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From the get-go, Starla Teddergreen’s journey into cycling was anything but conventional – starting off as a bike messenger in a male-dominated world, rocketing to the Messenger World Championships in Budapest, and then finding her stride in road racing. She battled self-doubt, spandex embarrassment, and criticism from others, all the while shattering the illusion that age could stand in the way of her professional cycling dreams.

Starla’s Path to Distance to Empty

After claiming overall USA Crits 2019 champion, she switched to gravel and mountain bike racing in 2021. Despite huge setbacks, she won her first race back in 2022, finished Leadville and brought home the coveted buckle, and is now racing for a massive 2023 season after being selected for the LifeTime Grand Prix.

But here’s the real gem of the episode: Starla’s brainchild, Distance to Empty, which she runs with her husband. DTE is an award-based cycling program that empowers Colorado women to achieve their cycling goals. As we delve into her shift to a new type of athlete, her story transforms into a powerful lesson in resilience and the importance of prioritizing self in community. 

The Power of the Bike

Starla’s triumphs became synonymous with smashing through limitations and embracing uncertainty without reservation. We discuss breaking free from labels and comparisons, embracing adversity for personal growth, and the remarkable strength that emerges when women join forces to empower each other. 

Tune in for stories of the power of bikes – from proving folks wrong in road races, encouraging the spirit of a 62-year-old cyclist, or standing by a fellow rider who pushed herself to the limit. 

Here are Starla’s key takeaways:

  • Ending limiting comparisons:  Why labels hold us back from reaching our goals
  • Pursuing challenging goals: Why you should approach the chance to be disappointed
  • Supporting women in sport: Creating opportunities for all to succeed lessens competition against each other 
  • Showing up for yourself: How to build confidence that can empower you in all areas of life 
  • Living in fear limits life: Why taking risks pushes us toward innate self-belief
  • Autoimmune challenges: How Starla’s life changed after the pandemic
  • 20 years of learning: Embracing lessons on what it means to be an athlete

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Listen to Starla’s episode

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Episode Chapters

  • How did Starla get into cycling? 0:02
  • The transition from road racing to road racing. 4:30
  • Teaching women that they belong in gravel racing. 8:58
  • Listening to other people. 14:00
  • Sara’s most inspiring story of overcoming adversity. 18:31
  • Why did you start the award program at distance to empty? 23:57
  • The challenges of showing up for yourself. 30:39
  • The importance of avoiding disappointment. 36:43
  • Life after the pandemic and health crisis. 43:08
  • Taking myself out of the race before it even started. 47:27



Sonya Looney 0:02
Starla Welcome to the show.

Starla Teddergreen 0:04
Thanks for having me.

Sonya Looney 0:05
We got to chat offline about a week ago, and it was super fun getting to know you. And also like our paths have crossed multiple times. So I think we’ll finally get to meet each other in person at Breck Epic this year. Yeah, that’s super, super

Starla Teddergreen 0:18

Sonya Looney 0:20
So I’m sure that everybody listening like wants to know all about you. And I would love to know more about you. How did you get into cycling?

Starla Teddergreen 0:26
Oh, gosh, that was so long ago.

Sonya Looney 0:29
How long ago was it?

Starla Teddergreen 0:31
Um, I think okay, so I got into cycling, when I was probably what I was 20. Yeah, I was 20. And I became a bike messenger carrier in Seattle. And so that was kind of my first introduction to I guess, making a living on a bike. And so kind of started from there doing Yeah, working as a courier and doing unsanctioned messenger races called alleycats. And then from there going on to do like messenger championships. And that was the first time that I got to go overseas to race. My bike was in the messenger world championships, and it was held in Budapest. And so that was kind of my first intro into racing on bikes. And up until that point, I didn’t even know that, like road racing or criterium, racing or anything like that even existed. And so I, I moved to San Francisco, and was then introduced to road racing they’re through through fellow messengers that were on a race team that was mostly comprised of messengers, and they’re like, you’re really fast. And you should try this thing called road racing. And so I showed up to their first group ride, and I was wearing my normal, like, gear that I would write in, which was cut off jean shorts, t shirt, you lock in my pocket. And they’re like, What are you wearing? And I was like, What do you mean, I’m wearing clothes? And they’re like, No, you’re supposed to be in a kit. And I was like, what is it? Yeah, and they’re like, what we’re wearing. And I’m like, like, underwear, what? Like super tight spandex. And, and in my mind, I was like, There’s no way I’ll ever be caught dead wearing that. And they’re like, Well, if you want to race, this is what you have to wear. And so it took me some time, and definitely losing some of that like modesty. I guess that I had to like, yeah, for on spandex. And, and I remember like, early on, I’d be out on a training ride or something in spandex. And I would see somebody like another messenger or just somebody I knew in the neighborhood. And I would quickly like hightail it out of there. So they wouldn’t see me I was so embarrassed.

