Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Wheel in Front

Part One

I have been racing in one way or another for about 10 years.  First it was running races, then triathlon.  Last year I started bike racing, which doesn’t leave much room for anything else.  Now I am wondering what to do.  Can I stop racing? What would life be like without such goals? 

The thing about bike racing is that it’s all about riding in a pack.  If you are lucky enough to have a team, you can work together.  But even without a team, you are only as fast as the wheel in front of you.  If you get dropped from the pack, the race is over.  If you are much faster than the pack, you will just get bumped up to a stronger pack and be sliding off the back again.  The training is brutal.  And, to tell you the truth, there is a pervading attitude of arrogance and lack of true comradery in bike racing that turns me off.  

That being said, my last bike race was great fun.  The Tour de Greenwich is a local citizens race.  Because there are some stellar local athletes, the race is quite challenging.  There are 3 waves of male riders, and the women all go in one wave.  It’s hilly from the start, so it breaks pretty quickly.  And this time, I had a team.  As Bari, Christine and I lined up at the start I was feeling really good.  We looked around and saw some really strong women racers. There were some rock stars in the men’s lead group as well.  In fact, a couple of current and former pro racers showed up to make things interesting.  

Bari and I were with a small group (about 7 of us) that pulled away on the first hill.  We stayed with the pack, taking one or two very brief sojourns at the front, right up to Burying Hill.  Bari led up the hill, and although we dropped back a bit, we were within striking distance when we reached the top.  The road is a slight but steady incline for a few miles, so it made catching up very hard.  Bari dropped back with another rider, but I was not ready to throw in the towel.  After a couple of fast flats and descents I caught them.  We rode together again for several miles.  Then, another hill created a gap and I was behind once more.  I was passing many men and tried to jump on as many wheels as I could.  A few guys sped up to take me for a few short pulls, but they could not keep the speed, so I just plowed on.  Finally, I caught them.  I was burnt, but pumped at the same time.  I started pulling much more than I should.  As we rounded the last couple of corners, I led out.  They passed me about 50 yards from the finish line.  What a blast. I got 2nd in my category, won a nice jersey and got to race with friends.

Part Two

The wheel in front can also be seen as a metaphor for the support you get from others during challenging times.  I am very lucky to have so many people pulling for me and owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone that has supported me in my struggles with MS.  Thanks for donating and being there for me in so many ways. 

The ride was great fun.  It turned out to be a beautiful day, in spite of the weather forecasts.  I rode out in front across the Tappan Zee Bridge, marveling at the beauty of the Hudson.  This is the last year for this ride, and as a person with MS, I sometimes wonder how many more years I will be able to ride 60 miles. 

I found myself riding with a guy named Michael Novich (I knew his name because he is a top 200 fund raiser and got his name on his jersey). He was a big, strong, very kind man and pulled me on the flats at high speed- what a blast!  As we neared Bear Mt, he said he thought he would climb it, because it was there, and why not?  So, we climbed the Bear and added another 10 miles to our journey.  

I could not have done such a hard ride at that speed without his help, and I hope I was good company.  He talked a lot about some upcoming brain surgery he faced due to a serious crash at a bike race a few months ago.  He is a young guy, married and hoping to have kids one day, and I was really impressed with his positive attitude in the face of such adversity.  As we got back to the event and I hung out with my WCC friends, I again felt grateful to be a part of this crazy, wonderful tribe of humanity.  

I believe that racing, and having athletic goals, has made me a happier, healthier person and I love being around other people that have a such a positive attitude.  While bike racing may go on the back burner, I may return to triathlon next year, as I think the cross training will be better for me.  Thanks again to everyone for all the pulls.

1 comment:

gross914 said...

never forget how many people, me among them, YOU pulled up their first hill, distracting me with the wonderful story of your life, your loves,your children, your challenges -- long before the current one -- and your route to happiness. there are many of us, old ladies, like me, and 2nd graders, who felt the wind in their faces, literally or metaphorically, on a swooping downhill, cuz you got them to the top of the hill. you can thank all the people you want for being "the wheel in front'' of you right now. but there are far more of us who have you to thank for showing us that "tough" and "nice" are not mutually exclusive, as they so often seem to be. we reap what we sow.