Bookpleasures.com is excited to have as our guest today Amber Neben two-time Olympic cyclist for Team USA and author of When Shmack Happens: The Making Of A Spiritual Champion.
Amber began her athletic career at 15 months when she began skiing and playing soccer at age 4. Her first major challenge came when she survived a case of spinal meningitis at age four. After being in a coma for three days, the doctors told her parents she was not going to live and if she did, she would be brain damaged and deaf. She graduated from Lutheran High School of Orange County where Amber was a very successful student and competed in soccer, track and cross country teams.
During the last two years of Amber’s high school running career that stress fractures began to take a toll. Those stress fractures followed Amber to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln where she attended on a track and field scholarship. At the University of Nebraska, Amber was forced to redshirt her freshman season because the stress fractures returned while she was training for the fall season.
In her sophomore year Amber competed with the team again and achieving the award of “Comeback Athlete of the Year.” At the end of the season, Amber went for a run and realized the stress fractures were back, but now in her femurs as well as her shins. Amber finished her last two years, class of 1997, as an undergraduate assistant coach with the passion and fire to do more as an athlete.
Graduating with a Bachelor's degree in biology, Amber returned home to southern California and married Jason Neben, who is currently an Assistant Professor of Education at Concordia University Irvine. Amber enrolled at the University of California and began to pursue a PhD in Molecular Biology, Genetics and Biochemistry. Amber would ride on the lifecycle while she was reading papers and textbooks.
For fun, she met some family friends who took her mountain biking. In the fall of 1998, Amber raced in the collegiate national championships. Her top ten finish led to the beginning of her cycling career and the meeting of her then and current coach Dave Jordaan. In 2000, Amber rose through the ranks to be a professional mountain biker.
During 2001, Amber raced in mountain races and road races, being successful in both. “I was chewing on two decisions: road vs. dirt and cycling vs. graduate school. In August I decided to turn my focus to the road. I also made the decision to stop my PhD work, take a Masters degree, and focus on cycling.”
Two years later, riding with the T-Mobile Professional Women’s Team, Amber was the U.S. National Champion in road cycling. Her decision to race professionally has taken her all over the world, especially when she joined Dutchbased Team Flexpoint in 2005. She has won major races in the United States and abroad including back to back wins in the Tour de l’Aude Feminin (women’s equivalent of the Tour de France) in 2005 and 2006.
In the summer of 2008 was a dream come true as Amber competed for the U.S.A. at the Olympics in Beijing, China. While the race itself turned out to be a disappointment due to a bike mechanical problem, the experience of the opening ceremonies, meeting other Olympic athletes and representing her country was unlike any other. Who would of thought it could get any better? Well, it took just six weeks following the Games in Beijing. On September 24, 2008, Amber became a World Champion as she rode to victory in the Time Trial at the 2008 World Championships in Varese, Italy.
The years following would be some of the most challenging as cycling crashes, broken bones, visits to foreign country ERs, successful surgeries, and rehabbing injuries ocurred in 2009, 2010, and 2011. Each required a focused resolve to return to the highest level of competition. In 2012, Amber was once again selected to represent Team USA at the Olympics, this time in London.
To cap off the comeback from the previous years setbacks she finished on the top step of the podium at the World Championships with a win in the Team Time Trial. With an injury free year of racing back under her belt 2013 promised to be an exciting year. It was exciting, all right, but not as hoped. A serious crash at the Tour of California Time Trial mid year left Amber with a broken hip, ribs, and nose.
Norm: Good day Amber and
thank for participating in our interview.
What do you think over the years has driven you as an athlete and why have you been drawn to cycling?
Amber: There’s a passage from Psalm 139:13-14 that says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
As a scientist, I am very familiar with the structure of DNA. When I read this, I think of my DNA strands being woven together to make me an athlete. I am gifted in that field, and I’ve also always had the passion to play. The drive is a part of who I am, and it is an internal desire to do my best with what I’ve been given. I’m always competing against myself, while at the same time really enjoying what I do. I can’t really explain it other than to say it is who God made me, and I am where He wants me.
I was drawn to cycling as
soon as I found out I could race! I had surrendered my athletic
dreams as a distance runner because my body kept breaking down. At
the time, I thought I was finished competing. However, as soon as I
found out I could race bikes, I started. I loved to compete.
