November 4, 2016: The Gray Zone of Heckling

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For the record, I bear only the slightest of resemblances to Willie Nelson. If you were to see us standing next to each other, you might think I look more like George Carlin or Charles Manson. I do not wear my long hair in pigtails very often like he does. I do, however, have a grey beard and my wrinkled and weathered face is starting to look more like his with each passing season. And I have absolutely no musical talent unless I’m by myself in my car and Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful happens to come on the radio. Then, I’m amazing and even half-upset that she didn’t ask me to sing background.

One of the spectator traditions of cyclocross is heckling. Heckling can come in many different forms and can be hurled with different intents. Helpful, constructive, encouraging, witty and funny heckling is awesome. When someone in the crowd yells out my name or tells me how far ahead I am of my closest competitor or tells me that I’m absolutely killing it; this is fantastic and makes me want to go faster. I also try to thank them if I’m able to get a word out through my hyperventilating and lightheadedness.

Heckling that I consider more borderline might make an astute observation about my physical appearance. I don’t mind these much but it sometimes is a little weird. I’ve heard things like “Go Ponytail!” “Oooh, you’re pretty!” (mostly guys), “Go Sexy Man!” (again, mostly guys), “Hey Blondie, whatcha doin’ later?” (guys again), and “What’s a girl doing in a Master’s race?” All of this heckling, of course, makes me want to go faster.

However, some heckling is just downright mean. When someone says that this is a bike race not an ice cream social or that I was just passed by a pregnant woman on a fat bike or that I might want to check to see if my brake is rubbing or that I should consider taking up golf or put some meat on those bones for cryin’ out loud, it just makes me want to go faster.

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The best thing that I’ve seen a spectator do at a cyclocross race wasn’t heckling but more like entertainment. It was at Roger Williams Park in Providence, Rhode Island and this woman appeared on one of the hillsides, made into a run-up because of several barriers. She had on a grass skirt, a coconut shell bra, a lei and serenaded everyone by singing Hawaiian songs while strumming her ukulele. It somehow seemed like the most perfect thing to do and I watched her for a long time after my morning race.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07:  Willie Nelson signs copies of his book "It's A Long Story: My Life" at Barnes & Noble Union Square on May 7, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

This brings us back to Willie Nelson. For the past 3 years, there are a few guys who show up at most of the New England races. They must be cat 4 or 5 racers because they always seem to do the early race and must begin drinking by the time that my Master’s race begins later in the morning. I don’t yet know their names but they have near-megaphone quality voices. They’ve been calling me Willie Nelson from day one – either during warm-up, the race or even if we cross paths later. They’re persistent and I find it quite amusing. Usually they just yell out “WILLIE NELSON!!!” when I come past them each lap, sitting in their cozy tent canopy set up along the course. However, sometimes they’re more creative and heckle things like: “HEY WILLIE, PAY YOUR TAXES!!!” or “WILLIE, ON THE ROAD AGAIN!!!” or “YOU’D RACE FASTER IF YOU LAID OFF THE WEED!!!” or their latest, coined at the Gran Prix of Gloucester this year, “WHEELIE NELSON!!!” I love these guys. They make me want to go faster.

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