Five years into pursuing my dreams of being an endurance mountain bike athlete, my wife proposed a life-changing concept to me. The idea of having a child! I had just entered the pro level and I was continuing to get faster year over year. Consequently, the idea of having a child felt like game over to my athletic career.
Despite my initial apprehension, my wife Megan was able to ease my worst fear – giving up who I was for the last five years and all the work I had done in order to be a father. She would never ask me to give up what I love, so this wasn’t even a discussion. Nor would I ask her to give up on her dreams of traveling the world after a long career as a flight attendant. More on that later.
My son Nolan was born January 2015, and I was determined to make Fatherhood mean game on! It was my goal to be an athlete dad!
Not game over, but put it on pause
Being an athlete dad is all about prioritizing your family first. Riding when it’s best for your family, not when it’s best for you. For example, getting it in when the family is sleeping — they nap, you ride! And if some days that means not riding at all, then so be it.
It was a rough beginning for both my wife and I, but especially for my wife. The birth of my son and complications afterwards left her bedridden for the first couple of weeks. Luckily, I had landed a new job working remotely (aka from home) a couple months before my son’s birth. As a result, I was there to help more throughout the day. However, this still wasn’t enough. Me leaving for training rides for hours on end left my wife feeling like I was abandoning her with a newborn.
In retrospect, I should have put being an athlete on pause for the first few months. Alas, my determination to prove I could still be a father and an elite athlete backfired on me the first year.
Finding the balance
The year my son was born I cut my endurance race season short in early August. Failing to prioritize my family left me feeling like a failure of a father. There was a period where I felt that perhaps fatherhood really did need to mean game over for my biking career. Fortunately, it never came to that point.
After a few challenging months raising a newborn, our family saw a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Nolan was becoming more manageable as he got older. He had been sleeping through the night for a while already, and his regular naptimes lasted long enough to give my wife and I a break. This was enough time for me to get in guilt-free short rides. Things were starting to get better in our family, and it was about to get a whole lot better.
It was that Fall in 2015 that we as a family started really living life. Remember how I landed a job working remotely before my son’s birth? Well, with my new job working remotely and my wife’s flight benefits as a flight attendant, we were determined to take full advantage of our ability to travel. With a nine-month-old and a lot of baby gear, we made our way to Sevilla, Spain for a month. It’s funny that for the longest time I thought I was training to be an endurance athlete. But that first trip to Spain made me realize I was training all along to travel with a month’s supply of gear for the entire family! It was my life’s calling!
That month we spent in Spain, with NO bikes, was a time for great reflection. It was very clear that I could not and would not have another year abandoning my family for training rides. I either needed to give it up or strike a better balance. My priority needed to be my family, not my athletics.
Enter the Bee
I bought my first Burley from my local bike shop in January 2016 when Nolan was one year old. The Burley Bee is the lightest kids trailer on the market, has a roll-cage, and five-point harness. I was sold! Adventure Nolan and I first started riding together on my short recovery days. It was a win for the whole family! I got to train, Nolan enjoyed spending time with Dad in nature, and Mom got a much-needed break. It was the balance our family needed! The Burley Bee literally saved our marriage while allowing me to still pursue being an athlete.
Becoming a true athlete dad
Bringing Nolan on short recovery rides soon turned into bringing him on longer, harder rides. At first, nice smooth tempo rides on the bike path were perfect with little Nolan in tow. Standing on the pedals was still a no-go at the beginning as it shook the trailer a bit too much for a little rider. That just made me a much smoother rider, especially while doing harder intervals. With time, Nolan was old enough to handle rougher terrain, and the hardest efforts dad could put out. Training with the extra weight of the Burley and Nolan made me a better athlete than I ever could have been without. In addition, I was riding more than I had ever ridden before Nolan was born! The longer the ride meant the longer Mom was getting a break!
That’s when it became apparent — Fatherhood really did mean GAME ON! With Nolan’s help as a co-pilot, I was accepted onto the pro-level team Honey Stinger/Bontrager Off Road in 2018! It was that year that Nolan and I rode 1,700 miles together! Before then, my longer rides of four to six hours were done solo. Over time, it became apparent that Nolan loved these long rides with me! In fact, he loved them so much I often heard him singing and telling stories during our rides!