Cycling became something I could do after NCAA life and then for many
more years. In addition, there was cycling in the Olympic Games.
Cycling fit my personality too. I love to push and challenge myself,
and I like to be active outside.
Norm: What was it like to compete at the Olympics and how did it change your life?
Amber: In general, the Olympics transcend sport. People may not know what the sport of cycling is, but they understand what the Olympic Games are and how special it is to compete in them. I had dreamt of being in the Olympics as a 5th grade soccer player, but I didn’t make it until I was 33 (and 37.)
My route took me from soccer to distance running to cycling, and it involved such a crazy journey. I could not have scripted it. You can only imagine that both Games left me with experiences and memories that will last forever.
Briefly, I will say that the Beijing Games ended in extreme heartbreak when a mechanical problem with my bike left me standing on the side of the road in the rain. My dream of the medal washed away before I had the chance to finish. Then, in 2012 in London, I remember the madness of the fans. There were half a million people lined up along the race courses and the energy just followed us around. It was so intense. I couldn’t hear any of the normal bike racing sounds. I couldn’t even hear myself breathe. The energy of the crowd raised everybody’s pain tolerance, too. It was crazy!
Although I had expectations to medal, I didn’t in either Games. I was disappointed, but there was still so MUCH that did come out of the journey. As I pursued the Games, I grew as a person and in my faith, I developed many long lasting relationships, and I raced all over the world. I have also had the chance to impact people along the way. All these things will last longer than any medal will.
I wouldn’t say the
Olympics changed my life, but I would say the journey did, and that
is what my book is about. As I have run the race set before me, God
has been working. The adversity has been His tool to refine, shape,
equip, and position me. Hard stuff. Good stuff. But as I have
responded and turned toward Him instead of away from Him, He has
worked and made me who I am. Again, all captured in my book!
Norm: What do you believe
we should do to encourage more people, young and old to exercise and
why is it important?
WHY? Our bodies were made to be active! As you move, you feel better. As we feel better, we move more. Our bodies are these amazing machines that want to be healthy and help us enjoy life. When we take care of them, our quality of life goes up. We smile more and feel better about ourselves. Exercise also opens the door for us to take up challenges to conquer and goals to pursue. We work, we fail, we keep on trying until we succeed! We have to be disciplined and mentally willing to keep trying. In that sense, sport often parallels life. Simple exercise can, too. The lessons and mindsets that get tested as we exercise or play can then be applied to school or business or any other part of life.
Norm: What is your
Dare To Be Project?
Amber: The Dare To Be Project targets populations of kids and young people in homeless shelters, low income schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other underserved areas. And more recently, we have searched for courageous kids with physical challenges who need special, but very expensive hand cycles.
We take the kids (or the kid) the unconditional gifts of a bike, a helmet, and a lock. I tell them my story of how hard it was to become a World Champion and Olympian. The process took 23 years (age 10-33) and involved lots of adversity and challenges. Over and over, I have had to persevere and respond - both in life and on the bike. I explain to them that they will need to work even harder and will have to overcome even more than I did. I tell them it will be difficult, but it is not impossible. Then, I encourage them to identify their own unique abilities and their own passions. Finally, I DARE them TO BE somebody or do something with their lives using these abilities. I challenge them to set goals and to start taking the steps right now to make it happen.
The Dare To Be Project
started because I wanted to do more than just be an athlete. I
understood life could be challenging, and I wanted to find a way to
use the tools of my trade (bikes) to encourage and inspire kids in
their own challenging situations.
Can we change the trajectory of even one life toward a more positive outcome? And now with the hand cycles, we can open a door to a new sense of joy and freedom to children who have physical limitations while also encouraging them to dream big and dig deep to overcome. (www.thedaretobeproject.org)
Norm: What would
you say is the best reason to recommend someone to read When Shmack
Happens: The Making Of A Spiritual Champion? As a follow up, Did
you write the story to express something you believe in or was it
just for entertainment?
Amber: I think life is hard. We all will face adversity at some point. It is not if but when. And more than likely we will have to get up and not give up many times!!! I know the challenges that I have faced are not what many have or will.
