Continuing Education

Spent 8 hours in the conference room today at USA Cycling at the Level 1 Coaching Clinic in Colorado Springs. Lots of amazing content on different aspects of professional coaching including: what is coaching? Thinking critically, sports psychology considerations, applying science and group collaboration. One nugget of wisdom that stayed with me – because coaching is constantly evolving, what are you doing to improve your game as a coach?

I love being around other coaches. We are all in the business of helping people improve. And I’m really intrigued by the business of helping coaches become better coaches. First and foremost though, it’s important to look in the mirror. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Where can you enter into intentional practice to step up your game? What mentors and other programs can you look at to build your foundation upon?

Becoming an Expert

It’s been said that it takes at least ten years of deliberate practice to reach the level of expert. That you must consciously perform and refine the requisite skills of a profession in order to get better.  I certainly agree with these statements. But I also think an expert isn’t defined by how much the practice but by what they practice.  Good old quality over quantity.

As an athlete turned coach, wearing both hats at the same time, I welcome the challenge. I’m always striving to be the best I can be: researching, reading, practicing, devoting time and asking other coaches what they do to improve and why they do it. I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge from all levels of coaches over my years as an athlete. From novice, to competent to expert coaches. I’ve had them all. And they each had something to teach. Some application I could take and apply into my training in both sport and the real world.

Athletics provides the perfect platform to constantly strive for greatness. If you find yourself plateauing or stagnant,  it’s time to examine why. Sometimes it doesn’t have to do with what you’re doing on the bike or court. Sometimes its what is going on interpersonally. And sometimes it’s your coach. If they’re not willing to grow, how can they expect you to?

Next time you hang out with your coach, take a look at their bookshelves and browse at the titles of the books. Seeing or not seeing titles can indicate where your coach is in the novice–>competent–>expert level. If you want to continue to improve, you should ask the same of your coach.

For the record, my bookshelves are full of sports psychology books, something I’ve been interested in since I started cycling. I’m also looking to improve my knowledge. Please share what you’re reading!

A New Direction…

Sometimes you need to mix it up…

A few things I’ve realized in the past couple of months: I love racing and I love coaching other people to perform at their best.

So what if I combine the two? BINGO!

Hello Sweet Spot!

Introducing a new twist on Sharp Coaching  – focused on competitive cycling. I’ve learned a lot over the past 10 years of racing and am ready to share it with the world. From what to pack in your race bag, recovery techniques, training plans, tapering, weight training, nutrition to race tactics. Want to toe to the line knowing you’re prepared and ready to give the win your best effort? Want to know you’re getting the same coaching as Olympic caliber racers?

Thought so.

So in an effort to improve the level of competition and create a safe and fun racing environment, I’m focusing on coaching.

Expect to see more posts soon exploring lessons from pedaling really, really

Oh to….

The smell instantly transports me.

It’s January 2008. Ryan and I booked a last minute ticket to ski during Presidents weekend  in Tahoe. We are amazed at our timing – it snowed three feet overnight the second night there. He wears his red Cloudveil coat and I spot him easily as I chase him down the slopes. He was always ahead.

He loved that coat. It was such a good color on him. It brought out his red hair, at least his facial hair as his head didn’t have much hair left on it. He kept that part short. But in the winter he would grow his beard out and it was red, red, red. Just like his coat.

That first day I found out he died I went to our cabin. He had been there less than 30 hours before. His red coat hung from a wire hanger next to the bed. I checked the pockets and found a bottle cap folded in half. And I left it hanging, with the bottle cap tucked in the pocket for safe keeping.

Years later, I asked a friend to stop by the cabin and mail me its contents: the red coat, a wooden sculpture, a small jar of his ashes, a journal, a Leatherman and two wool blankets. I sold our little patch of land in Mazama because now that I live in Colorado, it just doesn’t make sense to keep it. We were supposed to grow old and raise children on that land, together. And now that he’s gone it just didn’t feel right.

This morning a UPS driver dropped the box off. It smelled of must, even on the outside and thousands of miles away. I had to build up courage to open it. I knew what was inside, but I wasn’t prepared for the impact it would have.

“This is it. This is what’s left,” I thought to myself as I used scissors to cut the exterior tape.

I couldn’t choke back the tears. I closed my eyes as I brought the coat up to my nose, inhaling the scent. With the weight of the jar in my right hand, I sat down and marveled at the last physical connection I have to a life that seems so long ago, so distant.

Oh to have known love. Oh to have experienced loss.

Oh to risk loving again.

Grief Recovery Coaching

This is a great need in the world. A need to understand grief. To not shy away from death or not know what to say to someone faces loss.