Sonya Looney 3:12
Like the clothing part, like I think about actually some of the runners that I see, because I also follow a lot of runners and like they have to run and like well, I don’t know if they have to, but they run in like a sports bra. And like a bikini bottom and some of these races that that’s what you run in. And I’m sure there’s reasons for it. But I think about like being embarrassed to be wearing spandex, which I can definitely relate with that. And then I think about like, wow, what if you had to wear you know, even less?

Starla Teddergreen 3:37
Right? Yeah, I mean, yeah, I’m sure there’s advantages to like, chafing, or aerodynamics, or Yeah, who knows? Who knows what but yeah, it’s amazing. What will wear for sport?

Sonya Looney 3:48
Yeah. So that’s when he’s you kind of found bike racing by accident?

Starla Teddergreen 3:52
Yeah, no, I totally did. Because it was so like, in the messenger world, it’s definitely more male dominated. And so I didn’t, like I was, I was really good at doing messenger races, like, I was fast. And like my entire life, I always grew up identifying more with, I guess the, the freedom that men had, or boys had whatever to play sport and, you know, find trees and you know, so I was called a tomboy or whatever. But and so for me to like, go in to messenger, and I felt very comfortable. Just having that male competition. And then when I entered road racing, it was like, oh, yeah, you’re going to now be racing in a purely women’s field was a completely different introduction for me into sport and female competition and what that was like as far as not being very supportive, but being extremely competitive and even cutthroat and not not great. I guess, in some ways, because it was so competitive because there were few, so few opportunities, I guess. And so it wasn’t one of those, like, super supportive environments, I would say, and so, yeah, I completely stumbled into it by accident, but fell in love with it immediately. And it was because it was a sport where even though it was like a team sport, it felt very individual at the same time, because I was just trying to be a better like version of myself, each time I’m lined up to race to first not get dropped. To like, actually learn how to use my gears properly. And, you know, stay in the peloton, like stay in the group, and then from there, like learning the tactics. And, you know, you can’t just ride hard all the time. And like, it was such a steep learning curve and learning that you actually have to eat and drink on the bike. And yeah, it was, it was absolutely crazy. Like, looking back now, how naive I was, how little support I had. And I think because it was so hard and frustrating. Like, I was so driven, because I’m like, well, these women can be successful. I’m like, Why can’t like I was just hungry to want to be successful as well. And so it was a really steep learning curve, I would say,

Sonya Looney 6:36
Yeah, I want to ask you where that self belief came from, because not everybody comes at it from that, that perspective. I’m hungry, and I’m gonna make this happen for myself. And I see other people doing it did that, was that just sort of innate? Or is that something that you kind of had to work on?

Starla Teddergreen 6:50
I think I came out of the box this way. Like, everything, just like growing up as a kid, like me and my sister, I think were completely different in that way, where she was more like the artistic type and wanting to like read and draw. And I’ve like, for as long as I can remember, always wanted to be like pushing my body, whether it was climbing trees, or running, or like I always just wanted to raise her or just, like, be competitive in some some fashion. And it usually ended up with me just annoying the heck out of her until she got so mad and wanted to like, chase me. And then I was like, Yeah, we’re finally playing. And then she’d catch me and then yeah, regret it. But, um, I yeah, I feel like I’ve always, always wanted to pursue my potential and just see how far I can push myself and what I can accomplish. And I never, like, I always saw it as wanting. Like, just because I was a girl and never saw myself as less, it almost was like, I need to prove myself to be even better than my male counterparts. Because I was be like, Oh, well, you’re a girl, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. Blah, blah, blah. And so my mentality was always I’ll show you.

Sonya Looney 8:15
Yeah, I can relate with that. So much like my background is actually in electrical engineering. And I was like, there’s like two girls in my graduate program. And like cycling is a male dominated sport. And I just almost didn’t even notice that there was not many other women around me, I just was doing it. And I still just do it. But that isn’t innate for everybody. And there are a lot of people that would really like to be able to push themselves to pursue their potential to thrive in a male dominated environment with that confidence and that fire in their belly. And I’m trying to work on actually how to teach that. Because, like, people like you, me, yeah, it comes naturally. But there are people that learn how to do that. And like, what is your experience with helping people learn how to do that?

Starla Teddergreen 8:56
Yeah, definitely. I mean, so it’s really interesting. So like, more recently, I’ve been doing a lot of like, leading and teaching gravel clinics for women. And it’s not only like this aspect of it, but teaching them that they belong there. And I think that’s the biggest thing is so many people have like that imposter syndrome. Like, they’re not good enough. They shouldn’t, you know, like, they shouldn’t be there, or they’re scared to get hurt, or they have all these barriers in their minds that they shouldn’t be in that space or be doing this thing. I was having a conversation with one woman and she, she was like, Oh, I’m going to be doing my first gravel race coming up. And I What did she say? She was like, I’m only doing the 25 and I was like, I stopped her right there. And I was like, don’t diminish what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing 150 2510 don’t diminish the effort that you’re putting in, because you’re brave enough to just be showing up, right. And so I think a lot of it has to do is just trying to change people’s mindsets that you could just be sitting on the couch. But the fact that you’re at this gravel clinic, you have signed up for a race, you you’re taking those steps, you know, to be in this space and do scary things and do hard things. And I think that’s super important. So I mean, I think it just starts with that encouragement, and showing people that it doesn’t matter, your athletic ability doesn’t matter, your experience, what matters is, you know, getting outside of your comfort zone. And trying, because the only way that you can fail at doing something is not doing it at all. And so I really tried to encourage women, specifically in give yourself the chance. And again, there is no failing, like, if you don’t finish the distance that you signed up for, or like just start, just show up to the event start the event. And that in itself is the first step, right?

