The End to a Perfect Day
I traveled to Tucson, Arizona to coach 22 members of Indiana’s Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training cycling team. There were 8,000 riders in the El de Tour of Tucson, a race everyone should experience, especially with Team In Training. I managed to make a special friend along the way.
David was a 15-year-old young man whom Carl Brunsman and I found around mile 60. As I was riding with Carl, who just happens to be 63 years young, I noticed a young boy struggling to climb one of the hills. I asked Carl if he was okay and he replied he was doing great so I decided to ride ahead and check on the boy. To my surprise, I noticed he was pedaling in the big chain ring, which is actually the hardest gear on a bike. I introduced myself and he asked how much farther he had to go. I asked him what ride he was on and he said it was the 66-mile ride. I didn’t have the heart to say he had 50 miles to go. I told him he had a bit farther to go. I tried to divert his attention by asking him how old he was. He said he was 15. His face was so exhausted and he didn’t smile at all. I asked his name and he told me it was David. I asked if I could ride with him for a while and he said that would be great. He finally began to smile. I explained how to switch to an easier gear so he wouldn’t hurt himself. He reported his bike’s gears and back brake didn’t work anymore and that he had tried to fix them. My eyes filled with tears. I asked where his mother was and he replied he had a grandmother and she was at home. I asked if I could call her and what her name was. I would soon “meet” David’s grandmother Pat.
THE START OF A NEW FRIENDSHIP
As we were pedaling, I chatted with Pat. I told her I was the coach for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Indiana Chapter and was riding with her grandson. I told her he was doing fine but his bike’s gears didn’t work, making it extremely difficult for him to climb the hills. I laughed he could be the next Lance Armstrong riding in gears like that. She was so excited I had called to update her on David’s progress. She asked when we would be done and I estimated about four hours. I ended the call.
I told David I would be back, sprinting ahead to check on my teammates. I had a quick cry and talked to myself, praying at the same time to Pete, my late husband. I told him I needed his help and asked for his guidance. How could I coach a team and this new boy who also needed my help? My mind was spinning; this boy needed a new bike immediately. At that moment, Carl rode up. He assured me he would be fine. I then called Laura, my boss with Team in Training who was out on the course at mile 104. I told her about the situation and she said you know what you need to do. I waited for David to catch up to me and I put my bike in the same gearing as he had. I wanted to know the pain David was experiencing. Let’s just say it was “very hard.”
We talked during the entire race about school, friends, and anything else to keep his mind from how hard the ride had become. We finally made it to a SAG stop and I spotted Carl.At the stop, I remember touching David’s arm to remind him to get more water and food and found his skin cold to the touch. It was 75+ degrees outside. I knew he was dehydrated. I prompted David to get something to drink and apologized for sounding like a mom. David began to smile. Carl looked at me and said he would ride with us! I was so excited. Carl was making jokes and had David laughing. He was certainly a lifesaver when we needed it most.We rode together for a while and then spotted a big hill. A coach from another chapter grabbed the back of David’s jersey and pushed him up the hill. The camaraderie was tremendous.
At the top of this hill, we stopped. A lady from the Tucson chapter gave us Snickers bars. David was thrilled to get the candy. She asked David if he wanted to be taken to the finish line. He replied he wanted to finish the ride. I reminded David to drink some more and found his hydration pack was empty. I grabbed two half emptied bottles and poured them into his pack. I was a little worried that the amount I gave him would not last until the next SAG stop. Carl, David and I jumped on our bikes and headed downhill. As we were riding, David rode beside me and thanked me for riding with him. He said he never had anyone ride or talk to him while riding and that it sure made it nice. He said riding with someone made the pain go away. I asked where his pain was and he told me couldn’t feel his arm and that his legs hurt so badly. I was in tears.
At the next SAG stop, we got more food and water and watched Carl ride into the distance. As we started up another hill, David cried. I asked him if he wanted me to call his grandmother to pick him up. He repeated that he wanted to finish the ride. David’s determination was extraordinary. He did not want to give up. I asked if it was okay for me to push him up the hills. He replied that it was okay to help him out. I did.
BELIEVE IN HIM
Still in the same gearing as David, I started pushing him up all the hills left in the race. I have to say, it felt like someone else was helping me push David. I have chills thinking about it. At every traffic light, I yelled, “This is David; he is 15 and riding 66 miles in the hardest gear on a bike!” People began to cheer. I asked David if he wanted to hold hands in the air as we crossed the finish line. He yelled a resounding “Yes!”
