Tag Archives: Granddaddy

Livestrong Austin Ride Report

Livestrong Austin Challenge 2011The day started early, in no small part because I’d slept poorly. I was out of bed and kitted up by 6 a.m., just in time to wake Chris, Simon, and Mike. A slow start coupled with unexpected detours meant arriving in Dripping Springs later than intended. Once parked, we threw our things together and booked it for Robert Hanks Park where thousands were already waiting in a sea of yellow for the ride to start.

As a faceless announcer encouraged and congratulated all the riders, we dodged through crowds to collect our registration packets, drop off bags and generally prepare to go. As Lance Armstrong addressed the crowd, I was running across a field to get a “In Memory Of” sign to wear on the ride. I had my priorities.

After everybody got our numbers pinned, we rolled out in the Nth wave of 90-milers, stretching all the way across the closed chipseal road. As I exited the chute that marked the start/finish line, a row of girls with yellow pompoms stuck their hands out and I rode by, giving everyone a high five while the spectators cheered. It’s probably the closest feeling I’ll ever have to being a rock star.

Mike and Simon at our first stopBy the time we reached the end of the traffic closures, we were a mess of cyclists stretching as far as one could see. Shouts of “Car up!” and “Cattle guard!” and “Slowing!” punctured good-hearted conversations between strangers. At an event like this, everyone has a story to tell, and every rider is just a friend you haven’t met yet. Locals lined the roads outside their ranches, waving and shouting encouragement. Even in Austin, my Aggie jersey earned me Whoops and Gig’ems.

When we hit the first short, steep climb, the already slow pace dropped further as some riders dismounted. I hit a lower gear and stood to power up it, my only difficulty in keeping a reasonable pace due to the riders around me. Our group of three 90-milers–Chris, Simon, and myself–had some trouble sticking together in the crowds, but we managed not to get completely separated. At the second rest stop (“Power Station” in LS lingo), the crowd had thinned some and we paused to fill water bottles (which I’d failed to do before the start).

Our pace remained casual and conversational as we continued, though I would occasionally pick things up some if I looked at the clock and felt we might be short on time to make the 36-mile cut-off before 11 am. After Mile 23 or so, I noticed a nagging pain in my left knee. For awhile it came and went, but, in the end, it became my constant companion.

Although the entire ride was hilly, it was between Miles 24 and 50 that we climbed from our lowest point to the highest elevation on the route. I knew I was to keep my pace easy on the climbs (I’m something of a speed demon on hills apparently), so every time I came to one, I’d drop into a gear that felt easy enough to manage for the entire climb and then I dropped a cog or two below that for good measure. I’m afraid I still aggravated everyone else by passing rider after rider. No doubt it did not help that my knee hurt less when climbing than when riding on the flats. (Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me either.)

We made the cut-off at Mile 36 with half an hour to spare and I wolfed down the best tasting peanut butter and banana sandwich I’ve ever had, which is saying something considering how many I had during mountain bike season! According to the map we’d been given, our ride consisted of about 2,800 feet of climbing total, and Simon’s GPS was claiming by the cut-off that we’d done about 2,000 feet of climbing already. By that point, I was convinced that the actual amount of climbing would be far closer to the 5,900 feet originally claimed on the website months before. I was enjoying the climbing, though, so I wasn’t worried.

Posing with a photo of Grandma and Granddaddy I carried on the rideWe carried on and on and on, the day growing warmer and the roads growing emptier (of bikes, at least). Each rest stop we paused at grew quieter. I was struggling now–not with exhaustion but with the pain in my knee, with frustration at our pace, and with grief. This ride was the culmination of months of training, something I’d poured myself into to try and deal with my grief over Granddaddy’s loss. I knew I’d achieved something in all that work. I knew that Granddaddy would be proud of me. I had a piece of him with me in my jersey pocket in the form of a momento and three photographs. But none of it was helping.

On some level, his death still isn’t real to me, even though I saw him buried. Somehow I still find myself expecting to call and talk with him about everything I’ve done, tell him about my engagement to Joe, see him at my graduation and my wedding. On the road, on the ride I’d spent so many miles preparing for, I couldn’t ignore that, in achieving what I’d set out to do, I’d failed to achieve something I’d wanted. During a long stretch between rest stops, I left Chris and Simon to themselves and rode alone with my thoughts, now punctuated every pedal stroke with sharp pain in my left knee. I hardly saw anyone and probably wouldn’t have noticed them anyway. Mostly I was trying not to cry.