However, the tools that I have used to overcome can be used for any kind of “Shmack.” The book takes you through my journey and my responses to the adversity using these tools. Then, hopefully through the process, the reader can also see how “shmacks” can be bridges to opportunity.
I think it’s also good to see how difficult it can be to achieve a goal. We always want the path from A to B to be short and straight. Usually, though, achieving a goal will require you to persevere, to be patient, and to maintain perspective. You cannot be discouraged when the detours and breakdowns happen. It’s very important to stay with a process and to keep working hard.
As for the follow up, yes, I wanted the book to be entertaining! My goal was to write in a way that young and old, male or female, cyclists or non-cyclists would all be able to find something they enjoyed in it. The common response is that they have laughed, cried, and cheered!
As I wrote, I wove in the
scripture verses that have carried me through everything I’ve been
through, because that’s where the power has been in my life. It
has been Christ’s strength and not my own, and I cannot deny that.
It’s a part of me and the story that has been written into my life.
People can take that part or leave it, but it is a part of my
Norm: How did you come up with the title When Shmack Happens: The Making Of A Spiritual Champion?
Amber: With SHMACK I
wanted something fun but able to capture what it feels like to hit
the wall or get hit by adversity in life. The SHMACK that was in
mind when I coined the title was the Tour of California crash,
however it was meant to capture the idea of adversity. It happens.
The subtitle, with the caret under spiritual, was meant to juxtapose
my journey of becoming an athletic champion with the process of
becoming a Spiritual Champion. The last part showing that God works
through the “shmacks” of each of our lives if we will respond
accordingly as we ride our own races.
Norm: What's the most difficult thing for you about writing your book and what was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing your book?
Amber: The most difficult thing was figuring out what stories to tell. I wanted the book to flow and not get bogged down in the details, yet I needed to give enough details to tell the story. I actually left a lot of stuff out, because I wanted to keep it moving and keep people engaged.
One of the most surprising things was that I could actually write a book! (It helped that I SHMACKED into a wall and had to be still!)
Norm: How has your
environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Amber: My introverted personality and my English teacher have colored it. I try to write with economy, to say a lot but to be efficient with my words. I don’t like to waste time. Write with meaning. My English teacher always called the extra, needless words “BS -barbeque sauce!” Mostly, though, my walk in faith through life has intensely colored my writing and my perspective.
Norm: Do you hear from
your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Amber: I love to hear from my readers, and I encourage them to email me through my website (www.amberneben.com) or direct message me via my facebook fan page! All different kinds of people with all different kinds of passions in life have told me they have loved the book, and that it has impacted them. They have laughed and cried.
They want their kids or someone they know to read it. It’s honestly very humbling, and I am so thankful that they would take the time to read. After all, I’m just a bike racer. There’s nothing super special about me. Yeah, Olympics and world championships, but really… compared to many, I am limited. YET, I have this amazing story and this amazing desire to encourage and inspire and share the hope that I have!
Norm: What has been your overall experience as a published author?
Amber: So far, it has been fun. I’ve had numerous opportunities to do live interviews on the radio and share with people like you, too. The book signings are fun! I love to watch the light bulbs switch on as I talk to people. At first, they are not sure they want to read the book, but as we talk, something clicks, and they hear something they can relate to and want to read it. It is special connecting. We have all at some point shared the adversity theme in life!
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your book?
Amber: The Book Can Be Found on Amazon.com. I would love people to read it.
There are numerous reviews in the works right now. I’ll be posting those on my Facebook page as they pop up. I’ll also post any guest blogs and other interviews that get taped and linked. (Right now, I’ve got two audio interviews linked now.) Keep your ears open for me on the radio, too. I’m hoping to have more and more opportunities to share and speak!
Norm:What is next for Amber Neben?
Amber: I’d like to be a
good steward of this story that God has given me, and I’d like to
continue to be faithful as the rest of it is written! I am not sure
what is next in the cycling world. Right now, I am still competing
as I battle back, but I have yet to decide if I will make another run
for 2016. I’m praying about the decision, while trying to figure
out if my body could handle it. With the Dare To Be Project, I have
a vision for a hand cycle program. I need to find a way to fund it.
I’d also like to get out to more places to speak and do book
signings. I really enjoy encouraging people!
Norm:As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Amber: You asked good questions. I think that was good.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
Amber: Thank you!
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