I want the world to understand that grief is a gift. That it’s full of possibilities and opportunity. That it tests a persons moral character to their core, only to emerge a fresh and new perspective, if they choose.

I had to choose. I faced the dark reality of losing my soul mate in 2008 at thirty years old. It was quick and sudden and I can only pray that it was painless. He fell six hundred feet down a sheer rock face. In that moment, time stopped. And from that point forward life as I knew it was forever different.

I looked for comfort in grief books, online forums, therapists, psychics, friends and family. They wanted to help, but they didn’t know what to say. And I didn’t know what to tell them. But I did know that right away if I was going to survive such tragedy I needed to shift my perspective on death. I recognized that to love is the ultimate risk. Everyone will die. And being open to love means to lose that person, eventually.

I wasn’t willing to accept the current paradigm on death and dying. I didn’t buy into the stages of grief. And the online forums seemed like a community of dark, depressed people who were trying to block out the light. I read every book on grief I could get my hands on trying to find hope that grief is a gift. While there were a few, it wasn’t the majority. And I believe deep down to my core that this is something the world needs.

I am writing a book. I’m telling my story about overcoming grief. About looking at life as a gift and the acceptance and transformation I experienced in hopes that it comforts others in need. That it gives them something to hold onto during the darkest waves of loss. It gets better. It gets better beyond your wildest dreams. I am living proof.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the loss of a loved one, please pass along my contact information.

My Love of Boxing

“Hey Jen, my mom gave me a copy of Billy Blanks Tai Bo. Want to try it?” my next-door neighbor Rose asked one afternoon. Rose was also looking for an athletic vent to shed some weight. And we could follow the sequence of moves lead by a spandex clad kickboxing fanatic with the blinds drawn.


Our moves awkward and uncoordinated at first, we struggled to keep up with the timing between giggles.  After a handful of tries, thirty minutes started to pass with less effort. I started to increase the intensity and began doing the beginner tape twice a day. As I started to shed some weight, I also felt empowered. Rose started to loose interest and eventually stopped joining me.


“Whatcha gotta do, you gotta PUSH YOURSELF!” Billy Blanks would shout through my TV, willing me to keep my arms up that much longer, challenging me to higher jump kicks as sweat flew from my body and dripped down the walls. I loved every minute of it and decided to progress my newfound passion at a local cardio kickboxing gym called, “Kick It.”


The studio was full of eager women punching and kicking freestanding punching bags lead by techno music and an enthusiastic and skilled instructor, Susan Thomas. It smelled of Febreeze coated sweat, masking the odor of dank Everlast gloves and Ringside focus mits. Susan patiently led us through a series of kicking and jabbing combinations, demonstrating them slowly at first and then showing us full speed, sharply exhaling on each point of contact.


“Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch! Ch!” Her movement fluid as she gracefully moved around in a circle, keeping her hands up and chin tucked. I was entrance and I wanted to move like that. I was ready to take kickboxing to the next level.


“Hey Susan, I have a question,” I asked that day after class. “How do you compete in this sport?”


“Oh! Come with me to a boxing workout tonight. It’s traditional boxing but a start.”


That night we drove 20 minutes north of Bellingham to the small town Ferndale. In the Cobra Kai dojo tucked behind Main Street, Susan and I were the only two females in a testosterone-laden gym. The stink of sweat stung my nose as ten or so guys assembled dressed in white tank tops, baggy shorts and hands wrapped in cotton gauze in a room lined with mirrors, a ring, and time clock. On one of the walls hung the slogan “A Champion Is Made A Day At A Time.”


“Hey Coach Ferguson, this is Jennifer,” introduced Susan. “She’s interested in competing.”


“Nice to meet you,” I said, reaching out my hand to shake his. His blue eyes sparkled, nose flattened like a pancake from years of being in the ring and smile displaying a denture mouth.


“Well, go get dressed Jennifer,” Coach said.


“You can call me Juice.”


We ran around the exterior of the building then shadow boxed in the mirror, inducing heavy breathing, followed by push ups, jumping jacks, footwork drills and lunges across the room. Coach paired us up according to ability then height to work on punching combinations. The new stimulation left me exhausted before the sparring session even started.


“Juice, want to try sparring tonight?” Coach asked.


“Sure,” I said, having no idea what I was getting myself into.


