Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Livestrong Philly Phollow-Up

Dear friends: Well, I'm back from an epic weekend in Philly, energized and not even a little bit sore.  Those 10 weeks of training paid off handsomely, particularly in the last 30 miles where so many riders fade.

The Livestrong Challenge absolutely lived up to the "Challenge" part with driving, torrential rains for long stretches of the race (during one of the downhills, I hit 45 mph and it felt like needles hitting my face), some of the toughest climbs I've done in some time (the one-mile,  7% grade climb up to the Landis Store mid-way through the ride was sadistic) and some of the scariest descents I've seen with twisty, poorly surfaced, rain-slicked roads claiming many riders (I saw more people crumpled by guardrails than I could have imagined).

But I made it through in one piece, one of just 70 riders out of about 1,000 starters to complete the full Century.  At mile 35, they started diverting riders to the 70 mile course after two and half hours had elapsed, but I had made it through in about 1:45, so I was able to stick to the plan and go the distance.  My lovely wife, Kathleen, played the happy "domestique" and photographer, meeting me at the Landis Store with three fresh water bottles and a vest for the rain.  Here is a slide show of her photographic talents:

But I was reminded in so many ways this weekend that this ride was not about my finishing time, about some Quixotic effort to prove that I wasn't 47 years old.  This was about the epic battle that so many families have been forced to wage, the harrowing confrontation with mortality, with terror, with life incomplete that 28 million people are living through right now.  I think of Marc Mandeville, the son of my father-in-law's long-time secretary, whose ongoing battle with colorectal cancer inspired over a hundred people to form something called "Team M-Power" and raise over $130,000 for this weekend's ride.  I think of the brother and sister who came from Rhode Island and Virginia to ride in memory of their mom, who passed away last year.  There were over three thousand of these stories riding on Sunday, and everyone would bring tears to your eyes.  Perhaps that's why it rained so damned hard.

On Sunday, I woke at 5:30 and started stretching and doing a pre-race meal.  I checked my iphone and saw a posting on the blog from a complete stranger named Christopher who made an out-of-the blue donation to Livestrong in my honor and wrote, your blog came up on mantle cell alerts tonight. i was declared in remission last week, on my 5th month of chemo. congrats on your ride tomorrow, your spirit, your health, your shaved legs! i've learned mcl is not the doom sentence i feared 2 years ago. look at us, both still going. i'm 55 and grateful. good luck on your ride. may the wind be at your back.  His words absolutely slayed me, bringing me to tears as I got ready to go out.  I thought of him several times as the course got harder and the weather got worse, telling myself, if you could get through 7 rounds of chemo, if Christopher could get through 5 with more to come, you can f'ing doing this!

I shared about 80 miles of the ride with a guy named Matt riding for "Team Mayo (he's a doctor at The Mayo Clinic) doing his first 100 mile race in about 30 years.  I introduced myself to him by saying that I was wearing a yellow jersey because I rode for his arch-rival, Team Mustard.  He stopped and waited for me when I cramped up at mile 34, and I pulled him through the last 30 miles as he fought off nasty muscle spasms in both legs.  That's what I'll take away from this ride.  Not my final time, which was slower than I'd hoped, but the friendships I formed, the stories I heard, and the sense that the point of this was for all of us to carry each other to the finish line.

Cancer is a heartbreaking disease, fought not just by patients but by doctors and nurses who can't help but be drawn into each patient's struggle, by spouses and siblings and parents who suffer watching their loved ones suffer.  I think Livestrong Philly reminded me of why this experience has defined me, in ways that I am particularly proud.  It forced me to reach out and ask for help, to admit my own weakness and fear, to be carried by those who loved me, to carry those around me when they needed it most.  

Thank you to all of you who made donations and who supported me in so many ways through both the very real struggle with mantle cell lymphoma and then the echo of that struggle in this ride.



PS: Here is a shot of the "Sharpie Tribute" I put on those shaved legs:

From Livestrong Philly


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for riding, for raising money, and for telling us these stories.


Sharon Bially said...

Steve - I've finally had a chance to browse this superb blog! Love the shaved legs! And the mustard and mayo. (Kind of like getting laid...off....??)
Thanks so much for hosting such a fantastic dinner party last week with Kath. I almost feel like we should get the same group together regularly - we all connected so well. In the meantime, happy blogging, happy poetry and happy cycling. -Sharon