The Mindset of a Champion
In our effort to answer this question, Franco Bicycles will be showcasing riders from our two Franco Factory Racing squads to hopefully find some answers over the next year.
Our next rider showcase is Cat 1 Chicago Squad member Tim Strelecki, whose supportive wife and his lifelong passion for bikes saved his life. Here's a glimpse into the mindset it takes to compete at the highest level and of a hero to all of us here at Franco Bicycles.
The FFR Supporter Kit was designed to celebrate all the individuals involved in bringing FFR to life; the 9 individuals, their families, friends and communities, and the 9 sponsors that believe in the vision. Become an Everyday Hero!
Growing Up On A Bike
Bikes are all that I've ever known. It all started when a neighborhood friend introduced me to BMX at our local track on Long Island. I went to watch him race and I came home to my parents and told them how cool it was and that I wanted to try it. The next week I had a bike and we went out and raced. I won my very first race and it took off from there.
Racing on a local level for a few years turned into racing State Championships. I won five NY State Championships in my early years. Then it turned into competing on a National level against the best riders in my age category. This meant racing all the California kids that were sponsored and were young bad asses with all the magazine coverage. After a few years of getting my butt kicked and my parents questioning their investment, I turned things around and managed to do better, get sponsors, and started to win on the National stage. I went from just making main events, to winning the main events, to winning National Championships. 7 National Championships to be exact. During that run, I was also part of the US National team that competed in World Championships. I went to 5 World Championships and won 4 of them. I was a bronze medalist in the other. Not a bad run.
After a successful amateur career, I turned Pro at age 18. I would not achieve the same level of success that I had as an amateur though and suffered quite a few injuries and setbacks. After a bad crash at the trails, resulting in a broken left tib/fib and a shattered ankle, I decided to call it a career in BMX. I determined that, after 20 years of racing BMX, I had accomplished all that I could and couldn't keep dealing with the setbacks. The curtain had closed and it was time to call it a career.
My Wife & Life After BMX
My wife and I have a special relationship. We started out as roommates when we lived in California. She was around for the latter half of my BMX life and understood this was what I did and saw how much (or little at times) I put into it. She knew the passion that I had for what I loved doing. For almost 18 years now she has dealt with me and my passion for bikes and my competitive nature.
Make no mistake, it hasn't been easy. I was a really selfish prick at times and made sure that it was all about me and what I needed. Especially after BMX, when I got into a 6 year triathlon "career". I attacked triathlon with the same ferocity and intense purpose that I had in my BMX career. Maybe even more, now that I think about it. After all, you gotta be good at 3 sports. And it takes a ton of selfish "me time" to be somewhat successful. The triathlon bug eventually worked its way out of my system once I gained some clarity and realized that it was actually straining our relationship and our marriage. Not to mention that it's a ridiculously expensive hobby to have.
I transitioned (pun intended) from triathlon to road racing full time around 2005-06. All the triathlon training payed off because I won the Cat 4 SCNCA State Road title in 2005 and had some good success in the So Cal crit racing scene, with the likes of a then junior, Justin Williams racing for Major Motion, and Charon Smith on occasion. It's awesome to see where they have gone with their careers and what great ambassadors they are for cycling.
Dark Times & Darcy's Support
At the end of 2006 Darcy and I moved to Chicago. I transferred with my job and Darcy was ready for a change. However I don't think that it was the change that we wanted initially.
You see, after moving here I sank into another depression. My first came after the injury that ended my BMX career. I became addicted to pain medication and alcohol. I almost committed suicide. Thankfully, Darcy was there for me. She saved me, but I had picked up where I left off years earlier with alcohol. For the next 8 years I drank everyday and forgot completely about bikes. I would race maybe 1-2 times a years as a fat alcoholic "cyclist" in some random cat 5 crits. All the while Darcy was there offering support. It wasn't until August 15, 2015 that I decided that I needed to make a change.
I gave up alcohol and all its ugliness, got back on the bike, and fell back in love with everything that cycling is and means to me. Yet again, Darcy is by my side and holding my hand through all of this offering her support and love.
As an older more experienced athlete, going through what I have gone through, I am able to strike a good balance between Tim 'the cyclist" and Tim the "husband". My eyes are more open to what really matters in life. Results are cool. Podiums are fun. Wins are awesome, they validate all the blood sweat and tears that I pour into my training and racing, but all of it means absolutely nothing if my wife is not there to share in the highs and lows. We are a team and I couldn't do any of this without her. Period. To prove my point, in 2017 I won the Illinois Masters' State Crit Championship. Cool, right? For me, it was an empty feeling because my wife was out of town on business and I couldn't share it with her.
Risk vs Reward in Racing
To me, the risk far outweighs the reward, 100%. The actual amount of people that see the success is so minute in the cycling bubble that sometimes we are left to wonder why. The answer for me is simple. It's all I know. I've always poured my heart and soul into training and racing. There is a saying that I live by,"train hard so racing's easy." It's just how I go about my training and racing. I do have some perspective in my older years though. I am married, I have a full time job, I have responsibilities that require me to be healthy and not cooped up in the house on crutches or in a hospital bed. But in the moment when everything is full gas, you tend to forget all that and throw caution to the wind. It's what the Type A personality racer does. I am confident in my abilities and skill level on the bike. So in those moments, I make sure that I am fully aware of my surroundings and get myself out of any potential situations the best i can.
Racing at a higher level and taking those risks, and sometimes reaping the rewards, has afforded me the opportunity that I have right now. To represent Franco Bicycles and to be part of the Franco Factory Racing team and all of our great partners that share the same philosophies. Racing is cool, but building a better cycling community is the real reward in all of this.
Success vs Process
I think that in the moment, I am happy with the success and totally forget about the process. It's only when I have time to decompress and reflect that I am able to look back and enjoy the journey that it took to achieve that particular success. It works both ways though and you have to keep things in perspective. I find that during the high moments when success is achieved, it's quickly forgotten and the feeling goes away. It's when the goal or result is missed that it really stings. That feeling seems to linger for me. I have high expectations for myself and I try my best to make sure that I do my best to achieve what I set out for. I have a tendency to sit and analyze everything that "coulda, shoulda, woulda" been.
A long time ago Darcy created a rule that I absolutely MUST follow to this day. I am only allowed 10 minutes after a race to be pissed off if the result is less than what we had hoped for. To this day I honor it and in those minutes I deal with the BS that's in my brain and then go back to Tim "the Husband." However, when the training resumes, those feeling of failure resurface and come to the front of my mind and I am able to push myself in hopes of achieving the next goal or objective. Thankfully though, I have my coach who helps with the planning/fitness and post race breakdown. His perspective helps validate and evaluate everything.
The process is enjoyable when the form is good. I don't think that I've ever heard any athlete psyched about a bad workout. But again, it's all about perspective. It's not about going hard 100% of the time. My coach has actually taught me to take rest/recovery days and or weeks. At first it was unsettling and hard to feel like it served a purpose. I now understand that it's all part of the process and to have the quality and success and get the good data out of the workload, you need those days.
Written by: Tim Strelecki
Tim rides a Latigo RS1