The following post is entirely personal—I guess that is the privilege of having your own blog. But I have written the following to describe an adventure on which I am about to embark that is pretty dang cool (and worth shutting down my computer and cell phone until I return!). My thanks to everyone that has made this dream possible.
A Dream Comes True
Perhaps at age 15, growing up in Columbus, Ohio, I first saw the small print in the local Sunday paper describing the Tour de France results . . . just below the local softball tournament standings. Once a year, long before the Internet, for 21 days, I was seduced by the fascination, the speed, the European joie de vivre the Tour symbolized. Just the small print alone in those Sunday papers was enough to get me hooked.
Excluded from organized sports because the doctor said I was too skinny, and the lowest Cub Scout baseball batting average—ever!—confirmed I lacked natural hand-eye coordination, I discovered cycling. The freedom, the speed, the independence, the non-conformity with other sports—mine was not an uncommon young love! Indeed, the movie Breaking Away was real for many of us in the Midwest! In my world, I knew I was cool when I had a Peugeot bicycle . . . from France!
And, like millions I am sure, I dreamed to one day ride my bicycle in Europe, see the Tour in person. Who knows? Perhaps I could even ride the same roads . . . Over time, each year saw expanded news coverage. A weekly article, then a feature article, then the ultimate-a weekly story on the televised Wide World of Sports! And I rode faster and joyously on my bike . . . until I graduated from high school.
Then life happened—a rewarding, rich, journey through college, love, marriage, family, raising and cherishing two exceptional daughters, career, professional leadership, transitions, etc.—but no cycling. In all possible ways, life has yielded me dreams coming true I could never have imagined, as well as many dreams coming true that I did hold in my heart. Yet, for all of those riches, I could never stop turning my eye toward a fast cyclist, staring with longing at a cool bike . . . and I could never give away my own last bike—it stayed with me, un-used, dressed by the dust of neglect, for over 20 years!
I remained passionate as a fan. I distinctly recall calling in sick one July morning a decade ago (in the first or second year of live television coverage) to watch Armstrong’s conquest of Ullrich in 2001 on Alpe D’Huez! Thrilled, cheering loud, seeing my sport live! Then, in the ensuing days of my own version of “morning sickness”, that dream, covered by the same layer of dust on the aluminum frame in my garage—stirred. Crazy to think, but it was there. Perhaps one day I might see the Tour, live in France. Perhaps one day I might even climb that mountain . . . on a bike!
Nearing age 50, I was overweight, out of shape, not healthy, and I had to change, in order to be alive! The bike in the garage finally provoked me. The challenge I made to myself was simple–ride 50 miles on my 50th birthday. After a dusting and a cleaning and several weeks of exercise, off I went—it took over four hours! In one remarkably descriptive, appropriate, suitable word—I sucked. And I put the bike away . . . again. But I could not give it away. Without even understanding at the time, now I know that to give away the bike was to have given up on the dream I had held onto for so many years.
The next spring, I went to a local race on the national pro circuit to discover men—my age—racing in a preliminary amateur event! Fast! Hard! Alive! And something clicked.
Without my bike, I simply was not alive. Without cycling, I was not complete. While nothing could change how I had lived, or what I had not done—I could change how I would continue to live, beginning on that day. I would join those who had sped past me, time and again blurring in their speed any sensation of age.
It took another year but, in May, 2006, I walked away from my career, announcing, with great bravado, I was going to pursue a career in amateur bike racing! I had no idea what I was going to do to make a living, but I knew I was going to race my bike! I discovered Evolution Cycling (affectionately known as “Evo”), an amateur team of racing cyclists, and now my extended, second family. And I began the journey toward my dream—to race my bike. Or die trying!
