved and we remained concious while Joe gave us a powerpoint presentation about the mission of the team, the races we’d be doing, and all that jazz. He also touched on why Adrian, Sam and Chris succeeded in getting pro contracts the past three years. What I took away from it was this: Adrian=smart, cool, and calm. Sam=Sam. Chris=really hairy. (Of note, Ian is terrible at catching grapes in his mouth, Jon has a girlfriend who calls every 87 seconds, and Jesse is a REAL Canadian, unlike Cody and former HBer, Spencer).

Friday Evening: After Joe finished the slide show up Ian and I ate the last dougnut, having guilted Joe into not wanting it (a first success for us in asking Joe if he “really needed that”). We said goodbye to our view from the past five hours, which had transformed into an amazingly beautiful picturesque sunset of downtown Seattle (which was below us since we were king of the castle), and then we took the high speed elevator down to the parking garage and started stripping off our clothes in the dark, cold cement cave 100 feet below ground. We began adorning ourselves with the nicest clothes any of us owned, but not before we realized that the van’s front tire was completely flat. Let’s get things straight here: we changed into our nice collared shirts, ties, and slacks, for dinner with out title sponsor and then we crawled under the van and began attempting to change the flat. After a good 15 minutes we realized that car tires don’t have tubes like bike tires, so we decided to let Gabe take control of the situation. Most of the guys left to walk half a mile to dinner, which we were already an hour late for, and more than enough of us stayed to work on the tire and document our own idiocy– will have some quality footage I’m sure.

Friday Evening still: The five of us who’d taken care of the flat tire arrived to dinner way too late, for the appetizers had already been arriving! We were pretty well covered in grease and dirt from finally successfully changing the tire/wheel. The restaurant we were eating at was a very fancy Italian place, and our title sponsor, Steve Berman, of Hagens Berman, was treating us to an amazing dinner with bottle after bottle of wine and, like I said, appetizers aplenty. The appetizers did NOT STOP. The waiters were actually taking away still-full trays of appetizers to make room for more appetizers. I was in heaven. No, it was better than that. It’s like I’d died and gone to heaven, then died in heaven and gone to a better heaven. I had pasta with mussels, one and a half chocolate and cream deserts, and a cappuccino that was so fluffy I thought I was drinking a feather pillow (okay that doesn’t sound as good as I thought, but it was damn fluffy). Dinner was over much too quickly and Steve Berman said goodbye for the night, all of us greatly appreciating him flying in from Salt Lake City to have dinner with us. Words cannot express how grateful we all are for him funding this team and our dreams (words probably can express it, but they’d take up more than you’d care to read). It was great to finally meet him and having the honor of sitting right next to him at dinner, which Alan suggested.

Friday Night: we went to our hotel and went to sleep at a very reasonable hour because we had to be up early the next day.

Saturday Morning: Alan picked us up from our hotel and took us to the ferry. Food included: bagels, cream cheese, oranges, juice, and scones made from scratch by his girlfriend
Saturday Morning a little later: We got off the ferry, something that Jon and Danny had never done before, and had coffee in Bainbridge. I had chi for some reason, thinking that maybe today I’d try to go easy on the caffeine since I’d already had three cups at the hotel. This did not last for long.

Saturday Late Morning-Evening: We began the festivities at another one of our sponsor companies, Gravitec. Randy Wingfield, the owner of the fall-protection and training company for vertical safety in dangerous workplaces, had set up an amazing day for us to learn about leadership, improve our senses of observation and listening, build trust amongst the team, and basically just get us all working as one. It was much more valuable than I could have anticipated and a lot of fun as well. We did things like tug of war X4, human chain drills, puzzles and problem-solving competitions, rappelling, ascending (ropes), a trust fall off a fork lift, and eating and drinking coffee, since we’d gotten too much sleep the night before we needed coffee to keep us awake. For lunch: burritos, chips, salsa, veggies, snack packs, and a bunch of other tasty stuff.

