The more I think of it the more I realize that 1985 was the start of a significant time of my life. I was 12 years old that summer, about to become a teenager, living in Lancaster PA and on the verge of a whole new chapter of my life. I didn’t know then but the best was yet to come.
That summer before the start of seventh grade I bought my first road bicycle. That was before anyone much less the Pros wore helmets. She was a gunmetal grey Schwinn Super Le Tour. Heck, I didn’t even know how to pump the tires. I did know a few things though, I knew it was a 12 speed, that it had the thinnest tires I had ever seen and I was easily just as fast and definitely stronger in the hills than Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault. I rode my bike all summer then school started and other more important things like girls distracted me. That school year was the 85/86 time frame and I got my first kiss from Erica in the movie “Spies Like Us.” Erica was a a huge distraction to my career goal of becoming a professional cyclist. Luckily (at the time I didn’t feel so lucky) we moved to Chester county. Still in Pennsylvania to a blip on the map called Embreeville. Embreeville was about 1 hour from Philadelphia but it was far from being the “burbs”. It was horse country out there. With a lot of rolling hills and a lot of country roads. I didn’t then realize the paradise it was. Especially for a cyclist and runner.
The summer of 1986 we took a trip to see family in Belgium. I loved going to Belgium. But, this trip was different. The Tour de France was going on and LeMond was in the hunt. It was a dramatic Tour that year. Hinault had just won the tour for the 5th time and returned to defend his title. Hinault Betrayed LeMond in the Mountains and it looked as though LeMond was going to have to wait another year as he followed team directions to stay with the Peloton in the Pyrenees. The next day the betrayal was evident and LeMond used his anger to fuel his pedals. He won the toughest stage of the mountains and was only 40 seconds behind. It took some chasing and by stage 17 LeMond had the yellow Jersey. LeMond (as most of us know) made history that summer and was the first American to win the Tour.
I came back with my first real pair of cycling shorts three jerseys and reinvigorated. My walls were plastered with pictures of cyclists and girls ( I was 13 after all ). I rode almost every day that summer. My legs grew strong as I got used to riding what seemed liked mountains to me. I rode a set route almost everyday. I would turn right out my driveway strap my feet into the cages and bunny hop my bike over the train tracks I didn’t have time to slow down (and it seemed so much cooler). I rode out past Kevin’s old house on the left, through the intersection and out past the state police. There was a long gradual hill I would climb. I can still see the open field to the left and the woods on the right. At the peak of that hill I shifted to the big ring and pedaled hard and fast eventually getting into my most aerodynamic tuck and flying down the hill. I didn’t have a computer on my bike so there is no telling how fast I was moving and I also wasn’t wearing a helmet but most importantly not a care in the world. My only safety gear was my gloves and I wasn’t concerned about it. At the base of the road was a stop sign with a sharp turn to the left. I made the sharp turn to climb the biggest hill in the Eastern PA (maybe not really but to me it was). I drove my legs pushing and pulling my muscles my feet strapped in making me part of the machine. I was mentally preparing to beat LeMond up that mountain. The first time I attempted to conquer that hill it was rough and it was heartbreaking that I couldn’t grind my way to the top. But after a few tries I conquered it. I would follow that road passed the state police barracks to Stargazer road and ride down winding my way through the curves. The trees formed a tunnel and the temperature dropped. I felt as though I was descending the Alpe d’Huez. At the base of the Stargazer road I turned right passed Kevin’s house and made it home. Usually, as I approached the rail road tracks I was too tired to bunny hop them ( but every now and then I would ). I would always end my ride victorious and feeling great.
As the summer ended so did the cycling season for me. School started and my usual weakness (girls) got me again. I rode a bit the following summer but not as often as I would have liked and not with the fury I did before. Next thing you know high school had begun and my world was different. My family had changed and I had changed. I rebelled and I chose different friends and I had different priorities. I don’t know what I was rebelling against but I guess I was finding my way as a young man. Life became difficult for me. I guess I made a lot of bad choices. But, I always say it is better to make bad choices at 15 than it is at 30 or in my case now 39.
Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school and some crazy admissions counselor thought it would be a good idea to let me into college. I was a lost soul in college. Some people would say to me don’t worry you’ll figure out what you want to do. You will settle on a major. Yada, yada, yada. I hate to say it but I thought that was lousy advice. Cause I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to party and meet girls. It was the one thing that was easy, fun, and seemed to come naturally to me. Anyway, I picked a major (Park and recreation Management) got a job took out A LOT of student loans and used grants to pay for college. When I was first in college I worked at the gym as a fitness instructor. I loved it. The best thing about working in a gym is positive peer pressure. However, there was more money (and more girls to be met) working at the bar (bad decision). Do you remember the movie “Animal House”? John Belushi was brother Bluto. That was me I even had a sweatshirt that read COLLEGE. There is a scene where Dean Wermer is berating the Deltas and he says to brother Bluto “fat drunk and stupid is no way to go through life son.” I needed that advice. Through some mystery I graduate in four years.
