Some Heroes Wear Capes
The last thing Morgan thought before she flew face first over the handlebars of her Stumpjumper were, “I feel like I got a few PRs this ride…” Ten minutes later, she comes back to consciousness after suffering from a seizure while mountain biking in Santa Cruz. She remembers thinking not about the blood dripping down her face, but how she probably ruined everyone’s ride...and is her bike ok?
Morgan and I are sitting in the offices of Specialized as she recounts this horrific, but not uncommon episode. She was diagnosed with epilepsy about 10 years ago. Something I didn’t know when I first met her two years ago when we both worked for the big red S. We met at one of the employee yoga classes held on Friday mornings. Morgan, a former yoga teacher herself, was doing a headstand, while I was struggling to sit crossed legged. I blame those cyclist tight hip flexors. We chatted after class and I said we should go for a lunch ride and she quickly said, “Well, but if I go to slow, just leave me.”
I’d later come to know that Morgan was intimidated by me, and others, on the bike. Which shocked me, as I was intimidated by her. When I first met her, I saw what most see: a driven, smart, and fearless woman. She walked around the office like she was on a mission. Always wearing sneakers so bold and colorful you could hear their brightness from across the office. She carried herself in such a way that you knew she could get shit done. Which is intimidating, but also admirable. She is all of those things, but more importantly, she is unashamed and unabashedly herself. Shortly after her mountain bike accident, she posted photos of herself after receiving 52 stitches in her face. (Hashtag nofilter). In today’s world of social media and self branding, it’s rare that we see the full picture of anyone. Proof of the good and the bad for all the internet to see.
Not shockingly, an overwhelming majority of the employees at Specialized ride bikes for fun, competition, camaraderie, or a mix of everything. While Morgan falls into this generalization, riding bikes means something more. Riding a bike was the first time Morgan felt free. After being diagnosed with epilepsy, she relied completely on others to take her to and from work, school, the store. She constantly felt like an obligation, a chore that had to be taken care of. Those feelings of guilt slowly went away after she bought her first bike. Morgan was able to go places on her own, whenever she wanted, without asking permission. Her ambition quickly outgrew the beach cruiser and she upgraded to a single speed. The city streets of San Jose, CA were nice, but she wanted to go farther and faster. With her shoulder to the wheel, HTFU attitude, she trained for - and completed - a century ride. On her single speed. In Van's sneakers.
Since she started working at Specialized, Morgan may have accumulated more bikes, gear and handling skills, but she admits to feeling intimidated by others on the bike. Which, I’m sure, we all can relate to. We all experience the unwanted feelings of guilt and fear that creep into our minds from time to time. We have a choice though. We can either accept these negative thoughts as fact, as truth, and give into them, thus limiting ourselves and our experiences. Or, like Morgan often does, substitute in a more positive narrative when those negative thoughts arise. She just has to remind herself to, “check her head.” Life cannot be that bad when you’re choosing to ride your bike for fun. She repeats her mantra that progress is better than perfection.
Having a friend like Morgan Nissen in my life makes me more appreciative. She doesn’t hide or sugarcoat the bad, nor does she overlook the goodness she has encountered. She’s the hero in the story who no matter what, can see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and tells you that everything is going to be ok. To keep on progressing forward. And most importantly: to just ride you bike.