I strapped on a well-oiled and salt encrusted piece of headgear and slipped on 14 ounce blue boxing gloves. I shoved my cheap plastic mouthpiece in and ducked between the ropes. My opponent, a 14-year-old kid named Jimmy, was the same height but 30 pounds lighter.  His eyes showed no fear and his jabs caught me off guard, popping me hard square in the face and whipping my head back. Eyes watering, nose throbbing I was relieved to hear the end of the round after only 30 seconds. We sparred two more rounds before Coach called it a night and I retired to the women’s locker room.


I sat on a cold, hard wooden bench in shock. That freaking hurt! A 14-year-old kid cleaned my clock! I sobbed for five seconds, looked in the mirror and said outloud, “This is it, Juice. This is the reality of the sport. You either take it or leave it.”


I showed up two days later.


Ode to Gammy

“Ode to Gammy”

Grandmothers are very special people. Not only are they important by the virtue of the bloodline, but they are tasked with teaching grandchildren important life lessons. Today I’m going to share with you the lessons my grandmother, Gam, shared with me in hopes that they can serve you in life as well.

Following your heart and pursuing your passions

Gam grew up on a farm in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada with 10 brothers and sisters. She was in the middle. At age 16, she and her sister flew the coop to warmer climates and opportunity in Los Angeles. She left with $5 in her pocket.

Imagine: 16 years old, red hair, full of life and adventure and seeing the world. Not the concrete world we’re used to. A world full of possibilities, orange groves and merchants. That’s where she met my grandfather. He whisked her quickly away to Hawaii and they began their lives together.

Even though I wasn’t there to witness it – her sense of adventure and willingness to try something new, her actions of boldly following her heart and pursuing a life of passion is one of the greatest gifts she shared with me. She dared following her heart.


Anything is possible.

Imagine again: a red head, full of life and a thirst for adventure. What she expressed to the Universe came back to her. She had married to George Magoon (my grandfather) whose family purchased a white sand beach called Maihaiula just north of the Kona Airport on the Big Island for $1,000. Together, Gam and my grandfather would take their children there and give them a unique experience.

Do you think that at 16, raised on a farm in Winnipeg she ever could have imagined raising her children in paradise? Yet it happened. Because anything is possible. She taught me to keep an open and positive perspective toward everything.


Life is an adventure

I grew up on the mainland in Eugene, OR. Yet every summer, my mom would take us back to Hawaii to visit with my grandmother. We would travel to Maihaiula for a month at a time. Without electricity or television, we had to entertain ourselves as best we could. Luckily Gam taught me how to fish.

Maihaiula is a half moon bay. On the south side, are some lava rocks that overhang the ocean. I remember holding my grandmother’s hand as she showed me how to navigate through the deep sand, through the coconut groves with falling fronds, avoiding the kiawe thorns, how to walk on aa and puu lava as well as avoid menehunes.

Armed with a bamboo pole, straw hat, butter knife to pick off creatures for bait and a bucket, my grandmother showed me the best fishing hole. I’d plop my line into the water and within seconds bring up tropical fish. She taught me which fish were good to eat and which ones were too boney and how to unhook them and release them back.

Eventually I got bold enough to fish on my own. My grandmother had taught me how to navigate and deal with obstacles and how to fish. And in her gentle way, I understood what she taught me would serve as metaphor with how to deal with life. It should always be treated as an adventure.


Tackling whatever life may throw at you.

Eventually I graduated from my bamboo pole to a fishing rod. I started casting right in front of the house and quickly learned there are good and not so good places to fish. My line snagged, but I could feel a wiggle.

After 20 minutes, Gam came to check on me. She tried untangling the line as well but whatever I had caught was stubborn. Eventually, slowly, I brought in an electric eel and shrieked in horror. Gam didn’t bat an eye. Instead she grabbed the nearest rock and started bashing the head of the eel. “Your Auntie Denny (bash) LOVES (bash) eel. (BASH BASH BASH) She’ll eat it!”

That is one of my fondest memories of Gam. She taught me that no matter what life throws at you or you snag on your fishing rod, you can bash it with a rock and feed it to your auntie.


I am so thankful for my grandmother, Gam. She taught me to following my heart and pursuing my passions, anything is possible, life is an adventure and that I can tackle whatever life may throw at me.


Last week, Gam passed away at 97 years old. She lived an amazing life and was loved by all who knew her. And though her physical presence passed, her legacy continues on in me, in my siblings, cousins, mom, aunt and uncle and everyone else who had the good fortune of meeting her.

So when you find you have an opportunity to share a life lesson with someone, consider the impact you may have on that young persons life. Pass your legacy on. And remember, grandmothers are very special people. And Gam was no exception.


A Lesson in Living the Life of Your Dreams.

Think about your dreams. Those big dreams that you often keep to yourself. The one that you’re almost afraid to admit it’s so big and huge and seems so far away. Got it? Good.