Okay, so cycling is one tough sport, and at age 56, I am a walking catalog of the risks and injuries the sport presents—let’s see, across all of the times I fell, one concussion, 24 facial stitches (2 different falls), two broken teeth, a broken rib, a torn calf muscle, 8 or nine “road rash” scars on my knees, elbows and shoulders, two strained wrists, two hip hematomas. And bruises to the ego in many a race by the humility of getting dropped and left behind . . . perhaps those have been the toughest scars to heal.
But cycling teaches us to suffer, to strengthen, to overcome, to defy logic, to not listen to our body’s protests about the limits we confront. Cycling teaches us to find a way to get to the top of each mountain that confronts us. This is not a sport in which you can look at yourself in the mirror and accept you have reached any limits—there is always more you can give, always more you can achieve!
I am, at my best, not great on a bike (especially compared to the veterans against whom I now line up!), unable to yet fully overcome the toll of years of inactivity and the concurrent demands of starting a new business in a recession! But the good news . . . I am 44 pounds lighter, as strong as I have been since college (if not more so), with shaved legs, funny tan lines, and racing for real. Top 10 in the 2010 Virginia State Senior Time Trial Championships, and six minutes faster last week when I once again raced (following a longer than expected recovery and training cycle). I have fallen in love with time trials—the ultimate “race of truth” of man vs. himself. I cannot wait for those days when I ride fast! I am even more excited when I ride faster!
So what about that dream—the one that has endured over 40 years—to see the Tour, to ride in Europe, perhaps even to ride up that mountain? The seduction had remained, but, as life continued to happen, it was just out of reach, filed away time and again under “maybe next year”. My office wall is adorned with posters of the Alps, the Tour, even a signed yellow jersey from Lance Armstrong. There is no question the dream, in being portrayed with such conspicuous display, had become more fragile, more tenuous, perhaps always to be merely a figment of imagination.
Maybe it would be enough to have seen professional races here in the United States, even attend the World Championships in Canada a few years ago. Maybe it would be enough to enjoy all things Internet that let us follow the sport we love. Perhaps, in this life, that will all be enough. But, no . . . the dream has endured. Persistent. An incessant drumbeat of want. A gnawing hunger to be satisfied. In this life so enriched by so many dreams coming true, there is one dream to still come true. It is, perhaps, the only dream I have held for the duration of my life. France. The Tour. That mountain.
On July 13, joined by my wife, some great friends with bikes (including Evo team mates) and a few million other fans, I will begin two glorious weeks in France. I will, for the first time in my life, be riding my bike in France. I will be riding on the same roads I have adored all these years, looking up not at pictures adorning my wall but at the real mountains surrounding me. We will be live spectators for three stages of the Tour de France. And I will be riding up that mountain–Alpe D’Huez—as well as quite a few others. A lifelong dream is about to come true. Literally. Truly. For over 40 years, this one dream has been waiting. Now is the time.
As it takes a village to raise a child, so it is that this dream coming true is also not the result of just my efforts, but the outcome of the love, friendship, patience, support, inspiration, and encouragement of those whose lives touch mine. Without the nourishment of those intangible gifts–including the energy to once again try harder gained from seeing the strength, power, and success of my teammates on their bikes–this dream would not be possible. So it is with gratitude and thanks to those people that my heart will pound with joy . . . as I climb.
I have met Presidents, Senators, Ambassadors, CEO’s and world-famous models (I was once a transactions lawyer for Victoria’s Secret—it was a tough job!), and have pictures and mementos of those keynotes of this life. I have helped put in place the rules for electronic commerce, have a patent, authored a shelf of books, done other cool stuff. Great pictures and mementos of unexpected achievements–filling another shelf (or two). But I never dreamed to achieve those things. Not for a lifetime.
At the top of Alpe D’Huez, you can pose for a picture on a podium, memorializing your ascent to the top. I can hardly wait for that picture—joined by my Evo teammates of course!
At that moment, I will have achieved something more important than all of the accomplishments of my career—the satisfaction of truly living and fulfilling the one lifelong dream that has endured! In France! On top of that mountain! Alive!
July 11, 2011