Monday, June 30, 2014

H140 2014: Team Sandra Recap

If you read this blog, then you've already seen the video, because we're Facebook friends, and that's where it's been posted. But just in case there is some cosmic weirdness that makes it so you haven't seen the video I made recapping the day, here you go:

Now for some details not shown in the video:
From Alberta to Saratoga Springs is about 30 miles. This is the part I was using Ellen’s bike for, and that I was  unable to complete because my knee and periformis muscles – both sides – started hurting. I didn’t want to cause further injury, which is why I chose to only do 16 miles of it. What you don’t see is the smell of those 16 miles. It smelled like there was a giant herd of farting cows in front of me. I pointed this out to Jim and Ellen as they drove by me during part of it, and they cheerfully said that’s because I was riding next to a giant herd of farting cows. Alrighty then!

When the SAG vehicle picked me up on the Eureka hill, there were already two riders in it, and room for only two bikes on it. Both of them were there not because their bikes were broken, but because they were too tired/whatever to ride. One of them was about my age - Dave; the other was in his late 20s/early 30s. When it became clear that my bike wasn’t fixable without proper tools, Dave opted to get out and start riding. I assured him that to climb Eureka would give him serious bragging rights. I offered to give him a pushing start since he was starting on a hill. He declined – more out of pride I think than anything else. I saw him a few other times during the day, and it looked like he was riding as much as I was. I was there when he crossed the finish line and made sure to congratulate him. It takes guts to start riding again, and he tackled a really tough part of the course.

On Louise
When I got in the SAG vehicle and we headed towards Eureka, we drove past Louise and Jeff. I turned to Jake and said, “Look at her. That’s my awesome sister who I admire and look up to in just about every way. She is climbing Eureka. She is freaking sixty-six years old and climbing Eureka.” We all paused, considering this fact. I wasn’t saying it to be disrespectful to the young kid who was NOT climbing Eureka, but who had, in fact, been in the SAG vehicle ever since Silver Springs, some 25 miles behind us. But if he took it as such motivation, that’s okay too. Anyway, after a few moments consideration on the awesomeness of Louise, I turned to Jake again and said, “Seriously. Sixty-six. What are YOU going to be doing when you’re sixty-six?” He said, “I hope to be climbing Eureka!”

When we stopped in Eureka, the kid in the SAG car said, “I’m going to ride now.” I encouraged him and told him he was going to really enjoy that downhill, but to be careful because you can get going pretty dang fast. He didn’t say much. I don’t know if he wondered how I knew so much about the downhill, or thought I was picking on him for not riding. I don’t know if he wasn’t feeling well and that’s why he couldn’t ride, or was just under-prepared/trained. But I do know I saw him later on in another SAG vehicle.

Seriously. Louise sets the standard for determination, courage and just-do-it-ness. Watching her cross that finish line was the highlight of the entire day. Even some days later as I reflect on that day, that moment warms my crusty heart.

On Reo
Story #1: When Reo was 18 months old he contracted polio. T his was in the days before a vaccination was available. It was also in the days that it would kill or paralyze more than half a million people each year (worldwide). Thankfully, neither happened to him, but it did affect his legs. Sandra and Louise, his two older sisters, each had a tricycle. To help facilitate the rehabilitation process for Reo, they both agreed to give up their trikes for him. My dad took the larger wheel off each and made a bicycle for him to help his legs get strong. One leg was shorter than the other, so my dad put a block on that pedal and at certain intervals would shave some height off the block to encourage his leg to grow stronger and longer.

Story #2: In January when Reo decided for sure he was going to participate in the Huntsman 140, we knew he wouldn’t be able to ride that distance using his current bike – a heavy-duty mountain bike. (Seriously. I hefted that thing and it weighs a good 30 or 40 pounds.) Neva and I looked through the classified ads for a used, good-condition, reasonably-priced road bike. We made some phone calls, and located on that seemed like it would be a good fit and price in Park City. We made plans to go there (which fit in nicely since we were going to go cross-country skiing that day anyway) and look at the bike. We met the seller at his house to look at the bike. Neva lifted it with her hand and declared immediately, based on its weight alone, that we would take it. The guy was taken aback by our enthusiasm and started hemming and hawing that maybe he should charge us more because he was selling it for someone else, and maybe the asking price was too low and… I said, “Look. This bike is 10 years old. Ten years ago it would have cost x-amount of dollars. Considering time and depreciation, you’re getting a fair return on its value now. You advertised it at one price; we’re not going to pay you more now. Take it or leave it.” He took it. We paid him cash, and agreed that we would split the price so Reo could have a road-worthy bike for the Huntsman.

