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We Are Not Alone

Stories of Commitment: Sarah Hill

In 2019, mountain biker Sarah Hill (and teammate Theresa Ralph) earned the South African leaders’ jerseys and 6th place overall at Cape Epic, a gruelling eight-day stage race. So expectations for 2020 were high. Then, the pandemic hit and the race was canceled. That year, of course, presented new challenges for all of us, from the threat of COVID to social isolation to uncertainty about the future. But for Sarah, it also made something else apparent: that her intense training had been a distraction from even greater challenges. Sarah’s is a very personal story, but at the same time, it’s not unique to her. That’s why she agreed to tell it, and we’re honored to share it with you here.

Sarah Hill riding through burned trees

Liv: You did really well in the 2019 Cape Epic. Were you looking forward to the 2020 race?

Sarah: I was training really hard, trying to do more than the previous year, to push even harder—which made my recovery harder, too. At the same time, I wasn’t in a good mental state. In hindsight, I realize I was trying to ride away from something, instead of toward something. I was burning myself out, and I wasn’t performing well. 

Liv: How did you feel when South Africa went into lockdown and the 2020 Cape Epic was canceled?

Sarah: I was at dinner with some friends when we heard about the race being canceled, and I just sat back in my chair and cried. Everyone probably thought I was crying because I was disappointed, but I was crying with relief. I had been panicking about just getting through the race, let alone keeping the South African leader’s jersey. I did not see how I could perform better than—or even the same as—last year.  But I felt guilty for feeling this way. I’d been given all the opportunities, and I’d failed myself.

Liv: What else was happening in your life at this time?

Sarah: There was a lot. Just before Cape Epic was canceled, my romantic relationship ended, and I had a hard time grounding myself. I moved back into the family house with my dad and brothers, but I still felt really alone, helpless, and scared. Some members of my family were struggling with significant challenges, and I was trying to be supportive, but there was no support for me. When lockdown lifted, I moved back into my apartment, and then I tested positive for COVID, and had to isolate for 14 days. I spiraled into negative thought patterns. Luckily I ran into a friend of a friend who is a life coach, and she saw that I needed help.

Sarah Hill standing on rocks at the ocean

Liv: Did things start to change for you then? 

Sarah: She was and continues to be so supportive, but I could not stop spiraling down. One day, I left a ride early, and ended up in tears, fighting with myself, and losing. I decided this was it. I was done. I reached out to a few people, and I felt like no one was there. I wrote a note. I took too many sleeping pills. And then I woke to my dad knocking on my door. Earlier, I had called my life coach, who had apparently called my dad. And there he was. I was relieved to see him, but also ashamed. My family had so many problems already. I was supposed to be the strong one. I felt I’d let him down.

He stayed with me for a long time. At one point, he said, “Sarah, you don’t have to be great at anything. You just have to want something. What is it that you want?” I had to think a long time about that. But then it was simple. “I just want to ride my bike.” And then I shared with him that I was really struggling, and he listened so patiently, and he was so supportive.

Liv: What other support made a difference for you? 

Sarah: Once this crisis had passed, I knew I still needed help. My life coach recommended a professional facility. I went willingly, but I resisted the process at first. I didn’t speak to anyone for the first week. But after observing and listening all week, I realized none of us were “crazy.” Most of us were there because of burnout, or trauma, or abuse. I decided to stay a second week, and that’s when the breakthroughs started to happen. 

One of my counselors did this exercise with me, where he had me hold my arms out, and when he pushed down on my arms, of course they fell immediately. Then he asked me to think about what it was that I really wanted. I thought, ugh, my dad already asked me this question. But I did it, and I thought about how much I wanted to race, and to be a part of something bigger than myself, and when he tried to push my arms down again, he couldn’t, because I stayed strong, fighting for what I wanted. 

And then a day later, on my birthday, I got an email asking me to join Liv Factory Racing.

Sarah Hill smiling outdoors at sunrise

It’s taken me a while to appreciate everything I’ve learned on this journey, and to see how many people were in fact there for me along the way—from my lifecoach to my crossfit gym friends, from my “Bus Boys” riding mates to the strangers on my local group rides who told me about their jobs and their families and their own struggles, and especially my dad. My family is bigger than I even knew.

Liv: What would you say to someone who’s struggling and feels alone?

Sarah: First, I’d say, You are not alone. Countless times I would lie in my bed for hours wondering if there was truly anyone out there who understood where my head was at. Countless times I would attempt to pick myself up only to find myself on the floor of my bedroom unable to get up. Countless times everything just felt too hard and I was overwhelmed with loneliness. You are not alone. Reach out to someone you trust, to check in with you a couple times a day. They could be anywhere in the world, but that small message or call becomes a boost when you least expect it. Start with the smallest of things. Make your bed, get dressed, eat your breakfast. Feel like that's too much? Stand outside with your face in the sun, Jump into the shower. Play with temperatures. Keep it easy. Tiny goals become monumental achievements and as you tick them off, you slowly begin to feel like you're making progress. Emotionally you need to heal. The way you process through it may take more time than you would expect, but I promise you, you can heal if you set up the right environment for yourself to do so. Understand what your biggest fear is, understand why you believe this fear to be true, and slowly start to challenge it. My fear was of being alone. So after months of working through small goals, I challenged myself to face that fear. I set out to ride my bike by myself and... I became overwhelmed with the amount of new friendly faces that started pedalling up beside me. At first I was afraid to ask, but then it just happened, "How are you?". For some reason on that particular day that question held so much value to those who answered. Conversations bloomed as I asked more about their cycling journeys. I finished that ride astounded by how so many strangers could make me feel like I had a place in this world. I found myself standing in my apartment by myself, saying the words out loud "You are not alone".

Liv: What does the future look like for you?

Sarah: It looks hopeful. I still struggle with depression, but now I know I’m not alone. I see how isolation makes things worse, and I’m getting better at asking for help, and looking for ways to help others. I’m pursuing my Doctorate in Sports Psychology, and I’m bringing this perspective to my coaching practice. And I’m so excited to be a part of the Liv Racing team. I realize that yes, my role on the team is to perform at my absolute best, but it’s also to support those who need support, to thrive when it’s my turn to thrive—and to inspire others to jump on the bike and do the same. 

Sarah Hill boosting off a rock on her mountain bike

If you are struggling, or know someone who needs support, you are not alone. You can find a list of resources here.