Sonya Looney 11:22
Absolutely. I think that the comparison piece of while I’m doing the 25 mile instead of the 30 mile or the 50 mile or whatever the other distances or Well, I’m not so and so. But it doesn’t matter. That’s just somebody else that has nothing to do with your process and the thing that you are getting and the person you’re becoming by showing up and doing.

Starla Teddergreen 11:42
Absolutely, I mean, because no matter what I mean, in all parts of life, we all have different starting points. We all have, you know, advantages and disadvantages. And so I Yeah, the biggest disservice you can do to yourself is compare yourself to someone else. And often that comparison is completely, like blind, like you really have no idea what that other person has been through to get themselves to that point. And so, yeah, it’s when you know, like, chase your own challenges your own, like goals. And yeah, don’t don’t compare yourself to other people just because one, it’s not fair one, it’s a blind comparison. And it’s not going to help you in any way other than, you know, potentially cut yourself down.

Sonya Looney 12:34
Yeah, and something else, whenever I think about comparison is that, especially in the last 10 years, it’s so much easier to compare ourselves like in the past, you would compare yourself to the other people you saw at the race or the other people in your neighborhood. But now because you can compare yourself to millions of people on Strava on Instagram or whatever, like you can see the number of likes, however many miles they’ve written, there’s so many more people to compare yourself to. And sometimes comparison can be inspiring, but a lot of times it’s actually demotivating.

Starla Teddergreen 13:04
Oh, absolutely. Because you see, like somebody’s writing 30 hours a week, and you’re like, there’s no way that you know, you know, like I could ever do that or have time for that. And so it would be so easy to look at that and be like, Well, if that’s what it takes to be a pro to do 30 hours a week. There’s no way I’m ever going to be able to achieve that with the five to eight hours I have to dedicate. And so again, that’s like a completely unrealistic Comparison, where you’re standing in your own way, giving up before you even try just because you’re like this is an unobtainable thing for me.

Sonya Looney 13:43
Yeah, or I have to look a certain way in order to be a cyclist or a pro or a runner. Like I definitely fell into that trap. When I was a young cyclist, I thought I had to look a certain way. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be a pro cyclist, and I wasn’t gonna look like other people. Like it just wasn’t gonna happen for me.

Starla Teddergreen 14:00
Oh, no, absolutely. I mean, when I first got into it, and I think that, like one of the things I regret the most is listening to other people. Because one, I mean, when I really got into, like, seriously trying to pursue cycling, I was probably 25. And one person told me oh, well, you’re too old to actually go pro. You’re you’ve already missed your window at 25. And then somebody else told me like, oh, well, you’re, you’re a natural sprinter. So you’re a sprinter. So you can’t climb. You can’t you can’t do this. You can’t do that. And so, I mean, I was so new in the sport that I believed everything that everyone told me. I just had, you know, no idea and and then they were like, Oh, well, you’re small. So then you should be able to climb and I was like, but I was just told that was a sprinter and but I can’t climb and so it was just so many different little worms in my I had running around telling me what I was what I could do what I couldn’t do. And I spent way too much time listening to them and not like giving myself the opportunity to, like, try different things in sport. And so it took, like, I feel like I wasted so much of my cycling career like, early on, because I was too busy listening to other people putting me in a box where I was too afraid to actually pursue more for myself. And, like, going back, yeah, like looking. Like one thing I really liked about cycling was, I was constantly surprised about the different body types and their abilities. Because I did have that belief, like so early on that, okay, if you’re small, you’re a climber. If you’re, you know, like, tall and lanky your time trayless. Or, like, if you’re big Oh, you won’t be able to go uphill. And I remember like, the more like, the deeper I got into it. And I was going to more like professional races. I was like, shocked by the power and the strength of like, all these different body types. And I look over and this girl that was like, three times as big as me was just like dropping me on the hills. And in my mind, I was like, she shouldn’t be able to climb, you have to be skinny, and you know, to climb. And so it was just so funny to go back and think about like listening to all the things I was told and the beliefs that I had. And being able to witness firsthand that’s like, no, every single body type can have different strengths and different abilities. And nobody fits in a box. And like I found that out, like way later in my career. I mean, being told I was a sprinter. It’s like I’ve won sprinters, jerseys, I’ve won climbers jerseys. And I’m not a climber, I’ve won, you know, leaders jerseys, and I’m not a time dry lists. And like, what I’ve learned, like to be a successful cyclist is you have to have grit, and you have to have that passion to want to continue to push yourself and see what you’re capable of. Because I think you’re really cutting yourself short, if you’re just sticking to that one label. And that’s all that you are.

