Name: Carly Wegren
Hometown: Libertyville, Illinois
Occupation: Education Technology Sales
Time Cycling: Childhood - Present
Reason for Cycling: Cycling provides me with something productive to do for both my mind and body; a quiet space when my internal world gets a little bit loud.
I remember my dad teaching me how to ride a bike in the cul-de-sac outside our first family home after he took off my training wheels. My dad is really the one that started it all. He grew up riding his bike to McDonald’s to get coffee and enjoyed taking apart his bike, as well as figuring out how to put it back together. Eventually, after he met my mom, he got her to go on his favorite week-long adventure of the summer: Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). My memories are filled with glimpses of my parents pulling my brother and I in a cute little burley trailer around the Des Plaines River Trail until we got too big to fit in the back.
Finally in 2015 my dad convinced me to go on RAGBRAI with him before the start of my senior year of high school. I’d just retired from 14 years of soccer following two concussions and wanted a new, less aggressive sport to focus on. The night before our first 30-mile day, my dad bought me a road bike. The next day, I rode 30 miles in gym shoes. I hated it, but I also really loved it. I’d ride after school and/or on the weekends every two to three days.
When I went to college at the University of Colorado Boulder, my entire first year I only commuted by singlespeed. Sophomore year, I brought my road bike out and went to the CU Cycling Team meeting. Immediately I found friends that invited me on rides that absolutely kicked my butt. That winter I saved up all my Christmas money to buy a Garmin to track more like heart rate, cadence, and calories burned.
After getting my butt whooped for a few months, the guys that had taken me under their wing convinced me to try racing. With my new Garmin, I felt nervous but excited. I absolutely got left in the dust during my first collegiate criterium in 2018, but a spark lit something deep inside of me that day. For the next three years, my life revolved around cycling. My social media became TrainingPeaks and Strava, and my races and teammates kept me motivated. I felt like everyone around me was so talented and I had so much catching up to do. Boulder was an incredible hub for talent and cycling.
That same year, I noticed a small lump in my lower right abdomen that wasn’t visible. If I moved the pad of an index finger around my belly I could feel it. I was in college at the time, and quite frankly didn’t want to know what it was or figure out a doctor that was in-network. I figured if it was a big deal I would have noticeable symptoms. The following summer I couldn’t help but notice the lump on my abdomen becoming more and more apparent. Was it always big enough that I could fit two fingers on it for size or was my mind playing tricks? That year I was lethargic. My power on the bike dropped way down after December of 2019, and I had little drive to go out on the rides that had fueled me in the past.
I had just graduated from college in May of 2020 and accepted my first full-time job across the country. My final semester leading up to that job was grueling. I was working part-time across four or five different roles, attending 15 credit hours, and managing interviews and resume workshops, which barely left me with the time or energy to ride. I think at one point my schedule was packed from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. most days.
After moving to Windsor, California, in July 2020 as a 22-year-old in the middle of a pandemic, I felt really lonely and isolated. My job was labor intensive, so I struggled to have the energy to ride throughout much of the rest of 2020. With all the changes happening in my life, I still didn’t get the lump checked out that summer. I struggled to take care of myself mentally and physically throughout the transition to a new job, a new place, and ultimately a new life out in California. I attributed the lethargy to lack of sleep and adjustment to a new lifestyle.
Carly’s Must-Have Gear
→ Garmin Computer Bundle: The Garmin 520 that I have tracks all my health data: heart rate, cadence, time, power, etc. I love being able to see not only how far and long I’ve gone, but also how efficiently my body is responding. Using data can help show you how you’re improving or even be an early indication that something in your body is off.
→ Giro Lace-Up Road Shoes: I love that you can easily adjust the laces like a normal shoe. Boa dials have pinched my foot in the past, so these are top tier for comfort as well as style in my book.
→ Vafels: These snacks are so darn delicious it should be illegal. I actually helped make small batches with the founder back when I lived in Boulder, so they have a special place in my heart and my jersey pocket.
→ Road ID: Being on a bike on the road sometimes feels vulnerable because we are vulnerable. Wearing my Road ID gives me the peace of mind that if there is a crash or accident and I’m found unconscious, someone will have the information to make sure I get the care I need.
Little did I know that lack of energy was also due to a much more serious underlying issue that would be diagnosed just before Christmas. It wasn’t until a routine PAP exam in late November that I broached the topic again and asked my OB-GYN what she thought the mysterious lump could be. Upon sizing it, she referred me to a specialty surgeon immediately and within the week I was under a knife for a biopsy. It felt really good to have someone listen to me and take my concerns seriously. Without my OB’s help, I would not have known I had cancer. I was diagnosed on December 17, 2020 with dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP).
Because my cancer is incredibly rare and slow growing, I was able to just have the initial biopsy followed by a larger surgery with a specialty oncologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). My cancer is actually so rare it’s nicknamed the unicorn cancer. I am clinically diagnosed one in a million.
Cancer has simultaneously been the best and worst thing that has happened to me. When I was first diagnosed, I had no idea what my prognosis was or really what would come next. My mind reeled with my own mortality and I unpacked a lot of stuff alone that I don’t think most people even think about until they’re 90 years old and on their deathbed.
However, this opportunity for perspective has allowed me to show up in a much more kind, present way in my life. While I am technically in “remission,” the fear that cancer could come back someday remains. Recurrence for my cancer is also low, thankfully, but I’ll have to do a CT scan every six months for the next three years to closely monitor my surgery site to make sure no cancer cells are popping back up. Past that, I’ll have annual exams pretty much for life. My last CT I was late on because I didn’t want to know if the cancer had come back—it hadn’t, but it is an emotional rollercoaster dealing with the reality that I’m a young adult who’s survived cancer.
For a majority of 2020, I was unable to ride much due to sheer volume of life events and my lowered energy level. In the past, cycling had always helped me through my mental health struggles. Whether it be test anxiety, seasonal depression, or just a bad day, a ride never ceased to make me feel better. Not having that outlet during recovery from surgery was really tough. But it can also be a crutch or even an addiction. I didn’t rest enough when I was training because cycling had such a strong positive impact on my mental health. Now when I hop on the bike, I am much more appreciative of the simple ability to ride. Anything past that is amazing. I’m not physically able to get back to a set “schedule,” but I’m working on it. Last month, I rode 40 miles for two weeks straight, which is huge for me. I don’t need to ride to feel good, but I’d like to get back to the place where I can ride because I feel strong enough to.
Physically and mentally, I was always moving so fast, going from thing to thing to thing, always focused on what other people thought of me and who I would hang out with next. Cycling taught me to be alone with myself. It gave me the confidence to go out and ride my ride according to how I felt. It allowed me the space to process a lot of thoughts while riding that I don’t think I would have slowed down to listen to otherwise. Cycling gave me the confidence to forge my own journey to physical and mental health. When I’m riding, I feel strong.
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