Monday, September 7, 2009

Pelotonia 2009

You've probably heard me say it before -- everyone should participate in a race at least one time. Biking...running...multi-sport...whichever interest suits your personality, you step up to that starting line -- heart racing and mouth dry -- and you feel at home. You're surrounded by like-minded people all dedicating time and energy to doing this incredibly healthy thing...and whether you finish in first place, or last, you understand that you're on the right track. You train alone...but you compete together...and everyone around you feels like family.

Try it some time surrounded by biking legend Lance Armstrong, 2250 other cyclists and more than 1500 cancer survivors. THAT, my friends, is an experience you'll never forget.

So...after all the talking, all the planning, all the training and all the fund raising...the Pelotonia ride for cancer research finally arrived. To say that my efforts to participate in this 100-mile ride from Columbus to Athens has dominated the better part of my summer would be an understatement. Anyone who knows me has heard me talking about it, or ridden with me during my training, or -- laughing -- has been approached by me as I attempted to reach the $1500 fundraising minimum required by Pelotonia.

It all worked PERFECTLY.

I have a LOT of people to thank for the success of this ride (and I'll get to that very soon), but a quote comes to mind when I think back on the way things worked out:

Chance favors the prepared mind.

(And the prepared body, too!)

I was focusing in on three main goals for the Pelotonia ride:

1. Reaching my fund raising goal of $1500.

2. Successfully completing the 100-mile ride (runners and cyclists know that a LOT of things can go wrong during an event -- the last thing you ever want to face is a DNF -- Did Not Finish).

3. Surpassing my 2009 goal of cycling at least 2500 miles by December 31st.

Two days before the event there was a flurry of activity on the part of family and friends for the fund raising goal -- I believe in one day alone approximately $400 was donated to my account -- pushing me over the $1500 mark just prior to the ride. You have NO IDEA how much pressure that took off my shoulders. We were all informed that we would be responsible for any amount due on our individual accounts, and I've spent many rides this summer racking my brain, attempting to come up with creative ideas for raising money. The fact that everything was taken care of had me feeling like I was FLYING...not cycling.

The ride itself? Let me just say that it was the easiest and the fastest ride of my life. (more details below!)

It took a lot of strategy to arrange it this way, but going into the Pelotonia I needed just 95 miles to achieve my 2009 goal for biking miles. At mile marker 95 I would roll 2500 total miles for the year -- four months early. Laughing! I'm not sure which was driving me more -- the finish line of the ride, or the finish line for the year-long biking goal. Regardless -- I was driven.

The Opening Ceremony

Originally, I had hoped to attend the Friday night opening ceremony with about 10 individuals -- family and friends who had supported me from Day 1. Unfortunately, I think the other 2250 riders planned on doing the same thing, and the Pelotonia organizers knew they couldn't handle a crowd that overwhelmingly large. Just a few short days before the event, we received word that the rider could bring ONE guest. Bummer. So plans changed at that point, but my son Vincent was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to go and support me (and - truth be told - to see Lance Armstrong!).

Highlights From The Event

CORPORATE. Wow - I've never seen anything quite like this. With financial support from NetJets and Chemical Abstracts (two Columbus-area sponsors), Pelotonia put on a show unlike any other I've experienced. Gift bags loaded with blankets and shirts and gift cards to tents rivaling those of a Saudi King...a huge concert stage for music and presentations...all on the meticulously maintained grounds of the Chemical Abstract Corporation (very near Buckeye Stadium on the campus of OSU) -- the place was laid...out.

Cancer victims and survivors. Everywhere you looked you saw an individual wearing a "survivor" t-shirt. You saw others who were obviously in the midst of a life-or-death battle with cancer, and it made every single second of effort that I've put into this event -- the riding at 6am, the training in pouring rain or the searing summer heat, the concern over fund raising -- worth it. I can't tell you the number of times I almost lost it as a young child walked by me with no hair (obviously a side-effect of chemotherapy treatments) as I walked hand-in-hand with Vincent. This event was emotional from beginning to end.

Matt Nathanson. What can you say about this performer, if you've never seen him in concert? His music is great...his sense of humor is greater. The singer had the audience rocking AND rolling -- in the aisles. My stomach actually hurt from all the laughing...

