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:
(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 restaurants...food 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 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 cancer...it'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 positive...you 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.