Sonya Looney 17:33
Yeah, label is so limiting on potential. And thanks so much for mentioning that. You don’t have to look a certain way. Like I’m I wanted to bring that up. Because there might be you know, young cyclists, male or female listening to this thinking that exact same way, or people our age listening to this still thinking that about themselves or putting other limits on themselves, like one that really, that drives me nuts is when people say that they’re too old. Or like, I’m an old, whatever, like I’m turning 40 In a couple of months. And I never think of myself that way. And I think a lot of people will put that limit on themselves, because they see other people have called themselves out or people make fun of themselves for being that. So like, yeah, the comparison to other people or the labels that you place can really be limiting. Or they can really be inspiring if you take them away.

Starla Teddergreen 18:21
Oh, absolutely. I think I think breaking those like labels and those boundaries where people are like, Oh, well, you’re too old, and you shouldn’t you know, it’s too late to start and blah, blah, blah. Like one of my favorite memories was I was coaching the clinic. This was when I was still doing road racing. And it was this group of women, all ages, all shapes, all sizes. And one of the women, she came up to me after the clinic and she like was thanking me and she was like, this was a birthday present to myself to come out here. She was like, I’m 62 years old. And she was like, I’ve wanted to raise my bike my whole life. But I had dedicated it my life to raising my children, being a good wife, you know, being a good mother. And she was like, I, you know, my kids are gone, my husband passed away. And she was like, Finally, this is my time and wanted to give it a shot. And then I came back the next year. And she was there again, and now at 63. And she’s like I’ve been racing and riding and she was like, I’ve never felt more alive and in control of my life. And it was just like, one of the most inspiring stories that you know, she’s trying something new at that age. And yeah, I’m like still to this day. It’s like one of my favorite

Sonya Looney 19:42
experiences. So I wanted to ask you, you said initially people said well, you’re a sprinter, or you’re a climber, and that you were very much almost attached to what these people were saying because you didn’t have any experience. How did you get away from that?

Starla Teddergreen 19:59
Um, Mostly, I felt like I could give more. I felt like I was more than what I was being labeled. And so a great example was like I had only been doing criterium races, and I thought road races were really interesting. And so I wanted, you know, I wanted to try and I picked one that super hilly, it was, it was it was, it was a huge struggle for me, but like I showed up on the start line, and everybody there looked at me, and they said, out loud, what are you doing here? And I was like, I was offended. But then I also was like, Oh, I’m going to prove you wrong. And so, yes, I got dropped on the hill climb almost immediately. And I found myself on a group with other women. And yeah, I’m like, none of us were good at that kind of a race. But we all supported each other and stuck it out. And we finished. And by the time we finished, they had already broken down the finish line. But I had proven to myself that I could do it. I’m like, I completed the distance. I had never written that bar, however long it was it was like 63 or something miles and I so I had never written that far. I had never done a climbing road rates like that. But I finished even though the finish line was gone. I still did it. And and it proved to myself, I’m like, I can do this. I belong here. I just need to work harder. And so I think some of it was them, saying that to me, like what are you doing here that really put that fire in me to be like, Well, why not? Like there’s no reason that I shouldn’t be here.

Sonya Looney 22:00
Yeah, there’s this quote. So Sara Blakely is a billionaire that owns Spanx. And I heard some story where someone said, you know, why you? And she said, Why not me?

Starla Teddergreen 22:11
Yeah, exactly. And I mean, I think that’s kind of how I’ve approached most of my career is trying to prove people wrong. And generally, that’s where I found most of my success is when other people don’t believe in me, and I’ve believed in myself.

Sonya Looney 22:32
So you don’t think that you would have achieved a level of success that you have without the naysayers?

Starla Teddergreen 22:39
Probably, like if people were like, super encouraging. And I mean, that would have been one thing if I actually had mentors that cared about me and wanted to like, lift me up, and, you know, help me as an athlete. I’m like, Who knows what that path path would have been? But yeah, I feel like I really thrive on naysayers, just because I’m like, oh, yeah, I will absolutely prove you wrong. And even even if I can’t, well, at least I sure as heck tried.

Sonya Looney 23:09
And what about now, I mean, I want to get back into your career. But like you said that the naysayers are powerful. And I do agree with that. But there’s also a lot of power in mentorship and being supportive. And this whole distance to MD team and platform you’ve built is about mentorship and and you know, helping others.