The first time Reo saw that bike was on the Thursday before the H140. He swapped the pedals and seat from his old bike onto his new one, and zoomed off. He said it made him feel like a kid again to be able to ride that fast and easily. We were all amazed that he had done as much training as he had on the old one.

Story #3: That Thursday we did a family get-together/training ride. We met in Salt Lake and rode out to the Great Salt Lake Marina (not sure if that’s the official name) and back again – about 30 miles total. On the way back Reo told me the story about the two tricycles and his polio. He reflected on how much he was enjoying his new bike and observed, “It does not escape my notice that both times my sisters have sacrificed to get me a bike. In fact, I can scarcely think about it without getting emotional.”

On Neva
She is the center of our team. We appointed her team captain – both because she started this craziness three years ago when she rode in her first Huntsman 140, and because she is the most experienced cyclist. She not only was our team captain, but our coach and cheerleader. Distance didn’t allow all of us to train together, so she encouraged and coached us from afar, and from anear when circumstances allowed – by doing training rides with Ellen up Emigration Canyon, and Louise when she was able to go to Utah to visit other family members. Neva was also one of the official Huntsman Hometown Hero coaches; we would have been stupid to not take advantage of her knowledge, expertise and experience.

Besides being a great coach and mentor, she is a caring and loving person and sister. For the day of the ride, we had agreed to stick together for the first 12 miles – up to the chalk memorial point, then would ride according to our own comfort levels and paces.  It was understood that she and James, being the strongest riders, would go on ahead and likely finish hours ahead of the rest of us. I was cognizant of that fact when my chain broke, and really did tell them to please just go on. I knew how important it was to Neva to ride strong and finish strong (and early). I didn’t want to impede them in any way. They both just shrugged that off and kept working carefully and oh-so-patiently on that chain. When they got it fixed, I told them again to please not worry about me. I’d keep up for as long as I could but to not worry about carrying me along.

They ignored that plea as well, and not only kept me with them, but let me lead the train sometimes, making me feel like one of the “big boys,” in helping draft for them. I didn’t go as fast as they were capable of, but they let me stay with them anyway – not just to the first break in Lyndyll but all the way to Silver Springs as well. Neva finally agreed that if I couldn’t stay with them after that to Eureka, they would keep their pace and meet me in Elberta.

I am personally very glad they weren’t with me when the chain broke the second time because it would have been more of a sacrifice for them than it already had been.

When I joined them again in Jordan, they still let me feel like an important part of their team, as we took turns drafting and pulling. Neva continued to coach me on my bike, as I learned how to better and more appropriately use the gears. And as you saw in the video, she and James stuck with me up that last brutal hill. It was only pride that kept me on the bike at that point – I really did not know how I was going to make it, but I wasn’t about to quit while Neva was around. I have admired her my whole life and wanted to do her proud.

When we crossed the finish line, she kept pedaling. “Why are we still pedaling? The finish line is back there,” I complained.

“Come on, Laura. We’re not done yet! This ride is about making it to the steps of the Huntsman – that’s where we’re going.”  And we did. Another quarter or so mile up to the cul-de-sac and back again to the “finish” line. Because when you’re with Neva, that’s what you do – you finish.

She has overcome obstacles in her life I would not care to face, and she has finished each one of them with grace and aplomb. The Huntsman 140 can be a parallel to her life – a tough ride, with hills and valleys, discouraging moments and exhilarating downhills. One pedal stroke at a time will get you through every mile.

Neva is not only a Huntsman Hometown Hero – she is mine.

On Ellen
Ellen and I provided road support for Neva in 2012. The ride wasn’t as well organized as it is now, and I was frustrated watching Neva pedal through those miles with no one by her side. When I told Ellen that I was considering doing it the next year, she said, “Really? I would NEVER do that.” She was very emphatic. “But I will ride support for you,” she said.

You could never ask for a better supporter on the road than Ellen. She anticipates your needs, protects you from traffic, refills water bottles, cheers, offers encouragement and praise. She did all those things for me in 2013 – my first Huntsman 140. And she was just as emphatic about NOT riding in it as she had been the year before.