At the end of 2018, I sent an email about my adventures with Nolan that would change our lives. It was then that we started a beautiful relationship with Burley.
Expanding our Adventures
The season of 2019 was going to be a big one! We had successfully traveled to Europe four times, each a month-long, as a family. Each time was done in the fall during my off-season. As a compromise, our family had a rule, no bikes in the fall off-season!
Nolan, now four years old, was more capable of carrying his own weight. Furthermore, he was past the point of needing many of the heavy items he required at a younger age. Not yet locked down by a school schedule, we decided to take advantage of our flexible schedule with a two-month long trip to Spain in the Spring — with my bike in tow!
Although Nolan had less gear, it was still going to be a great challenge to bring a bike along with all our other luggage. In fact, it would have been impossible. That is until Burley stepped in! They graciously supplied our family with the luxury Burley D’Lite Single. We decided on the D’Lite Single since space was a great concern whilst traveling through the airports and the narrow pathways of Spain.
The D’Lite took many different forms on that trip. The most important role was a luggage cart in the airports. Without the D’Lite, there would have been no way to make this trip possible.
Once in Spain, its main functionality was a stroller for Nolan whilst exploring. The narrow design was perfect while navigating walking paths, alleys, museums, and more!
The D’Lite Single also played a key role in grocery shopping. We could easily get a cart full of food back to our AirBnB! This made the trip a lot cheaper since we could take longer walks outside of the city center to cheaper, bigger grocery stores. Plus, dad could ride to the grocery for a quick stop if needed! Once there, the Burley went from trailer to grocery-getter in seconds!
And of course, the D’Lite Single was Nolan’s luxury bike chariot while exploring beautiful España!
We had an amazing year in 2019! Nolan and I ended up riding 3,000 miles together that year! Mom got to continue living her dream of being a travelholic, and Dad was happier than ever with a more balanced life as an elite athlete dad.
Parenthood is what you make it. It could have very easily been game over for me had I given up on my dreams of being an endurance mountain bike athlete. By staying true to myself and my dreams, we as a family made it through the hardships. Finding the best balance between being a husband, father, athlete, and an employee is a continuous effort. It’s not easy being an athlete dad, but as long as I continue to make my family the top priority, I continue to find my way through it.
I can honestly say that I am blessed! I have a son that I adore and a loving, forgiving wife! Together we have traveled to thirteen different locations, a month-long each, since Nolan was born!
We have proven that as long as you are willing to put in the extra work, parenthood means GAME ON!
Nolan and I continue to ride quite a bit together on our new team, Go4Graham Elite. A team dedicated to shredding the stigma surrounding mental health. Now at the end of 2020, we have ridden another 3,500 miles together, all with our new Burley D’Lite X! It provides extra room and luxury for Nolan, and his stuffed animals. Huge thank you to Burley for the support through the years and letting me write on this blog! I couldn’t be an athlete dad without you!
How to be an athlete parent
Want to be an athlete parent yourself? Here are some tips on how to ride with your little one.
1. Ride when it’s best for the family, not necessarily when it’s best for yourself.
2. Make sure your little one has a helmet and wears it!
3. Pick your routes wisely.
- When riding in new locations, Strava heatmaps let you know the most ridden routes — thus, the safest!
4. Know where all the cool stops are!
- Candy and ice cream shops are great rewards for trooper riders.
- Free museums and nature centers make great water breaks!
5. For the long rides:
- Bring lunch and treats
- Stuffed animals make great co-captains
- Tell your child to be on nature watch — look, a squirrel!
6. Remember, you have a rolling dresser. Take full advantage of it! Here are some supplies I carry with me:
- Digital PSI gauge and floor pump — no more trying to fix a flat with a small hand pump!
- Patches and tube in case the trailer gets a flat
- 100% waterproof rain jacket — no worries if it’s not packable!
- All the warmers! (knee warmers, arm warmers, leg warmers)
- Honey Stinger waffles — packable and delicious!
- Waterproof shoe covers
- Wintertime gear (fleece jacket, two thicknesses of gloves, extra head cover)
- Winter gear for the little one (warm blanket, gloves, hat, fleece jacket)
Now get out there and enjoy your Burley adventures!
See more of Nathan and Nolan’s Adventures on Instagram @nathancolliermtbr!