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Connections -Hannah Shell


May 17, 2018, Hannah G Shell

I'm thinking a lot lately about the various ways we connect as humans. If we’re each navigating our own world crafted by individual experiences, connection seems important to stay grounded. Connecting flights, connecting to music, connecting by racing together in the peloton, connecting by shared experience... I connect through riding and racing, in fact, it's one of the reasons I ride. But humans connect everywhere, all the time.  As I traveled down to speedweek, I  connected to a musician performing in the Atlanta airport and wrote about my experience.  I'd like to share it here because, while the musician isn't a cyclist, I connected to her discernible passion and dedication to her song. It was a passion and dedication that I'm fortunate to be acquainted with because it's the same one I see in my teammates and competitors in the peloton. The drive to commit fully to doing what you love, even if there is no money to be made or glory to be had. Even if your only audience is a few spectators that happened upon a crit course or upon your playing in an airport bar.

Not many women racing in the professional peloton get professional level support; they're competing on their own dime, racing their own bikes, taking time away from their family, day jobs, and education to be a part of the sport. Every woman that shows up on the line is there because she feels that burn and desire to compete against the best, and is willing to make the many sacrifices it takes to be there. I'm honored to line up with all these individuals-- and to connect to their drive and commitment that, in my opinion, move the sport forward. I'm lucky to be surrounded every weekend by these individuals; encountering it from the cellist at the airport bar was a reminder of how proud I am to belong to the women's peloton.

The Cellist

Is there a better place for humans to connect than sitting next to each other on a plane? Or at an airport bar? Maybe the cellist had that in mind when she started to play here. I found it hard to read whether she noticed how quickly airport passerbys were drawn into her song. She was so intertwined and emotionally invested in each note and rhythm she pounded out against the body of the great instrument. It was a display of musical movement that could fill theaters in New York or Chicago, but she chose to play here. To refer to the airport goers gathering around her as an audience wouldn’t do this performance justice. Audience implies that a listener sought out entertainment and intended to spend time appreciating someone’s art; she was different. She created her audience, drawing them in by the mere merit of her irresistible notes, intimately granting airport goers a glimpse into her great work. I worry for her momentarily; is she vulnerable displaying such unconventional and raw art in a place where it wasn’t clear to be asked or appreciated? Occasionally she looks up and smiles at one of the passerby's caught in her musical web, but mostly she is absorbed in the weaving of notes, chords, and creative harmonies she graciously bestows on the concourse.

image courtesy of (Jenn Cornell)

I think of all the places in the world where I’ve experienced beauty that forces me to pause...and I'm singing the call for evening prayer at a mosque in Cairo, watching the fog roll out over Mount Tamalpais as my bike and I climbed to the summit, a clear blue lake emerging from wooded pines on a hike in Northern Washington, the sun setting over Iowa’s rolling fields casting a golden glow on everything around; in all these scenarios I’d seen beauty, but never had I discovered beauty in this rare form. How is she here?

Every other breathtaking beauty exists in places where you’d go to seek it, where you’d expect to be humbled by great views or spiritual connection. But this cellist in the Altanta Hartfield Jackson Airport; I suppose she proves that beauty comes in all forms. Even the busiest of travelers stops in their tracks to admire her symphonic creations, even if they only pause briefly I see the connection on their faces. I feel lucky that I sit close enough to watch the way her dramatic brows and short strawberry blonde curls give extra life and meaning to each score. I was here while she was setting up. Before she even began to play, and it was clear in her posture that the woman had a different kind of talent. I never expected so much though.

I chose this table near the airport bar so that I could spread out and work during my extended layover, but once the cellist began her act I found myself full stop watching her every move. Captivated by each facial expression and hauntingly pleasing melody.  This woman is the definition of power. It’s almost as if every passenger in the airport had no choice but to halt once they encountered her tune.  Each person passing by slowed their gait, their faces reading first surprise, then curiosity, and landing on amusement. I make eye-contact with a few listeners clearly as floored by the experience as I am. The ubiquity of her music connects humans of all walks, backgrounds, and nationalities. A man walks up to her to ask for her name, and shows her that he’s Face-timed his wife to share her performance with loved ones back home. The cellist waves.

The tunes are reminiscent of the scene in Queen of the Damned where the vampire Lestat picks up a violin and decides to join a rock band.  They carry a depth of historical significance, yet a freshness as certainly no artist has experimented with a sound this provocative before. Unsurprisingly now, I found myself connecting emotionally to her music. I’ve struggled to write anything during April because it was a rough month with stressful decisions at work, about the future, and realizing personal developments and failures. Lately I’m spending all my energy just trying to stay calm and take things one day at a time. But for a few minutes, listening to the way the cellist’s bow connects with the strings, and watching her elegant yet powerful arms knowingly and confidently write a lyrical prose, I’m at peace.

The cellist’s music brought me to a place I’ve rarely found outside of long adventures on two wheels. A place of creative motivation and focus. I’m refreshed. I’m inspired - Thank you.

Sometimes, in our darkest moments, connection to another human being helps us rekindle lost motivation. I'm grateful for my close supporters-- my teammates, boyfriend, friends, and family-- that see my passion and drive to compete and remind me to keep moving despite a rough patch in the early season.

I'm also grateful for each and every one of the 100 women that lined up to race every day at Speedweek.  Whether it was your first professional criterium, or your 100th, our sport needs you on that line. I see your passion, commitment, dedication, and sacrifice. I connect to your drive to compete, and seeing all of you there motivates me to keep going.

If you’re interested in hearing the Cellist's music, and at this point I hope you are, find her on Sound Cloud, IG @jenncello, or on her website