Gordon Gee. The mayor of Columbus. Govenor Strickland. The usual line of dignitaries made their way across the stage, all well-prepped and motivational. You could easily note the significance of this event to the Columbus area and OSU -- this event is scheduled for at least a five-year run, and the organizations and communities affected by the fund raising are very, very appreciative.

Lance Armstrong. There is something surreal about Lance -- he's a great athlete, but he is something much more than that, also.

Cancer survivor, creative force behind the LiveStrong Foundation (responsible for keeping cancer research at the forefront of the discussion on health care issues, and also responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in private donations to cancer research), 7-time winner of the Tour de France, probably the most drug-tested athlete on the PLANET (coming up clean 100% of the time) -- just a very serious, dedicated individual. When he walked out onto the stage, the place went completely silent. It reminded me of those old, 1970's TV commercials -- "When E.F. Hutton talks...people listen." (Am I dating myself here? Sorry!)

I've listened to his two books on CD -- "It's Not about the Bike," and "Every Second Counts," and his speech was similar to those two bestsellers. Very serious, and very straight to the point. He was the perfect choice for the inagural Pelotonia -- he nearly died from cancer, and he has now dedicated his life to funding research. His two best quotes of the night? "I'm here because I hate cancer," and "we ride until we find a cure."

The Ride

The farthest I had ever ridden on a bike, in one day, was 76 miles...but adding 25 more didn't seem like much of a difference, you know? And in the end, it wasn't.

I completed the 103.61 mile ride in 5 hours and 50 minutes, a nice fast clip. The route was MADE for me -- grouping in large pelotons though downtown Columbus (past cheering supporters, bagpipers walking out of the morning mist, through media lining the route)...spreading out onto open country roads and corn fields south of the city...then finishing with a seemingly endless number of Appalachian hills as we approached Athens, Ohio. The course was rough -- people were struggling -- but I was eating it up. ESPECIALLY the hills. And no matter how you rode, the most professional group of riders I've ever been associated with seemed to pull you along, regardless of your pace. I didn't really try to ride fast -- I just DID.

Along the route, and in every community...from front porches to the end of countless driveways, people gathered to cheer us on. A band played, apparently surrounded by the entire population of the small town, in Logan, Ohio. A young girl stood in silence at the road on her family farm, holding up a sign that read "Thank you for saving my Grandpa." LiveStrong symbols were displayed everywhere, side-by-side with posters for Lance that read "Thank you Lance and Pelotonia -- we love you." It was motivational. Emotional. Touching. And to me, it was priceless. Riding was the easy part -- contemplating the significance of the event and the emotional connection people had to our efforts was what really took your breath away on that spectacular fall day...


So -- the ride is complete. The fund raising goal has been met. And I currently sit at about 2600 total biking miles for the year. What's next?

I don't know just yet!

One thing is for sure -- I'm riding in Pelotonia 2010. This time I'll go for the 180-mile route, as I had SO much left following the ride, both that afternoon and the next day. That challenge seems to be the next logical step, you know? And I definitely want to be associated with this organization and this group of riders -- everyone was the BEST. Regardless of what my goal is for the remainder of 2009, or for next year...

Participation in this event has changed my way of thinking. Actually, it might be more realistic to say that it has changed my way of LIVING.

Lance once said: "It's one thing to live after's quite another to live STRONG." I've spoken to Vincent about life, and living, quite a bit -- especially since I joined up with the Pelotonia tour. I say to him all the time...especially around birthdays and holidays such as Christmas: "What do we really NEED, Vincent? Think about it. Don't we really have it all, already?" And it makes me about the happiest, proudest Dad in the world to report back that he agrees.

Every day we're subjected to small thinking. As a matter of fact, I'd bet that for every good thing we experience on any given day, we face about FIVE items that could spin our heads and our hearts off in the opposite direction. It takes effort -- a great deal of it -- to remain focused and on course. But once you discover something that drives you...something good and become so focused on it that the negativism of others just falls away, harmlessly. THAT is exactly the place I'm in right now, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let it slip away ever again.

Pelotonia is more than a grassroots bike tour. It is a place of hope, of energy, of determination. It is a community of people coming together to chase down cancer and defeat it.

This is just a beginning.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears...Oh My?

Well...not exactly. But here in South Carolina -- on vacation -- cycling life certainly can throw you a few curves.

Biking across Hilton Head Island can be...interesting. I haven't seen lions or tigers or bears...but how about alligators and snakes and millipedes the size of Cuban cigars?