Starla Teddergreen 23:28
Yeah, so a lot of the inspiration behind starting distance MT was based off of Yeah, the experience that I had, like coming up through this sport. I unfortunately, had so many negative experiences with you know, other women in the sport where they were either like putting me down or being mean girls or seven gonna move. Okay. Yeah. I mean, there was just like, there was just so much unnecessary, like negativity. And it was a very frustrating experience. And my reasoning for wanting to start Distance to Empty the award program is I don’t think in sport, women have to have that experience. I think women, like I always say, it’s like we’re stronger together. If we want to move ourselves forward in sport, and in life, we’re so much better supporting each other and trying to work towards the same thing then, like in fighting like putting taking each other down and like, trying to take opportunities away from each other. It’s like we won’t have to fight and try to take opportunities from one another if we work together to create more opportunities, so that we all have that chance. And so was starting the award program at Distance to Empty, I really wanted to create a platform where we provide opportunity for women. And it was like a completely organic process. Like I had the idea, and I knew what I wanted to do, but I had absolutely no idea how to execute it. And so when it started, in my head, it was like, you know, I want to I didn’t know, like, the best way to approach to that should be national, or, or what, and I was trying to get sponsors on board, and they were all just kind of like, I don’t understand what you’re doing. I mean, I get the message, but I don’t understand, like how we can help. And it finally like whittled down to whereas I Well, let’s start small, let’s start locally. And so we, we wanted it to be a Colorado based program. And then that way I can reach out to Colorado based race promoters and get them on board. And then because then I was like, oh, and then we can like actually impact the communities that these women live in. And so then it would like started to snowball and all makes sense. And what it came down to is, we set up an award based program where people submit applications, we ask a bunch of questions. And it’s mostly just to get to know them as women and what their need is and what the bike means to them and what they want to pursue on the bike. And so we, when we get these applications in, it’s like all of these amazing stories, like some are overcoming health issues, or financial issues, or just devastating, like losses in life. And there’s just so many, so many incredible stories out there. And so, going through the applications, it’s really kind of a hard process to the first year, we were just selecting forks, we wanted to start really small. And then this past year, we selected seven, because we brought three of the women back from the previous year one had moved out of state, because they we didn’t give them the season that we wanted to because of my health crisis. And so we brought them back, and then four new women this year, and what’s what’s great about is like they’re all different ages, they full age range, background, and cycling is all different. Some are, you know, single parents, newborn, college students working, like they just all have so many different stories, backgrounds, and professional pursuits as well. But to all of them, the bike is that kind of unifying force that gives them that confidence in their life, essentially, I mean, that’s what it is, for me, it’s like everything that I’ve accomplished on the bike has poured over into every other aspect of my life, where it’s given me that confidence to pursue really hard things. And so giving these women the opportunity and the immediate, like built in community with the Distance to Empty team and watching them, like decide to do their first 50 miler, or their first 100 And, you know, pulling from the scales that we have taught them on the bike, and, you know, off the bike as far as like nutrition and training and things like that. And then watching them go and do these races. And their take away from it, like how, you know, like, it was like the hardest thing they’ve ever done, but how proud of themselves they are for having accomplished it and not giving up or even even if they do not finish that making, like that struggle that they went through to make that choice not to finish and it’s just been so inspiring and incredible to watch them like go through this process. And so, yeah, like being being able to, like provide this opportunity for these women to show that you you can do really hard things and have a community of other women supporting you is is why I created this is to show to show them and encourage them that they can do hard things even though it’s absolutely it’s scary and painful at times, but just showing up for themselves because that’s that’s the biggest thing is like they show up for you know their families and their job. and all these other things, but I’m like, actually giving yourself this opportunity, being selfish in this moment to do this thing for yourself is so important. And it will, you know, pour over into other aspects of your life and your community. Because you’re, when you can show up for yourself, you can show up for others in a much stronger capacity. And so yeah, so we’re trying to create this environment of encouragement and support so that, yeah, these women can pursue these things that ultimately empower themselves in all aspects of their life.

Sonya Looney 30:39
Yeah, I think that can be really challenging to show up for yourself, because it’s very vulnerable. And it’s, it’s almost easier to support other people, because you’re not putting yourself on the line. When you’re putting yourself on the line. Now, it’s a lot harder if things don’t go well, or there might be like, guilt, if things don’t go well, like, I never experienced that until I had kids. And I don’t experience I don’t think it’s quote mom guilt. But it’s like, we’re going to travel across the country to erase and like my one year old and three year old are going and my husband, I’m dragging everything. This is, you know, narrative that is not positive, the word dragging, I’m dragging everybody across the country to go to this race, does it even matter? Am I even going to do well? And does it even matter? If I do? Well, like you start asking yourself all those questions, because now it’s not just you. And it doesn’t have to be just parenthood, it could be anything. And it is so important to be that my husband says, this is the type of people we want to be, and going back to like your identity and how that impacts like what you said, Everything around you. It’s so powerful.