I still didn’t know what I wanted to do so I got accepted to Graduate school (must have been the same crazy admissions counselor) and I majored in Geography and Regional Planning. I was also a Graduate assistant so I got free tuition but still had to pay for rent and food so I need more student loans and more grants. I took a full load (12 credits) my first semester and I did really well. I believe my GPA was a 3.8 and I got accepted as a master’s degree candidate. That second Semester of Graduate school my Professor sent all our assignments to us via email. None of us knew what it was or how to use it. So, we all had to go to the computer lab and learn how to send each other email. I distinctly remember looking at the guy next to me and saying this is the stupidest thing ever. This is never going to catch on! That comment was some foreshadowing for me. If you didn’t guess it I didn’t do as well my second semester but I was still passing. However, I realized I didn’t want to do any more school (bad choice coming here) and that I needed a break. I wanted to work and planned to come back and finish. I never finished my graduate degree.
I got a great entry level sales job (I didn’t realize how good) and I was doing pretty well. So I jumped from company to company always looking for something more. But, I didn’t know what it was. I knew I wanted a job that made a difference and I thought who cares who sells you pesticides or industrial hoses or cars or phone service etc…I eventually joined the Air Force and I loved it. I felt a natural ease with it. I knew my job made a difference.
Fitness once agin became a priority in my life and I started running again. Then running and swimming, then running, swimming, cycling and lifting weights. At the same time I was pretty sick and undiagnosed with Crohn’s disease. It took the Air Force about 8 years to diagnose me. When I had surgery the Dr. wanted me to take 2 months to recover but I recovered in about 2 weeks and he said it was no doubt because I was so fit.
The problem with the military is it is a business centered around the idea that we are prepared to deliver violence against those that would do us harm. Well when you have Crohn’s disease you are no longer considered a capable member of that team. I was notified that I was being medically retired and I had one month to find a job, a home and get out of the Air Force. Well, luckily I got a job. Unluckily for me it was as a civilian with the Department of Defense.
My Crohn’s disease went mainly into remission with the occasional minor flare up. But my job was horrible and it was making me feel worse and worse. It was still a violent job just a differnt kind of violence and I took some drastic action based on the recommendations of my Dr. and I am hopeful things will work out for the best. I know I am done with violence in my life but it is stressful not knowing what’s next.
Lately my Crohn’s has been flaring more and more. I still try to exercise to deal with stress and limit the effects of my disease but it doesn’t always work. My Iron is low and so is my B-12. I am very tired most days and some days exhausted but I do my best to hide it. When I run I always have to stop and poop, some times more than once and sometimes more than twice. I get a lot of comments that I am too skinny or that I don’t eat enough.
The fact is eating isn’t fun for me. I don’t eat a wide variety of foods anymore because a lot of foods (most that I like) make me very sick. I get tired of hearing why don’t you try something new? You always get the same thing.
And, the worst part of it all is just when I think I have my Crohn’s disease figured out, my stress under control, my diet planned I get some mysterious flare up. My health suffers, my joints hurt, I get depressed I spend the majority of my day in bathrooms. It just isn’t pleasant. Then it gets worse the Dr. experiments with a new medicine on me or wants to scope me. The Dr.’s and the scopes are all the same. They never see anything. Because the scope doesn’t reach far enough into my small intestine to see where my crohn’s is. This is where I am now. Flaring…Again.
The one thing I keep coming back to is fitness, coaching, and recreation. Maybe I did get the right degree after all. I love challenging myself physically, and helping others reach their goals. Right now I’m training to run a half marathon. I want to set the example for my daughter. I want to prove to myself that I am capable of anything I want to achieve. For me there is no greater feeling than guiding a group of people (kids or adults) to victory. Training them from day one and giving them the tools they need to succeed. Showing them that they are capable if they work for it. Now, if I can just find a way to get paid for it. Maybe I’ll get lucky and that same college admissions counselor who was crazy enough to let me into college and graduate school will give me another great opportunity.
In the movie Dodge Ball Lance Armstrong said:
“You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I’m sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying from that’s keeping you from the finals?”
I may not have beaten Greg Lemond or Lance Armstrong but I am no quitter. I won’t quit cause I am tired I’ll quit when I am done!