I don’t know what changed her mind – that would be her story to tell – but when she decided to participate, it tickled me. Not just because of the whole “Never say ‘never’” thing, but because she was determined to get ready. She knew from the beginning she wasn’t going to do the entire 140 miles – for her, it was more about family togetherness – but she trained and got ready beyond what she thought she was capable. Along the way, she shattered her own preconceptions of herself and realized she’s an athlete. A very determined athlete and amazing person.

You would all be so lucky to have her as your sister.
Not pictured: Ellen, because she's taking the picture. 

On Jeff
First of all, that's not his name. Rather, it IS, but not to our family. Long story, but if I'm talking to you in person, I will probably never tell you about Louise's husband Jeff. To not confuse you further, I will simply say,  that "Jeff" is unspeakably awesome. Being around him makes me more intelligent, for one thing. Actually, it just makes me feel smarter, because he's so dang smart that all I can do is smilingly nod as if I have any idea what he's talking about. He is indescribably awesome, and our family is beyond blessed to have him be part of it. He's a wonderful teacher, athlete and knows 38 different ways to kick your butt in five seconds or less. 

On James
You’ve already heard a little about how great he was and encouraging and just fun to have on the ride. I have known James his entire life, and have never heard him talk as much as I did in that one day. It was so great to see him in his new element. He thought I was kidding when I said he could do this professionally, but seriously. He is grace defined on a bicycle. Not only as an athlete, but as a person. What you don’t see on the video is that two miles into the ride, Louise got a flat tire. James stayed behind and helped fix it, then caught up to the rest of us. You already heard how he stuck with me and was so great to be willing to help his several-years-older-than-him aunt make it through. He could be with the “cool” kids, but chose to stick with an old lady.

When he would take the lead in the front of the train, he would sit up in his saddle, take both hands off and use those times to eat and drink. Effortless. It made me jealous that he could take it that easy when compared to the times I was in the lead. It was a challenge for me to keep the pace that he could do easily no-handed. Punk. I am immensely proud to be his aunt.

On Rachael
Rachael is a friend of one of Neva’s daughters. Neva’s enthusiasm is contagious enough that she makes anyone believe in themselves. She convinced Rachael to be on our team, and Rachael started training only back in March. She’s newer to this sport than I am. I didn’t have as much opportunity to get to know her as I would have liked, but I know she set new records for herself that day. She struggled with some physical challenges, and kept pushing herself beyond what others would have. Jake confirmed what I suspected, which is that she keeps going when others would quit. She wasn’t able to complete as much of the ride as she would have liked, but she did more than she thought she could.

Laura, Rachael, Reo, Neva, Coralee

People who have watched the video tell me they wish they could be part of my family. They see the wonderful support and love we lent to each other, as demonstrated in the final hill and getting Louise across the finish line. That’s the wonderful thing about events like this. It’s not an individual effort – it’s the efforts of many that make finishing possible, wherever that finish line is.

The best thing about the day wasn’t that I got to ride my bike across Utah, through smelly cow farts, with muscle pain, and mechanical difficulties. No, the best part of the day was watching Greg run alongside Louise, and Don and Jared and Josie push and encourage her. It was seeing Jeff and Neva take turns pushing her even though they had just pushed themselves physically beyond their limits. It was watching James’s children wrap their arms around him, and Julie welcome everyone with the same warm hug at the finish. It was Talena playing “Let It Go,” for me from her mini-van while I struggled on the road to Saratoga Springs. It was Kristina and Coralee making up cheers for us at every intersection and making us laugh, and keeping their good spirits even when I ran out of my own. It was watching Jeff ride alongside Louise when he was enduring his own pain – just so his wife could have someone to ride with. It was Nancy Beth crying with me as we emotionally watched our team push Louise up the hill, and saying she would deny it (I have video proof of this). It was Caleb and Micah and Liliana proudly holding signs to encourage Grandma Louise. And I know I’m leaving people out of this list – it’s not intentional – it’s just that there are too many moments for me to accurately capture and document. It was that every family member wore a purple Team Sandra t-shirt with a lightning bolt and cheered and encouraged us, even if they weren’t in Utah.



The best part of that day was love. 

We weren't all quite ready for the photo yet.