Starla Teddergreen 31:41
Absolutely. And I mean, you’re like, especially, I mean, in cycling, I feel like you are never in it alone, in the sense that you you know, you have your relationships, whether it’s with, you know, a partner, or your family, or just your friendships, right? You’re never in it alone, because you’re making so many sacrifices to get into the, you know, to get the training in to travel to these races. And yeah, you want it to your partner supporting you, even though you know, they can be your biggest supporter, and they want you to pursue this because, you know, they know that this is what makes you happy. This is your passion, you do you do still feel like you’re dragging them along. And there’s that guilt, because not only, I mean, there’s that sacrificing their time for you. And you’re on a lot of down. Yeah, it’s like you’re monopolizing their time. Like, if you weren’t choosing cycling, and to pursue these things, you could be choosing them and what they want to be doing. And so there’s 100% so much guilt on. It’s like, you know, they don’t care about your result, like, you’re not like, you have to go out there, and you

Sonya Looney 32:55
have to win this, you know, and it’s not worth it.

Starla Teddergreen 32:58
Yeah. And it’s never about that, but you do still feel this form of guilt, because you are putting yourself and your time first over theirs. And that’s, that’s really hard to kind of reconcile with. And, yeah, it’s like, if you do go, you know, drive all the way across country. And then you have a bad race, there is some of that, that guilt, like, oh, we traveled all this way. And I didn’t get to finish or I didn’t have the greatest showing. And, yeah, and I, if, and they don’t care, that’s the funny part is they don’t care.

Sonya Looney 33:39
And honestly, it’s not about that. Like, it’s so easy to be focused on the result. And, you know, it has to be this way, but it’s the person who you become on the way to showing up for the race that matters the most not even the race.

Starla Teddergreen 33:51
Exactly. I mean, I had I have one of our one of our distance Mt. Writers, she she broke her ankle, this winter falling on like slipping on some ice. And so it’s put her out for the season, or for the early part of the season. So she missed the first couple of races. And, like she messaged me when she got back on her bike and got in her first like 40 miles and barely had any pain. And she was just like, so excited. And I mean, I was so excited for her because I’ve been through the exact same thing. And so she that I guess it was like the next two weeks or whatever, there was one of our races and she went to it and then she called me the night before and she was like, Well, I don’t know if I’m going to start and like she just had a lot of anxiety and and worry about it. And I told her I was like I was like, just just start. That’s all that matters is you’re there you’re supporting your teammates. And I want you to give yourself the opportunity and get out of your head. You’re just going for a ride. We know you’re not racing it and this course is very challenging. And most likely you won’t be able to finish it, because that’s a lot of stress to put on your ankle. And so I was like, but give yourself the opportunity to start. And then also know that the right decision will be to pull out to stop to quit to go back. You know, and so I’m like, if that’s one mile in 10 miles in whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. But showing up to that start line, taking five pedal strokes, 10, whatever it takes, until you decide, okay, that’s enough, I’m like, you will gain more from that experience, making those right decisions, and then managing the emotional fallout of that than if you completed the entire race. And so, yeah, my my advice was, give yourself the opportunity. And she did. And she made it, I think, 10 miles. And then the steepness of the course, definitely started to make her ankle hurt. And it was a very hard decision for her and like two of her teammates from DTE, were there. And like kind of helped support her through some of the course. And then finally, she was like, Okay, I need to make the call, I need to make the decision and go back. And, you know, she was definitely disappointed. But I think she took a lot away from it as well. And it also then put more fire in her belly to be ready for the next one. And so it was it was just a really cool, like experience to to see her kind of your help guide her through that emotional roller coaster of making those decisions.

Sonya Looney 36:43
Yeah, I think one of the reasons why people are nervous to race or to do an event, whether it’s a race or not, or a big goal is because of bumping up against disappointment, there is a high risk of feeling disappointed, or like you talked about earlier, letting yourself down letting somebody else down. And if you spend your entire life avoiding disappointment you’re gonna miss out on so much like what you said, the the emotional, almost gymnastics that someone has to overcome in a race, if they are going through this. Should I stay in? Should I not stay in? There’s a lot of value in that.

Starla Teddergreen 37:18
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think if you look at that any aspect of your life? If you’re an if you’re afraid of disappointment, or failure, then I mean, why leave your house? Right? I mean, I think I think our the greatest lessons and the greatest experiences in life come from taking that risk from, you know, being like, well, I’m, you know, I’m like, I might fail, the percentage of chance of me failing is pretty dang high. Because I make if you if you went to any race, and you line up with 100 women, and your goal and your want and your desire is to win, the chances that you’re actually going to win, or pretty low, unless you are, unless you have trained so hard, have made so many sacrifices, and have that experience. And that support system to actually get you across that finish line first, like most races, and in some form of disappointment, if your ultimate goal, and the only goal that you’re taking away is I want to win or I want like if you’re if you’re hyper focused on a placement number, right. But if you go into a race with the mindset of, well, I’m going to be better at this race than I was the last one, or I’m going to try and do something that I’ve never done before in a race or like if you give yourself all these little micro goals, then you can find success, where even though you didn’t even place in the top 20 or whatever, it doesn’t matter because you set all these other goals and, you know, markers of achievement. And it’s not like hyper obsessed on a placement. I think that is what I think makes a good athlete and also just makes you a well rounded human being. When you can, you’re not so hyper focused on just one outcome because it rarely rarely works that way.