Despite my need for solitude, I felt–and feel–guilty for leaving the others behind. At the last rest stop, I pulled over in the shade to wait for them. We should finish together, at least. I must have ridden harder than I’d thought in that section because I waited nearly fifteen minutes before I saw them. In the meantime, the volunteers had started packing up the rest stop and the SAG wagons were circling, reporting there were fewer than a dozen riders left on the course. I wondered how everyone could have passed us. Did the rest take the shorter course or get swept away by the SAG crew? I was nervous that we’d be ushered off the course, even though it was more than an hour until the designated cut-off.

With the encouragement that we were only six miles from the finish and it was mostly downhill, we set off once more. Chris led, Simon followed, and I stuck behind Simon’s wheel–partly to make sure he was doing okay and mostly to prevent me from going faster than I ought to! The three of us once again reached the closed section of road leading into the park and we rode in a line past a course photographer, me flashing him a Gig’em as I went. As we approached the finish, we heard the announcer’s voice over the PA. We veered left as we approached the chute (the right side is reserved for cancer survivors, each of whom receives a yellow rose as they finish). And suddenly Simon took off! Surprised (and ever terrible in a sprint), I took off after him, noting as I did that the announcer was introducing us as the BCS Barnstormers team from College Station and calling me out by name as team captain. With a huge grin and one arm in the air, I finished, turning left to ride through a mister and take a cool towel.

Team BCS Barnstormers after the rideMike, having taken the 65-mile route, waited at the finish and greeted us when we finished. The BCS Barnstormers were a huge success, raising over $4,000 and well exceeding our fundraising goals even though we hadn’t managed half the things we’d planned to do. Just imagine what we could do next time!

As the group explored the post-ride party, I took a few minutes to call loved ones and let them know that I’d finished. My first call went to Martha, Granddaddy’s widow. “What are you going to do now that you’ve finished?” she asked after I’d told her about the ride and the fundraising. I’d need a break, of course, I told her, to let my knee heal (and, in fact, I limped for more than a day after finishing the ride), but then I’d be back to training. After all, the collegiate road racing season starts in January! Final stats: 86 miles at an average speed of 15.9 mph (138.4 km at 25.6 kph). More of my photos and the professionals’ photos.

Riding For Granddaddy

My first bike ride without training wheels

When I was little, Granddaddy visited us shortly after my little sister was born. Not about to be outdone by a newborn, I had Dad remove the training wheels from my bike so I could show Granddaddy what a big girl I was. There were probably a few wobbles, but as you can see above, I managed to ride without those training wheels. Granddaddy was so proud he took me to the store that afternoon and bought me my first “big girl bike”. In a way, it’s quite fitting that I’m riding for him again now.

After five months and nearly 2500 miles of training on and off the road, I feel ready for this weekend’s LIVESTRONG Austin Challenge. Neither the 90 miles nor the climbing has me worried. Anything I lack in confidence, I think I can make up for with determination.

We’re coming down to the wire on fundraising. There’s only $395 to go, and the deadline is Wednesday morning. If you’ve thought about donating, now’s the time to act! Whether it’s $5 or $50, every donation matters! (As a bonus, donations are tax-deductible, and, if you ask, your employer may match your donation and make it go twice as far.) Tell a friend or a co-worker; spread the word on Facebook. Together I know we can make this happen!

Thank you to every single one of you for your generosity, support, and encouragement as I’ve prepared for this event. I know every one of you will be with me when I’m riding Sunday.

Why I Wear Yellow

With about a week of fundraising left, I have $800 to go to reach my goal. Please, if you can spare anything–even just $5–donate.

Photographic evidence indicates I started wearing my wristband in early 2005Today, I have a story to share. As many of you who know me have noticed, I’ve worn the same yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet day in and day out for more than six years. I started wearing it in college during the initial fad, not in memory or support of any particular person–my family had been remarkably untouched by cancer up to that point–but because, in general, cancer sucks. Nowadays that same yellow bracelet means much more to me, but, to understand why, you have to turn back the clock more than a decade.

When I was a kid, my family was very active in our local church and many of our friends were people we knew from there. One older couple, Ron and Pat, grew particularly close to us in the years before we left Arkansas. I remember attending lots of potlucks at their house, and, though most of my time was spent with other kids, I enjoyed Ron and Pat’s company a great deal, in no small part because they treated me as an equal despite my youth. Pat enjoyed painting and their home was full of landscapes she’d done; she’d tell me about them when she found me admiring them.