Almost everything we did at Gravitec that day involved competition. We were split up into teams and put against each another for almost every exercise. It did a great job illustrating how competitive each one of us is, and it was a bit scary to see just how mad I got when I was on a losing team, which reminded me of how depressed and angry I can get when a race goes poorly–something I believe I need to work on this year. The other main thing that I took away from the day was a completely new outlook on how leadership works. As you know, I’ve been trying and failing with my attempts to make change, even small change, in the people I’ve been encountering lately. But after today, I came to these conclusions:

I think that in order to be a good leader you need to be able put yourself in someone else’s shoes and be able to think about what they’re thinking about, much like a good writer will do. Usually what people are thinking about mainly involves themselves, how they appear, what others may be thinking of them (human nature and something I’ve been aware of for a while), and when the situation involves problem, most people think about what everyone else is doing wrong. As a leader, knowing what’s going on in your team’s mind is crucial. And as a cyclist, every person on the team is a leader at some point, requiring that everyone knows how everyone else thinks. There is no quarterback and since we don’t have race radios, there really isn’t even a director for us to talk to unless we head back to the caravan, which is almost always just for bottles. In bike racing, decisions are made by the individual and most of them are snap decisions.

How those snap decisions are made, though, is where the team dynamic comes into play. A good team dynamic requires that every person trusts every other person, knows everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, cares about the team’s goal for that particular race, and cares about their teammates and team enough in order to completely sacrifice their own personal goals for the team’s mission to be carried out.

One thing that I seem to forget when it comes to decision-making is that there’s a time limit. If there was no time limit, democracy might work better than it currently does. One of our exercises was to manipulate a system of strings in order to move a can full of ping pong balls into another can way across the room. The make-believe scenario was that the ping pong balls were radioactive waste and we had to save the world by removing the waste to a safe area (the sun?). The pressure was on because we were competing to do it faster than the other team. If we’d been given an hour to talk about it, I’m sure a group consensus, with no true leader dictating the discussion, would have take form and we could have agreed on one or two options, slowly and cautiously tried them, talked about more solutions, tried those, and finally, six hours later, accomplished the task without spilling the radioactive balls.

But, like I said, time mattered. Decisions within even six-person group won’t happen for a LONG time unless a few people take control. A leader or two was necessary, and everyone else needed to shut up and listen. I don’t like the idea of one person having more power than another, especially when I think my way is better, but this simple game certainly re-opened my eyes to the value of a good leader: someone who doesn’t necessarily have all the ideas, but instead: someone who has the ability to recognize a good idea, get the group working together quickly and efficiently, and put those ideas into action without an argument occurring. As our instructor, Randy, put it…okay I can’t really remember how he put it, but it was something like “recognizing and harnessing the qualities in people.” I like that.

The day at Gravitec left everyone sore and tired, hitting us especially hard since we’d all gotten way too much sleep and rest the night before, making our central nervous systems groggy and listless. Randy took us to a fantastic Thai restaurant where I ate approximately 11 times more than anyone else, then we went to a bar down the street where I got my second ice cream of the night, succeeding in my weekend goal of living it up for to the max before it’s back to the starvation diet in Boulder. Some of us took the ferry back to Seattle and spent the night at David’s house in a room with a rambunctious pair of chinchillas, which are nocturnal. Fortunately we all crashed to sleep immediately from all the hard upper body work we’d done at Gravitec. I’m still sore and I’m sure everyone else is too.

Sunday I flew home. This was the best possible way to kick off the 2012 season and I’m growing more excited about the team every day. I’ve always been very optimistic about each upcoming year I’ve raced, but none compares to this year. The team is going to crush it; it’s the strongest, most organized, focused, and determined group of guys we’ve ever had and it’s going to be one hell of a year. Thank you Alan, Joe, and all of our sponsors for taking the team to the next level. I’ll leave you with this:

Kennett talks about oats

(How I got from “what’s your favorite race of the year” to this, is beyond me).

3 thoughts on “Team weekend

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