Sunday, August 23, 2009

LIVESTRONG Challenge - Philly 09

KING OF PRUSSIA, PENNSYLVANIA



The climb up Mount Washington is an accomplishment of personal achievement of one story to be told. Riding in the LIVESTRONG Challenge-Philly was a much different accomplishment. Here there are 6,500 stories to be told.

There's a real sense one can beat anything by reaching the summit on Mount Washington. Likewise, there's a real sense that one can beat anything by seeing 6,500 people come together and raise $3.2 million for cancer research and education and support.

At check-in, the volunteer, in a long table of volunteers, opened her notebook and saw my fundraising total -- then more than $2,800 although it grew to more than $3,000 by the time I had left the table. She yelled out my name and announced how much money I raised for Livestrong. Everyone in the tent cheered.

Because the checks that I carried had not yet been credited to my account, my total went to $3,050. And $3,000 was the threshold for an invitation to the LIVESTRONG recognition dinner to be held at 6:30 p.m. I thought "a dinner's a dinner" and wasn't going to attend. Even less so when I was told the dress was business casual. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt -- a LIVESTRONG T-shirt to be sure, but still, shorts and a T-shirt.

The volunteers told me that I must attend and so I did. Ninety minutes later I found myself being served H'ors devours by black-tie waiters to me in my shorts and T-shirt. There weren't many people by themselves -- most had family members with them. I was a little lost and found myself standing next to a bald man -- about 30. I saw his name tag. It was Ethan Zohn -- winner of Survivor-Africa.

Lance Armstrong could not attend as he was racing the Tour of Ireland. He did send a video message and asked Ethan to be the keynote speaker.

Everyone has a story. Lance' personal friend, John “College” Korioth, kicked off the evening with many stories about Lance. I won't do any of them justice but will try this one. After Lance's surgery they decided they would fight cancer. It began with fund raising and they set off to raise $25,000.

"Hello. I'm raising money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

"You know, he's the cyclist that had the surgeries for cancer. He rode in the Olympics.

"No, that would be Scott Hamilton.

"Well, he lost a testicle to cancer.

"No, that would be the Phillies' first-baseman, John Kruk."

And here, College smiled and said, "Lance hates this next part."

"No, he's a cyclist. Like Greg LeMond. Only he's never won the Tour de France."
And that was the beginning.

Elden Nelson, blogs on FatCyclist.com. I would say there were 30 people or so that raised $3,000 for LIVESTRONG-Philly even though there were a couple hundred in attendance. Many people were part of his team, FatCyclist. He has a national following which helped Team Fatty raise more than $250,000 for the Philly event and for the three Livestrong events so far this year -- more than $625,000.

College spoke, then Eldon, then Ethan. The night was running late and I had to get back to the hotel, decorate my shirt, and get up at 5:00 a.m. Regrettably, I had to leave before the event was over.


Morning came much too soon. A quick breakfast and I was off to the event. There was a 3-mile backup on Germantown Road to Montgomery County Community College and I was creeping. I was in it at 6:45 and by 7:20 was still 1.5 miles from the even start. So I drove into a residential section, parked, and biked in, getting there just before the 7:30 start. And learned the start was pushed back to 8:00 a.m.

At the start were queues for the various distances. Ten, 20, 45, 70, and 100 miles rides were offered. Many riders wore a LIVESTRONG jersey, at times it seemed that almost half wore the black and yellow. I chose to go with my Amgen Breakaway From Cancer jersey. I received a number of compliments on it and saw no one the entire day with a similar jersey. I love being unique.

As group winners, Fat Cyclist was allowed to go first. Imagine starting a century ride with a group of fat riders in front. Actually, while they had some portly riders, many are drawn to this group because of their mission and not because they are overweight.

I don't know the exact numbers but think nearly 1,000 riders started out with the 100-mile ride and we were the first group to roll out. Still, it took 10-15 minutes from my middle-of-the-pack position to make my way to the start line.

The first 20 miles were spent just sorting things out. Letting the slower riders drop back and getting the faster riders to the front. In my haste to park and get to the start line I left all my food in my van. Still, I rolled past the first two rest stops to try to get closer to the front group of riders.

As the route rolled through the countryside, signs greeted us alongside the road and people came out of their houses to cheer. And High-5. I probably slapped the hands of 20 people standing along the route including the Devil himself. Maybe he was drawn to my bike number still on the bike from Mount Washington which was 667. Well, in handing out numbers for Mount Washington they were in sequence to 665 then skipped 666 to give me 667. I know I had 666 no matter what was on my bike. And I guess he did too.


I stopped at rest areas 3-6 and even an impromptu water break before rest stop 6. The rest areas were 10-12 miles apart and I drank two bottles of water and/or bad Gatorade between every rest stop. Temperature was in the mid to high 80s. (30 C)





The 100 and 70 miles routes used the same course with the 70 route taking a shortcut to the return. A 30-mile shortcut. Although they started behind us, eventually they got in front of us and we began catching them in the last 30 miles.





A number of riders were walking. The course was challenging for many. For some, they had never done a 70-mile ride before. And they had the right cause to do it. And same with the 100 mile ride. Who cares if they had to walk long stretches of hills? They were challenging themselves like never before for a great cause.






Eventually one begins to see the same riders and I found myself in contact with a few. A couple of riders asked about my jersey and really admired it.





As I rode I talked with some riders including such minutia as the meaning of the race bib numbers. I was shocked when I got my race bib -- number 60. I was expecting a number like everyone else seemed to have -- 3898. I certainly wasn't the 60th person to register. Probably more like the 3,898th.

But on the form one must check the reason why they are riding and the first box is "I have or have had cancer." We surmised the low bib numbers were for the survivors. And I think we were right.

As I rolled to the finish I found myself next to a young lady named Amy from Providence, Rhode Island. This was her second century and both were here. And she warned me -- at the finish survivors enter the barriers to the right while supporters enter to the left. We came riding in together and she went to the left side and I went right. As I came to the finish people cheered and a volunteer held out a yellow rose which I took. Actually I sort of went flying by and grabbed the outstretched rose so they couldn't see the tears in my eyes under my glasses.



It's not a normal ride. There are 6,000 stories, every one different. But at the finish the rose was a reminder not that I'm a survivor but that I have a longer road ahead.



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