For example, check out Chomps -- Vincent's nickname for our back yard friend. He swam over to see us one morning when we were eating breakfast on the dock. (Here in Hilton Head I believe this guy is referred to as a "Carolina Yard Dog." Woof?)

This gator is only about four feet long, but trust me -- with your legs hanging off the dock, that's just big enough to make you think twice about what he might be capable of if he swam close enough to use your toes for a mid-morning snack. CHOMP. CHOMP. I imagine it might be difficult to bike...with no feet.

Observations from South Carolina cycling:

First and foremost -- rides have to be scheduled early in the morning. Why? this latitude, they define "heat" in ways very different from the definition we're accustomed to in northeastern Ohio. If you try and do anything other than dive into the cool ocean waves or float lazily in the pool after about 10am -- you're DOOMED.

Want a third-degree sunburn? You'll get it - in 15 minutes, at 10:30am - on Hilton Head.

Want to lose 15 pounds, and take your second shower of the day? Walk two blocks at two o'clock in the afternoon.

Try using the term "global warming" in the South -- a local resident will chuckle and tell you they aren't worried about that terminology, since they've experienced it since birth. And conversation about the onset of a new Ice Age is triggered by any temperature and humidity level that dips below 85....

The simple rule? Hit the road by 7am. Any later and you'll be forced to slather on aloe 24/7.

Next -- keep your eyes OPEN. The golf courses that line Rt. 278 on the island are famous for really bad golfers...and alligators sunning themselves on the fairways. I pass numerous courses on a morning ride, and I'm not sure which I fear more -- some middle-aged vacationer shouting "fore!" as a dimpled white ball of DEATH cuts through the air toward me, or a 12-foot gator looking to share the chocolate chip Clif bar in my saddle bag. Both have the potential for being deadly.

Take time to take it all in. One morning I turned down Union Cemetery Road off Rt. 278, and guess what I came across? You guessed it -- a Union cemetery from the Civil War. Despite my constant desire to push hard and fast on the bike, I pulled off the road, unclipped from the bike and walked through the site for a short while. The sunshine rose through the trees and the abundant Spanish moss...grave markers were so old that the writing on them had faded to nothing...I reviewed references to battles I never learned about in history class...there were flowers recently placed on grave sites for individuals who had died over 120 years ago -- it was quite an education, and a great find after missing it for the past 23 years of summer visits to the island.

Ride early -- not only because of the heat, but because you need to avoid the tourists. These folks are twice as dangerous as the the gators. I tend to ride the bike paths at about 18-20 mph...and the tourists (who, apparently, haven't been on bikes in over two DECADES) travel at about 2 mph. You do the math -- you catch them quickly.

Beware of sticks on the bike path early in the morning. Why? Because most of the "sticks" are "snakes." I guess humans aren't the only one who enjoy laying out in the beautiful South Carolina sunshine.

Close your eyes and picture a Chicago "el" train. Now shrink it down and you have the basic shape and movement of the large gray millipedes that like cutting in front of you on a ride. No big deal, right? Well, it is, actually. I noticed they tend to "pop" when you run over them. Disgusting, huh? Squished Hilton Head millipedes are the equivalent of an oil slick on a wet road in northeastern Ohio. Brake at the wrong time...and you're kissing pavement.

The good news, however, is that cycling here is ideal, despite the challenges. Palm tree-lined streets, a constant breeze, abundant sunshine and city planning that seems to have bikers in mind whenever houses are built and where ever roads are paved -- I've doubled my regular output to 25-30 miles per morning ride. And the only reason I stop at that point is because I know I have a hungry 9-year-old boy rolling out of bed back at the house, looking for a fruit-filled crepe whipped up by his Dad...just back and grinning ear-to-ear from a perfect ride to start the day...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When Life Hands You a Lemon...

Make lemonade.

Have any of you ever heard of Alexandra Scott? Born on January 18, 1996, this young girl was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer, two days before her second birthday. A short while later, while battling the cancer that was overtaking her body, Alex and her family decided to create a lemonade stand with the goal of raising money to help her hospital -- the Connecticut Children's Medical Center. By July of 2000, Alex had earned over $2,000, which she donated to the hospital to help fund cancer research and the purchase of much-needed medical equipment.