Sonya Looney 39:25
Did you have to learn that the hard way or like I know that I’ve had to learn that the hard way?

Starla Teddergreen 39:32
Absolutely, no, no, absolutely. It’s it’s been, I mean, it’s been a 20 year process for me to have a full understanding of what it even means to be an athlete. So like when when COVID hit and I no longer had a team to ride for or races you know to start or any of that Like my, I mean, my life was I mean, everybody’s life was turned upside down. But as an athlete, it was like, I no longer have these things to define me. And like, it was a huge struggle for me to redefine myself and what it meant for me to be an athlete. And the ultimate conclusion I came up with was, it has nothing to do with a straight line, it has nothing to do with a team manager telling me what job to do, or you know what role I play, it comes down to me showing up every day trying to be a better version of myself. And whether that’s on the bike or in life. Those were the lessons that I took away. And ultimately, like, what led to starting Distance to Empty and trying to encourage other women, you know, to do hard things, do things that scare them, because ultimately, they’ll become better versions of themselves and have more fulfilled lives, better communities. And yeah,

Sonya Looney 41:06
yeah, I was thinking, when you’re saying a better version of myself, that ultimately comes down to your values, because that is what makes up how you operate in the world is your compass is how you’re going to show up in different domains.

Starla Teddergreen 41:20
Yeah, no, absolutely. And having like, it was there was two different things, I think that really helped kind of define it for me, and one was going through that process, during the pandemic. And then second was, well, actually, three things. So having the health crisis where I, I guess, long story short, got COVID had an autoimmune attack, that caused lesion on my spine, that ultimately put me in the hospital for nine days, where I had to have plasmapheresis done where they take your blood out, clean it, put a synthetic back in, which will stop the autoimmune attack. Because Because so with the lesion on my spine, it caused damage to the myelin sheath that effectively is how your body communicates with itself. Like at that point, I had lost control of both of my legs, my left arm, and I had like, burning electrical, gosh, numb sensations over my entire body. And also, like COVID had set off a blood clotting disorder in my body as well. So they had to put me on blood thinners. And in the hospital laying there, they’re like, you’re gonna have to go on immune suppressors for the rest of your life, you might have to be on blood thinners the rest of your life, and you most likely won’t ever be able to do anything where you could even get a bruise. And so, I’m like, looking at my life and being like, everything I know, everything I love might be taken away from me at this point. And so it was it was scary. It was terrifying. But it also like gave me that opportunity to be like, okay, we can we can deal with this, we will figure out another way to to thrive and find new experiences where I’m not putting myself at risk. And so, yeah, so it was like, first the pandemic, taking away my professional career on the road. And then it was this. Yeah, absolute health crisis, where I thought everything was going to be taken away from me. And I’ve already forgot what the third thing is. But like that was just like it was such a doozy. Right? And I mean, luckily, I found a great medical team. Like I had to fight so hard for a medical team that would actually believe in me and like believe like what I was experiencing was real. Like at first, when this all first started to happen. Like my hands went numb, and I’m like they’re tingly. And Bernie and I had one neurologists that I went to tell me that I was anxious and that because I was an athlete and I know my body so well that I was manifesting these sensations and that’s your

Sonya Looney 44:40
fault. This is happening. Oh my gosh, it’s horrible.

Starla Teddergreen 44:44
And so it was like fight after fight after fight like that to get doctors to even believe what was going on. And then finally I got put in touch with one and she was like, Oh my gosh, this is serious. We need to treat this we need to figure this out. And then that’s when they discovered the lesion. And then it was like the whole process snowballed from there. But, um, eventually put together a great medical team here. And I’ve been able to get off all of the medication, all the blood thinners, the only thing I’m still on is an immune suppressor that I’ll take is an infusion that I do every six months. And that’s to hopefully prevent the body from like re attacking itself. So at this point, they’re treating me for Ms. Because of the lesions on my brain and the lesions on the spine, and fingers crossed, that everything goes well and no other lesions or symptoms appear. I’m still not back to like 100%. And never will be, I’ll always have that nerve, that damage from the lesion on my spine. And so it’ll manifest itself in the strangest ways that we’re still trying to figure out, like, if I get like, I’m super heat intolerant. And so that’ll just shut my body down, which I’ve learned in races. And so

