Mackenzie Myatt as our first author putting out a book with Strong Girl Publishing. Her book of poetry, In Defense of Big Dreams, will be out this fall. If you’re already subscribed to our newsletter, you’ll find out the day it launches. If you’re not subscribed yet, what are you waiting for?!
Here, we wanted to chat with Mackenzie all about her writing process… and get a few cycling tips too!
Do you remember when you started writing poetry? How old were you and what got you into it?
I was very young when I first started writing poetry, I think I was about 10 or 12. I was writing little poems about nature in little notebooks. I think it even started with short songs. I have one vivid memory of jumping on the trampoline that I BEGGED FOREVER FOR singing a song that I came up with. I also remember bringing notebooks to family dinner in case I came up with any ideas.
Which came first, riding or writing?
Oooh, good question. My dad got me into mountain biking ASAP so I think it’s a tie! I learned to ride a bike about 5 or 6 years old in the basketball court of my high school. I also remember very early doing kids MTB short track races.
Do you remember the first athlete-related poem you did? When you did write that first one, was there a ‘click,’ like ‘ahh, this is what I should be doing!’?
I may have written one or two athletic poems in my teens but mostly not. The two things were always very separate sides of me, the sporty, competitive side and the part of me that loved books and writing, playing with language. I always enjoyed being outside and being active, but it was rarely creative. I was a gymnast for a long time and there’s not much creativity there, it’s extremely structured. And being active, whether it was cycling or whatever we were doing in gym class was always just – how hard can you go? There wasn’t much thinking there. It was only very recently when I took ownership of my training that I really started digging into the mental side of sport and trying to figure out what was working for me and what wasn’t and why on a very personal level. But after that, for sure I felt a click. I didn’t know for sure until I showed my husband and asked if he thought it was good or not. I always look for a smile or a laugh, that’s what I want my poetry to produce.
You write a lot about the mental side of cycling—what has your journey there been like?
I have always had a lot of anxiety and sport is not an exception. I loved gymnastics but it also caused me a lot of stress. It’s hard to believe but it was mostly pressure I put on myself. I knew I wasn’t going to the Olympics or anything, but I was competing and I wanted to be perfect. I was so nervous the night before a competition I could hardly sleep. It took me awhile, but after a few years I was able to laugh at the idea of someone with anxiety doing gymnastics. It wasn’t even the idea of performing in front of other people, it was just constantly having to confront fear. A lot of the things that you do have really high consequences if you mess up. Even trying something new with someone spotting me was terrifying. But on the flip side, there is nothing more rewarding than finally overcoming fear and completing a skill. Most of the time it’s like oh my god, that was easy! Why was I so worried?
In terms of cycling, I had much less anxiety day to day but I was a nervous wreck the morning of the race. It’s taken a long time to figure out how to manage those nerves so that I can at least eat breakfast. But even the technical side of mountain biking has always been difficult because again, you have to face fear pretty often. When I first started racing out of the province as a junior, I was pretty much having to learn how to jump and do drops on the fly because we just didn’t have them at home. Or at least I didn’t have to do them. Even after I started racing World Cups as U23, technical features were the biggest barrier. And there were high stakes too, you fly all the way to Europe, spend a bunch of money and then give up time because you’re too scared to do a drop or a rock garden? No, you have to do it and you do that by being both patient and brave.
If you had to pick one or two lines you’ve written that are your absolute favorites, what would you pick?
That is so tough. I don’t think I have an absolute favourite, everything I share publicly – I am in love with – but these are goodies.
Do you collect them in the forest
On a long solo off-road death march
Where you find yourself
But sensations elude you
I’m not here to be anything ladylike
I am here despite you
And from now on
I will snot in spite of you
(Woman on a Group Ride)
I like to tinker with ideas
Entertain my paranoia
Sink my teeth into a good story
About why I’m not good enough
But I never find an ending I like
I like sitting at the café in my chamois
Much longer than I should
Sometimes I visualize fungi
growing on my thighs.
(Part Bike Robot)
There aren’t many poets who write about more physical things like riding a bike—who are some of your inspirations?
I’m a big fan of spoken word poetry, poetry that is relatable and easy to understand. I think poetry should be for everyone. Andrea Gibson, Olivia Gatwood and Rudy Fransciso and Neil Hilborn are some of my favourites. None of those are sport-related, but they do pack a punch. Andrea Gibson is the first person who showed me that you can write a good poem about joy and that art doesn’t always have to be sad. However, it took years for me to start writing about joy.
How do you decide when a poem is done?
I usually write by stream of consciousness and don’t do much editing. Only that day or a few days afterward. It’s very spur of the moment. I also know pretty quickly whether something is good or not.
You write about riding a lot, but do you get ideas while on the bike or do they come to you after? (If you do get them on the bike, do you write them down or just try to remember?)
Nowadays I get a lot of ideas on the bike, especially solo rides. I try my best to remember them, but sometimes I do make a note on my phone if it’s more than one line.
Be honest, would you rather be writing or riding?
I have to say that the high of writing something great and a great ride feel very similar to me. I am still surprised how good writing can feel. I got published in a magazine – Cyclista Zine – in December and I remember saying that felt just as exciting as getting selected for a World Cup.
And when you’re not writing or riding, what do you do for fun?
I love to cook (and eat!), listen to music, dance in the kitchen, and float in the ocean.
Has writing poetry about biking changed anything for you on the bike?
It’s interesting because I started writing about cycling less than a year ago and it was a time of great joy but also of great frustration. I found myself noticing joy on the bike a lot more than I used to; I wrote about the act of writing and how joyful that can be. I was also frustrated that it took me that long to 1) start writing again. 2) To feel really strong on the bike again, and 3) to put both of those things together when now it seems obvious to combine my two favourite things. I used to think it would be too mechanical to write about cycling. There’s a fine line there. But what has writing poetry about cycling changed for me? It has made me more mindful of joy and therefore more likely to feel joy. It has made me a happier person. I also like to turn frustration into humour and be able to laugh at things. After all, it’s just bikes!
Proudest moment in cycling?
I have a lot of proud moments of getting selected for National Team projects in Europe, World Cups and World Championships, National Championship results, etc. But what I am most proud of now is being able to listen to myself and understand what is best for my body and for my head. Last year I considered ‘retiring’ from trying to become a professional cyclist, but now I am more excited and motivated than ever to see what I’m capable of. I am more in love with the sport than I have ever been. Publishing my first book with Strong Girl Publishing is also one of my proudest moments 🙂
OK, because you are a cyclist, we have to put it in here… Best couple of tips for new cyclists?
It’s not new and it’s definitely not unique, but have fun! And try a whole bunch of different things. There are so many different ways to ride a bike, people to ride with, surfaces – ‘disciplines’. I raced mountain bike, cyclocross and road in college and I loved it, but I still didn’t take cyclocross or road seriously. I didn’t really give either of them a chance. I thought I wanted to be a mountain biker and that I would always be one, that there was a clear path to a future there. I was wrong and I closed doors because I was ignorant. Be open to every opportunity! If something excites you, try it. That’s what is currently guiding all of my decisions about cycling and it makes me feel like a kid again.