My parents joining Ron and Pat in a toast to their anniversaryWhen we moved to Germany, Ron and Pat came and spent a vacation with us, celebrating their wedding anniversary. We traveled around Germany together, showing them our favorite places near our home as well as some of our favorite castles and towns in wine country. Even as a jaded teenager who probably complained that she’d rather be left alone in her room, it was a very fun visit. Sadly, Pat was feeling out of sorts, and it was not long after they returned to the U.S. that she was diagnosed with cancer and began a long battle with it.

When the yellow bracelet came along while I was in college, I’d fallen out of touch with Ron and Pat, though I occasionally heard reports from my mother. For me putting on the wristband was more connected with joining the meme than supporting anyone in particular. During my senior year–six years ago this month–my reason for wearing yellow changed. Unexpectedly, my mother called and told me that Pat had lost her fight to cancer. At the time it had been years since I’d spoken to her, but I found myself overcome with grief. There were too many things I’d never told her; I’d never thanked her for her friendship, never told her what it meant to me. As I cried, I saw my yellow bracelet and promised myself I would wear it every day, not just in memory of Pat’s fight against cancer, but to remind me how important it is to tell the people you love what they mean to you while you have the chance.

This past April, at my father’s urging, I called up Granddaddy in the middle of the day, even though I was at work. We chatted about basketball, about my cycling, discussed when I would graduate (seemingly his favorite topic), what the latest news was medically. He was getting ready to start physical therapy on his ankle, having previously broken it, and happily told me that the fluid that had been removed from his lungs showed no signs of cancer. There were things I wanted to say, but, given their seriousness, I hesitated. When I looked down and saw my yellow wristband, I knew I had to speak up. I told Granddaddy how much he meant to me and how I wanted him to fight whatever was making him sick because he needed to be at my graduation. “I don’t think anyone on earth is as excited about me getting a PhD as you are,” I told him. Granddaddy never hesitated a moment in his life to say how proud he was of me and my sister and our cousins, so, in that conversation, I let him know just how much he meant to me, how I admired him, how much I loved him. And I’m so grateful I did–so glad that I had that yellow wristband to remind me–because that was the last time we ever spoke.

Most of us will never know when we’ll have the last opportunity to tell someone we love them. Consider it encouragement to tell people now. My LIVESTRONG bracelet reminds me every day, and that’s why I wear yellow.

Grief Amidst Happiness

Joseph and I at his graduation Memorial Day weekendStrange as it sounds, I sometimes think that happy moments are the toughest to deal with when you’ve lost a loved one. Last Saturday I got engaged to my boyfriend (now fiancé!) of four-and-a-half years, Joseph, and today, amidst all the messages of congratulations I’ve gotten via Twitter and Facebook, I had the strongest urge to call up Granddaddy. I could just hear the excitement in his voice; I know he would be delighted at the news. And then I had to remind myself that I cannot call him, that he died six weeks ago. Cancer and death are cruel like that.

I’m incredibly thankful that Granddaddy had the opportunity to meet Joe a couple of times, including at a family reunion last July. In fact, Joe initially endeared himself to my grandfather by making and grilling jalapeño burgers at my Cornell graduation; Granddaddy was a big fan after that!

Moments like this just strengthen my resolve to make a difference in the fight against cancer with my riding and fundraising. And just maybe, someday, my husband and I will ride the Tour de Cure together.

An Introduction

This October, come hell or high water, I’m going to ride 90 miles and climb 5,870 feet on my bicycle in a single day. So far my longest ride ever was 50 miles with a scant 1600 feet of climbing (if I’m generous). I also want to raise at least $2500. What has possessed me to take on this crazy challenge?

Well, sixteen days ago my grandfather passed away from an aggressive melanoma. By the time doctors diagnosed it, the cancer had spread throughout his body and was completely untreatable. For me, his death was unexpected and especially difficult because I am still semesters away from graduating with my PhD, and, as I said to him in our last conversation a few weeks before he died, no one on earth was more excited about seeing me graduate than Granddaddy. Right now I am still grieving. It’s difficult for me to type these words without crying, but I hope by taking part in the Team LIVESTRONG Challenge I can channel my grief into hope for others.

To meet these goals, I need to train and I need to fundraise. This website will be a bit of both. Here I will do my best to capture and communicate what I’m doing to prepare–the ups, the downs, and the bits where I fall over when I fail to unclip from my pedals. I guess that probably counts as the downs, doesn’t it? In any case, I hope you’ll follow along, donate if you can, maybe encourage me when I need it, and hopefully we’ll both get some enjoyment out of this adventure of mine. Thanks for reading!