As we came around the corner for the finish line, he grabbed and squeezed my hand and lifted it into the air. We sprinted hand in hand to the finish line! I glanced at his face and found a smile bigger than Texas. I thought this is what life is all about. When we stopped, he hugged me tightly, and his grandmother was there to hug me too! She was so excited to see David; I could tell she was so very proud of him.
I found out we still had one more rider on the course. I jumped on my bike, concerned about how she could have slipped through the cracks. I sprinted into the dark and back up the course. The police stopped me and informed me the course was ready to close. I would have to exit. I said I was sorry but I was the coach and had to find one of my riders. They let me continue and I found Rebecca. She was so happy to see me. She had no idea I felt the same way.
As we rode side by side to the finish line, I will never forget her tears of sheer joy. I thanked her for making me remember why I love coaching. The memories of David, Rebecca, and Carl keep me coming back for more.
When I returned home, I thought about David and his grandmother. I left with no contact number or last name. I wanted to do something special for him; I had to. I was a different person after that ride. I called the El de Tour of Tucson committee and told them the story of David, asking if they could help me find him. I wanted to do something for him like fix his bike and get him new bike gear for Christmas. I left my information with her. Later, I got a call from his grandmother. I flew back the week before Christmas with lots of new bike gear and a “half way fixed up” bike. David was so excited to see me again. We had a special dinner at his favorite Mexican restaurant. This was one of my most favorite Christmases ever.
November 22, 2008
As my race season came to an end, I often thought about David. It had been three years since we completed the race. His grandmother Pat emailed and told me how David was going back to ride the full 109-mile race. I wish I could be there to ride with him.
I emailed Brad Roe from Mountain Bike Action magazine. When Brad previously interviewed me, I told him about David. He asked if he could publish the story. I told him David would soon be riding the complete 109-mile race. He told me to ride with him again. I needed some assistance to make this happen so I called one of my race sponsors, Jeff at Titus Bicycles, to see if they had a bike David could use. Not only did Jeff let him ride one their bikes, he let David ride the owner’s bike, a beautiful Titus Exogrid fully geared up with DuraAce, with matching Titus jerseys, socks, water bottles, and t-shirts.
I have to say, out of all the places I have raced, this experience has meant the most to me. David is a special person. It is not every day that someone changes your life in a way that makes you a better person. I called Pat and told her the good news. I would be coming to ride with David and Road Bike Action magazine wanted to write a story about it. She told me to call David and tell him the good news. David was surprised that people from all over the world would be reading about him. He was thrilled about the news!
When I arrived in Tucson, I called Pat. We met at my hotel to fit David on the bike. He had grown so much. He was now over six feet tall.
He loved the bike and remarked on how light it was. I explained how the bike would help eliminate bumps from the road. I gave him the Titus jersey, water bottles, t-shirt, and socks. He loved the gifts and was so proud to have them. My friend Dave Greene from my RAAM team gave him a bag of bike goodies too. David was in heaven.
The next morning David and Pat arrived for the start of the race. David was very excited. We went to the starting line. We started at the back because David likes to start there; I think we were the last cyclists of the 8,636 total racers. On the first mile, David said he felt like he floating on air. He said he didn’t think he was riding a bike at all.
When we made it to our stop, David noticed his Boy Scout troop was taking care of the SAG stop. David began looking for “Mr. E.” We found him after David said to look for someone who looked like Santa Clause. Mr. E. described David as a good young man who had a tough life. He said it was nice to see good things happen for him.
The ride was very enjoyable. One of my favorite things I heard David say on a particularly bumpy part of the road was, “I think I am going to vibrate out of my clothes.”
With ten miles to go, I called a nice gentleman, Larry Beiswenger, of Raleigh Bicycles whom I had met a week before. Larry said he and Matthew’s Bicycles of Indianapolis would get David a new bike for Christmas. I fought back tears. I couldn’t believe it. I handed David my cell phone as we were riding. I heard David repeatedly thank Larry. As David handed me back my phone, he said he was going to get a new bike and that he couldn’t wait to tell his grandmother. I was already crying. I seem to be rather good at it.
With the finish line within reach, David smiled very big. I’m going to make it 109 miles. “You did it, David! Congratulations!”
The end to a perfect day!