Alex and her family moved to Philadelphia in early 2001 to pursue new treatment options, but she continued working to improve her lemonade stand fundraising efforts, and during her third year she raised over $20,000 for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, in honor of her friend Toireasa, who had recently lost her battle with neuroblastoma. Then, in 2004, Alex set a goal of raising $1 million for her lemonade fund. With the help of friends, family and others supporting her cause -- all hosting lemonade stands in all 50 states and in several other countries -- Alex's goal was met.

Sadly, on August 1, 2004, Alex passed away...but her fundarising legacy continues. In one recent 15-hour CBS-sponsored phone bank initiative held in Philadelphia (June, 2009), her organization raised $891,000. Can you believe that? $891,000 in fifteen hours! Since it's inception, her organization has raised over ten million dollars for the victims of cancer.

Me? I'm just trying to raise $1500, for the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center -- The James -- along with 2000 other cycling enthusiasts participating in the Columbus Pelotonia on August 29th, 2009. And why does all of this mean so much to me, you ask?

My nephew was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when he was three years old...and after surgery, chemo, radiation treatment and a stem cell transplant...he beat the odds and beat the cancer. I spent a great deal of time in the Columbus Children's Hospital during his treatment, and I was amazed by the courage of those fighting cancer, and also the dedication of the individuals working so hard to improve the lives of others in the most difficult of circumstances. It seems surreal to me that it took me this long to act -- so many people are fighting similar battles this very moment, and they need our help.

Researchers and physicians in Columbus helped save my nephew's life -- I was reminded of that today as I watched him diving into the pool on our annual family reunion and vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. One thought kept coming to mind as I thought of the entire experience -- it's time for payback.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Numbers Game -- 1766.20 + 538.56

Those numbers mean a lot to me.

I'm well on my way to 2500 miles biking for the year (my original goal for 2009 - this morning I reached 1766.20 total miles), and I'm making good progress toward my Pelotonia ride fund raising goal of $1500 ($538.56 in donations, so far) by August 29. As a matter of fact -- I'm picking up the pace, working my mileage so I meet the 2500 mile goal DURING the Pelotonia ride -- 4 months ahead of schedule. Achieving that goal during that very special ride will make it even more fantastic, don't you think?

Have any of you ever discovered a workout routine that seems perfectly suited to YOU? I've run, swam (no comments, Gina, or anyone else who has ever seen me in a pool!), and biked for some time now...but this year, with this bike, with this goal in mind...I feel unbreakable. And that's the key, isn't it? You have to find an exercise plan that incorporates something you enjoy, or you won't stick with it. Just as important as an imperishable will -- you have to love what it is you're doing.

To be successful, the first thing to do
is to fall in love with your work.

Biking this year, and working to raise awareness and funding for cancer research, is exactly that -- something I simply love doing. I'm in the best physical shape of my life, I'm focused on a goal that benefits others, and I'm meeting and working with people I might have never known otherwise, if not for this goal that popped into my head in the closing days of 2008. Within the last few days several individuals have told me their personal stories -- how cancer has impacted their lives. Opening up about that kind of information isn't easy, but, honestly...

No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Life is pretty awesome right now, and I know that this goal of mine has a lot to do with it. Negativity still abounds...but I blow right by it as if I'm racing down Everett Hill in the Cuyahoga Valley...a great downhill where we usually top out at about 45mph on a sunny summer bike ride...

I'll be there Saturday -- join me?

Friday, July 10, 2009

There's No CRYING in biking!!

Ok -- so maybe Tom Hanks was talking about BASEBALL in that clip...but the same thing applies to BIKING, doesn't it? Check out the day I had earlier this week:

I was watching a replay of the team time trials in the Tour de France on television, and my son (Vincent, age 9) came strolling into the room. He asked what I was watching, and I gave him the rundown:

Tour de the magnificent French countryside...Lance Armstrong and Team Astana...etc.. (There's nothing like watching a cancer survivor still riding at the front of the pack at age 37, you know?) They had great coverage of Lance and Company, tearing through the course in nearly perfect unison, rounding corners, drafting, and eventually winning the stage that afternoon. It was poetic, and so fun to watch. V really seemed to be enjoying himself.

Fast forward to the next day. We get home from Vincent's summer camp on a particularly warm summer night, and he tells me that he wants to ride his bike to Frank's Ice Cream stand (famous in these parts for good, inexpensive treats) -- something he has never asked to do before. But if it puts me on a bike? I'm there!

We roll out of the driveway, and what's the FIRST THING he says to me?

