Today I took part in something that was bigger than myself.
Even though I was sore and tired from the triathlon yesterday, I couldn’t say no when asked to volunteer as a medical rider for the LiveStrong Challenge in Seattle today.
I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been touched in some way by cancer.
I hadn’t stopped to think about how many people I care about are survivors or actively fighting this disease.
As I wrote names down on my “in memory of” and “in honor of” cards, I started to cry.
I started to cry because there were so many, I kept remembering people and going back and filling out a new card.
It was getting close to start time, so I had to just grab the names of friends who were in the forefront for me now (I actually forgot my best friend whose cancer was a long time ago and a co-worker who just got the “all clear”) and get going.
Here are the few (of sadly too many) who were on the card today. Next year, I’ll think this out in advance because I feel bad that I missed so many. (I feel bad that there are so many)
My friend Diane Rooney died at the age of 34 after a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer (the types that hit younger women are fast and deadly) Diane and I jumped out of helicopters together and fought forest fires.
She was a warrior. After her diagnosis, she sold everything she owned and moved to Arizona (one of two states that recognizes naturopathic doctors) to study. She became an activist and battled companies genetically modifying food, spraying toxic chemicals and injecting milk cows with bovine growth hormone.
Before her cancer was diagnosed as coming back, I went to visit her in Phoenix. We took a road trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. I had a fiend from the academy who worked there, so we went and stayed with him and enjoyed “special” spots that most tourists will never see.
After she died, her father called me to let me know that her ashes were being scattered as soon as the area we both loved, Dome Rock thawed and the roads opened.
He mentioned that one of the last things she talked about before she died was that trip to the Grand Canyon. It was one of her fondest memories and a very special trip for her.
All I did was take a friend to a cool place where I had “people”. It was a simple act of friendship to me. To her, it was the last memory she held on to and took with her when she passed.
We never know when our actions might (or how) profoundly affect someone.
I met my friend Karen when I was a Ranger at Canyonlands National Park at the Island in the Sky. She was staying with a mutual friend of ours at Dead Horse Point State Park. Bonnie (the friend she was staying with) was gone for a couple of days.
It was around Thanksgiving and since Karen and I already “knew” each other through Bonnie’s loving stories, of course invited her over for Thanksgiving.
It was the first meal she had eaten since being released from the hospital where she had received some truly horrible chemotherapy.
I also gave her injections to help her body recover from the treatments (she was too shaky to do it herself)
Years later, when I was in the doctor’s office having a cervial biopsy, she sat with me and held my hand while they ripped bits of my cervix off.
Lizzy has fought a difficult and painful (emotionally and physically) battle with Ovarian and Colorectal cancer.
She is a marathoner. She has turned this marathon into an opportunity to fight this disease, even going to Washington DC to lobby.
My friend Annette has had her cancer come back at a truly horrible time in her life. (of course, there’s never a good time) and yet she keeps on keepin’ on by working and taking care of her two children giving them a loving home and good memories while going though treatments that sap her energy and make her sick.
I called her today to let her know that I was thinking of her; so I pulled off to the side of the road and gave her a call, “Hey, did you know that I’m in your neck of the woods riding with your name on my back?”
I cried after I made that call.
My beautiful “little sister” Megs has had so much taken from her by this disease.
After being to hell and back, she has finally found happiness and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and watch that be taken from her.
I can’t find a cure, I can’t donate a bunch of money.
But I could volunteer to support those who can.
~ ~ ~
With that said, here’s the ride report.
I got up to Seattle bright and early and scored free (Sunday) street parking a block away from the Seattle Center.
I checked in, picked up my medical pack and got my cards (as mentioned before, incompletely) filled out.
With much fanfare and emotion, we lined up in our starting waves.
I had no business riding at all today after yesterday’s triathlon and my legs (and general sense of well being and energy levels) made that very clear.
I chose the 45 mile route in hopes that I at least wouldn’t bonk.
It was weird riding through the streets of downtown Seattle at 7:00 AM with no traffic. I’ve ran the streets when they are crowded with marathon runners for the Seattle Marathon; this was different, quieter, more purposeful.
As a sea of bikes, many riders wearing yellow LiveStrong jerseys moved down the streets people cheered.
Some asked, “What are you riding for?” Needing to give a short answer, I merely said… “Cancer”.
“Cool!” they said and they too began cheering on riders.
We got to ride on the I-90 express lanes (once again, I’ve only been on them for the marathon) which was pretty cool.
We headed out across the bridge for a loop around hilly Mercer Island.
People on Mercer Island sat or stood in their driveways or yards to cheer us on.
We looped over to Bellevue, down the lake to Renton and back up the other side of the lake back towards Seattle.
There were plenty of well stocked rest stops staffed by friendly volunteers.
The last one had a band and there was much dancing and toe tapping.
We needed that rest break because things got ugly from there.
The elevation gain on the course is listed as just a bit over 1,500 feet.
That’s true if you move from sea level to 300 feet above sea level (etc… etc… only once) but in a place like Seattle where there is no flat ground and you are up and down hills many many times, it’s much greater than that.
My Garmin shows that I climbed 6,043 feet in 45 miles today (I also rode down 6,061 feet)
Throughout the entire ride, my legs burned, complained and cramped up. They alternating between feeling like lead and rubber.
The ride was hard, damn hard.
And then I’d see a survivor ride by, or someone obviously going through treatment out there doing the same thing.
Now that’s hard.
So I kept pedaling and shut the heck up about it.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve cursed the hills on the route up to First Hill from the lake while on the marathon course.
Let me tell you, I will never complain again.
Not after doing it on a bike.
Relentless hill after relentless hill turned even strong riders, already hilled out into walkers.
The scariest part of the ride was once we got up the hills.
We had to ride down 3rd in downtown Seattle.
I have an increased respect for cyclists that run that gauntlet on a daily basis to commute. All I wanted was to get the heck away from there (I don’t even like driving a vehicle down those narrow crowded streets)
It is not a safe or bike friendly place to be; the need for the advocacy work that the Cascade Bicycle Club and other groups do is apparent.
We rode in tight little (single file) packs to make ourselves more visible and were all greatly relieved when we pulled safely into the Seattle Center.
We crossed the finish line to the sound of cheering and thank yous.
Luckily, the only medical “incident” I had today was someone asking for a band aid at a rest stop. Basically, I answered questions, gave directions, explained group riding techniques and encouarged safe riding. No illnesses, injuries or accidents. That’s the way a ride should be!
We had a choice of a burger (there were veggie options) or pizza and a Chipotle Taco. Mmmmmm tacoooooo. I went for the pizza and taco with apple slices as my side. I enjoyed them up in the beer garden on the Fischer Pavilion deck while talking about triathlons and training.
Now I’m at home on the couch getting ready to take some Advil and a nap.
It was a good day and even if it hurt (and I do), I’m glad I did it.