Sonya Looney 46:15
on your lifetime Grand Prix this year. Yeah,

Starla Teddergreen 46:18
yeah, it that was a gamble. And when I like I was, I was selected the first year of it, and then had to pull out obviously. And then when I applied again, I was just like, if you guys let me in, you are 100% taking a gamble on me whether I’ll be able to even finish a race or, you know, let alone the whole series. And so when they selected me, I was honestly a little shocked. And then also really stressed out. Yeah. But I mean, again, I’m just taking it like one race at a time. I mean, that’s, that’s all I can do. And obviously, I’m going to make the right call and put my health first. Um, but yeah, so far, so far, I’ve been able to, you know, get through the races fairly well, like, I’m definitely disappointed in myself with my performance at sea otter, because I’ve never really done a mountain bike race of that magnitude with Olympians, and you know, just a star studded cast, right. And so I am, pretty much immediately mentally took myself out of that race before it even started. Because I was like, I do not want to get in the way of anyone who is actually, you know, who could actually potentially win this or whatever. And then I realized, as soon as we hit the single track, I’m like, I am so much faster and have way, you know, higher skills than a lot of the people in front of me. And then I was so frustrated, because I couldn’t get around them or whatever. But I was more just frustrated with myself for mentally taking myself out of the race before it even started. And so

Sonya Looney 48:07
that’s such a big learning. And I’m sure it’s something that a lot of the women on your team have had to learn and a lot of people, just people in general listening, you sell yourself short before you even start because you think everybody’s going to be better than you. Yeah.

Starla Teddergreen 48:20
And I will never make that mistake again. Because I’m like, for all the turmoil beating myself up about it. I’m like, not worth it. Just give yourself the chance. Because yeah, I was just so disappointed in myself, because I know better. But I think I mean, from this, like health crisis, it it does put a lot of doubt in me, just not knowing like on any given day, how my body will show up, like, right now I’m on a streak, which knock on wood. I’ve been doing, you know, really well. But then, like, tomorrow, I could wake up with vertigo again. Or I could just have horrible electrical shock nerve sensations, or, I mean, there’s just no no telling or like deep fatigue. And so I think there is some of that lack of confidence in my body in my abilities. And how, yeah, I’ll show up each day. But cutting Yeah, like taking myself out of the race before I even have an opportunity. I I will not make that mistake again. Because it’s yeah, it’s not fair to myself.

Sonya Looney 49:36
You have to deal with an incredible amount of uncertainty now, and I’m sure that it was so scary to have that happen. And you haven’t given up on yourself like you are still chasing big goals.

Starla Teddergreen 49:49
Yeah, I mean, honestly, that’s the only way I know how to live. Because when I was living in fear, and I mean both both me and my husband with Once COVID came around, we’re both living in fear because he’s also immune suppressed from a kidney transplant. And he had, you know, double bypass surgery, all from a genetic disease that’s, you know, trying to kill him as well. And I, I absolutely know from watching him and like, what he goes through with not trusting his body, and always kind of being fearful of what what’s going to happen next. And now, like experiencing that for myself, it’s it’s funny, like I’m telling now I’m telling myself, what I’ve been telling him all along is, nobody knows how long that will have. I mean, we’ll all be lucky if we, you know, make it to tomorrow, honestly. And so, living, living a life of fear, and especially with COVID. Like, we definitely isolated ourselves way longer than anybody else, like, we watched the world open back up, and we’re still wearing masks, and, you know, taking all the precautions, and it was honestly, putting both of us in a state of depression, because we are, you know, we’re protecting ourselves so that we can live longer, but in the current life that we’re living, we’re not actually living our lives, and we’re being ruled by fear. And it was actually funny at sea otter, we had a conversation where it’s like, Alright, I’m actually I’m flipping the table. Enough is enough, I’m done. I’m done being scared. And we’ve, you know, definitely, like, open our lives back up to like air travel into, you know, going out and living our lives. And we still will wear masks, and you know, situations where we feel is really high risk.

But it’s, yeah, it’s like, we just reached a point where we actually need to start living our lives again. And

nobody knows. Yeah, if if they’ll have to borrow even and being afraid of what’s next to come is just limiting the time that we do have and are experiencing and so it’s what I’ve been trying to tell him all along in supporting him. I’m now telling myself

Sonya Looney 52:36
Wow, well, we’ve covered so much today, so much, so many inspiring messages. Like I feel like people can listen to this a couple times and get different things out of it each time. Yeah, there’s so much more that I wanted to talk about. I can’t believe we’re already out of time. But where can people find you and find Distance to Empty so that they can learn more?

Starla Teddergreen 52:56
Yeah, so um, so I’m on Instagram is @StarlaT. And then we are distanced empty is as well on Instagram with @distance2empty. And then we also have a website for Distance to Empty that represents the word program, my race program, and then our storytelling platform as well. And that’s Distance But with to not the number two. Well, thank you

Sonya Looney 53:25
so much for coming on the show and sharing so many important messages with us and being vulnerable and for everything that you’re doing in the world. And I can’t wait to see you this summer.

Starla Teddergreen 53:34
Yeah. Oh my gosh, I am so excited for Breck Epic, and I’ll definitely be reaching out to pick your brain a little bit. It’ll be my first mountain bike stage race. So I’m super excited.

Sonya Looney 53:46
It’s a good one. It’s so awesome.

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