Now, what if you told someone about that dream? And not just anyone. Instead you told the biggest and most powerful being that you knew. This being is so powerful and big that they can help you accomplish your dreams. Just by the mere mention of your dream, things start in motion. Your dreams start to come true. It’s slow at first, in little baby steps. And then suddenly you realize the dream that you had is become reality.

Now that you’ve accomplished that dream, you’re ready to dream bigger. You’re ready to put a bigger dream – something that seems light years away. This time though you tell that big powerful being right away and those baby steps start to become lunges. You’ve created momentum with what you want to manifest and it comes back to you quicker than you thought.

So you put out an even BIGGER dream! One that fulfills your heart desire. One that aligns with your life purpose. One that is so close to your heart and soul. It feels vulnerable to put it out there but you’ve built trust around letting that being first hear your dream and then help you achieve it.

Yes, you have that ability now. Yes, you can live the life of your dreams. You deserve it. And you get to set the standard of how the Universe will treat you. You’ve got to love and treat yourself by the standard that you want the Universe to treat you. Don’t settle. Don’t lower your standard. Stand up for what you want! Dare to dream! Dare to let the Universe know that you’re ready for it to show you its amazing capacity to love you right back.

I have had big dreams. Big ENORMOUS dreams. Moving to Colorado was a dream. Living in a sunny location, racing my bike, working in my own business and with clients who need me, living life to the fullest, falling in love again. All risky endeavors, and all dreams. My list is long and I am forever grateful for all of the wonderful dreams that have come true. And yes, I’m dreaming even bigger now. And yes, they’re coming true!

You can have it all. Dare to dream.

A Break.

I suppose I needed the break, though at the time it didn’t feel like I needed one.  I suppose it was a break from writing, to refocus and figure out my next steps. To live my life and really appreciate things. To experience and gain more wisdom, to follow my heart and do things that I wanted to do.

I do think there’s something to be said about having goals. Of making them a reality and letting the work toward them get you into some sort of routine. And I’ve been feeling the need to revisit a deadline for this book.

When Ryan died, the worst thing that could happen became my reality. I went into shock immediately, floating as though it were a dream. But he didn’t come home. He didn’t suddenly appear out of the blue, unless it was in my dreams. He didn’t call. He died. Everything about his physical sense vanished. And I was left hollow, a mere fraction of the person I was before.

Suddenly very simple tasks become monumental. Listening to music for the first time, going places we used to go together for the first time – my life was forever altered. And that took a lot of getting used to.

Some how I knew early on in the grieving process that I would make the most of it. Doing so was in my nature. I couldn’t just wallow in my own self pity, letting sadness and sorrow rule my existence. No, I had the choice to look at it differently. I immediately adopted the “to know love is better than not at all” attitude and decided to take steps toward healing. Thankfully I had good friends to help me through. We spent week nights together, yet I would always return to the house and cry myself to sleep. It was nice to have diversions – to go out and eat well. But I would come home, reminded again of my loss and break down.

I knew getting regular exercise would get me through. And thankfully I had a training program to follow. And although it wasn’t the best and most focused work (in retrospect, how could it be?), I still went through the motions. I still showed up every day ready to get my heart pounding to feel alive, to feel normal, to escape the loss if only for a few hours.

Except I was still coming back home, home to the ghosts. Home to the reminders. Home to the empty house and ashes sitting on the mantel. Ryan’s absence encompassed me. No matter what I tried, it was always there. That dull ache of missing someone so badly you lose it. A song comes on the radio, a smell, a taste, a feeling and suddenly you’re a puddle of emotions and tears. Hoping no one will see you this weak, that broken. Because I knew, deep down I needed to feel this way. And as awful as it felt at the time, I needed to trudge through it. I needed to feel it, to get to the very bottom in order to heal. To form a base of sadness, of grief so that one day I could feel happiness and love again.

I would never wish this kind of sadness upon anyone. But I do wish upon everyone a wakening up. An enlightenment of sorts. A realization that despite life’s ups and downs, you can and will come out on the other side stronger and a better person. That you can choose to be this way and when you do, when you take happiness and empowerment into your own hands, the world opens up to you. You see things in a new light. You understand that doing what you want to do and striving toward that is so important.

Sure, I still get sad. There are nights when I cry myself to sleep. They are getting further and further between bouts, but they still happen. And I let them. I cry deeply, and sob to the point of where my sweet dogs check on me to make sure I’m okay. And once I’ve cried enough to water the lawn, I breath in deeply and know that Ryan’s there. He’ll always be there.