"Dad! Get on my back wheel -- you can draft off of me!" (keep in mind we're going about 4 m.p.h. here)

After a short distance, he shouted "switch!" And a few seconds later -- after I pulled ahead -- he said..."I can feel myself being pulled in your slipstream, Dad!"

Apparently he DOES listen when I ramble on endlessly about any number of things, especially the Tour de France. Shocking.

The best part, however? After inhaling a double scoop in a cup (mint green chip and cookie dough - mmmmm), I tell him to keep the leftover two dollars to put into his piggy bank. His response? "No thanks, Dad. Let's give it people with cancer and your bike ride with Lance Armstrong, instead."

Ok...remember the comment about "no crying in baseball?" On this particular night, Vincent made me so proud as a Dad on so many separate occasions...I almost lost it. My son is nine, and he has more compassion than 99% of the people I've met in my 45 years of living. Unbelievable.

I'm cranking out a 62-mile ride this coming Sunday, putting me well over 1700 miles for the year...and it's supposed to be pretty hot and sunny for the workout. If you see me, just remember -- it's PERSPIRATION. The last thing I need is Tom Hanks in my face.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Tour de France...and bee stings to the FACE.

Somewhere in France...some day soon...Lance Armstrong and the other competitors now competing in the Tour de France will roll their bikes over these words, written on the road in yellow chalk:


If you visit the Nike website, at: can also have members of the LiveStrong team chalk your message onto a road on the race course over the next three weeks...and once the location has been established, they'll let you know when and where it was placed.

If you have a moment, check out the Nike site that is dedicated to LiveStrong. You'll find updates on the Tour de France, messages others have sent, and videos of individuals who have, or are currently, battling cancer.

All of this is inspirational, isn't it? The more I think about the monumental battles that cancer victims -- young and old -- are facing every day while we go busily about our "normal" lives, the more I'm driven to let go of the small, daily annoyances in order to focus on bigger issues, and possible grand solutions.

On my bike ride Saturday I ran ideas through my mind for fundraising for the upcoming Pelotonia -- wondering if I could possibly reach my required goal of $1500, while at the same time wondering how much MORE I could raise than the minimum required by the organization. I also started thinking about my NEXT ride and my next course of action, for helping those who are facing down issues far more serious than anything life has ever forced me to contemplate. There's no doubt about it -- I've been blessed.

All my grand daydreaming came to an end, however, when a bee slammed into my right eyebrow -- stinger first -- about 20 miles into my ride. O-U-C-H. I almost lost control of the bike and crashed (at 25mph, no less), but someone was looking out for me, I do believe. Did any of you hear the language I used for the few painful moments after pulling the still-buzzing bee from my forehead? NOT PRETTY!

I think it was a sign. Focus on THIS ride for now, Jeff.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

All Ahead -- Warp 4 -- Mr. Sulu...

Wow. Did I just use a Star Trek line in my blog? And was it Mr. Sulu that drove the USS Enterprise, or was it Mr. Chekov? I know Spock was always confused by human behavior, Uhura had the 1960's equivalent of a Bluetooth in her ear all the time, and Scotty was always telling the Captain that the engines couldn't take any more punishment...but that's about it. But you know what...? I digress -- big time.

After a few short days of blogging and fundraising for the 100-mile Pelotonia in late August...I'm struck by one issue. As I blog, talk to folks, and post items on Facebook...I feel like I'm asking for donations for myself, and I'm uncomfortable with that. I rarely ask anyone for anything...especially financial underwriting for an upcoming ride. But then I think back...

Have any of you ever been in the oncology ward of a hospital? I spent a few weeks there, with my nephew Craig when he was about 3 years he fought (and eventually defeated) cancer. That experience will never fade from my memory...and I've come to understand that after this upcoming ride I'll simply move on to other similar endeavors that benefit those fighting life-threatening illnesses, like cancer. It's all a part of me now, and I embrace every one of those memories, no matter how intense they were then, or now.

I rode quickly tonight -- 20 miles around Brimfield -- feeling driven by this goal of mine...both the 2500 miles for the year, and the $1500 for the Pelotonia. DRIVEN. That word kept running through my mind, and I hoped that everyone understands what I'm trying to do here. And I hope everyone I know gets to experience "driven" at some point in their lives. I couldn't exist without that kind of experience and that kind of intensity -- it makes me feel alive.

Ride on. Live strong.