Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day/How I Got Here

As I write this, the Mt. Hood Race report is fermenting in my head.  Oh, and I have one more day of defending my green jersey before it becomes mine for good and I become Best Amateur at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

For now, though, I'm finishing my mini-autobiography that I started months ago.  You should probably read part 1 first.

As kids living in Sherman, TX, Shane and I were always looking for ways to entertain ourselves (there's not too much going on there...).  We were always riding our little bikes in the driveway, propping plywood on some bricks and catching some sick air.

We moved to McKinney shortly before I turned 10, and soon thereafter I met Sammy.  We both had an affinity for bikes and tricks and seeing what we could do with them next.  We spent the vast majority of the next few summers on our bmx or mountain bikes, looking for things to use as ramps or building our own.

Sometime during our middle school years, Sammy's mom started for-real mountain biking with some friends, and Sammy got into it as well.  I was not to be left out, so I jumped on my walmart bike and hit the trails, too.  Sammy started racing and was doing really well.  So naturally, I wanted to as well.  Sammy got me my first pair of spandex bike short and a camelbak for my birthday, but I needed a suitable bike....

I don't know how significant this gesture is in the grand scheme of things, but I'm still blown away by it so many years later.  Naomi, a friend and neighbor of Sammy's mom, had just upgraded her mountain bike and was willing to sell me hers for an astonishing $250.  I had to pay for it myself by mowing yards, so it was going to take a little while.  I had $150 saved up, and gave it to her as a down payment.  When I went back a few weeks later to pay the remainder, she said to keep it.  How awesome is that?!  Naomi and her husband Duane still follow my racing, it's great to have people cheering for you!

I had a suitable bike to race, so that's exactly what I did.  It was only a beginner junior race, but I won my first race.  After an exhausting 13 miles:

I had caught the racing bug.  Over the next few years, I worked my way up through the categories in the Dallas MTB Racing series.  Sammy moved on from racing, and with him my mode of getting to trails and my connection to the racing world.  I was only 14 or 15 at the time, and couldn't get myself to the trails.

My dad jumped on the opportunity.  He bought a mountain bike, we loaded up the back of his SUV with our bikes and a spider's web of bungee cords that didn't work at all as intended.  His first time mountain biking, I wiggled my way through a high-speed tight-quarters section of trail and popped out into a field.  Behind me, I heard a skid, thump, oof, leaves rustling.  He waited in the car as I finished my ride.

Never to be left out, my younger brother Shane got into it as well.  My dad got up his nerve again to ride some more trails (albeit a bit more cautiously) and the three of us could not get enough.  Shane and I would hit jumps and then encourage our dad to do the same, which didn't always turn out badly.

He doesn't fly very well.  This ended how you would expect.
Over the next few years, he became the support crew for me and Shane, taking us to races and helping us out there, becoming our photographer as well, and anything else you can think of.  He saw that cycling was something that we were passionate about, and would not pass up a chance to be a part of it with us.

Fast forward a bit, and the three of us got road bikes.  Man, were we a bunch of noobs.

Through college, I worked my way up through the categories, and shifted my focus to the road, rather than the dirt. I worked full-time at Texas Instruments during the summers after my sophomore and junior years, getting real-world engineering experience.

I continued getting faster on the bike, though, and was having more serious thoughts about becoming a bike racer.  So for my final summer in school, I decided not to work but instead to travel the country being a bike racer--turns out I enjoyed it!

I got back very late one night after a cross-country drive to get home, and my dad greeted me with news that his persistent pneumonia was being caused by a large tumor in his lung.  A week later, I was in Chicago when I got the call that the tumor was, in fact, cancerous.  My 50-year old dad had stage IV lung cancer, with spots on his brain and other organs.

As I was finishing school, a lot was going on.  I had decided that I wanted to give bike racing a shot before joining the work force, but was worried about how my parents would feel after 4.5 years of school.  I was watching my dad suffer through his radiation and chemo treatments, and what they were putting his body through.  I was watching the cancer that tried to break his body strengthen his faith in God.  You want to talk about a role model?

Shortly before I graduated, I had a very significant phone call with my dad, during which he told me that I had his full support if I wanted to pursue cycling.  It was an emotional phone call, having my dad tell me to chase my dreams while he's fighting a cancer that he shouldn't have in the first place.  Here's his side of that call.

FYI, my Dad is now listed as No Evidence of Disease!

Now, just halfway through the year, I've made an impression at my races--enough that I'm being scouted for 2012.  The hard work is beginning to pay off, but I wouldn't have had the opportunity without the support of my parents, my biggest fans. Thanks for everything, Dad (and Mom!), it means more than you could ever know.

Happy Father's Day!

To close it out, here's three bald goobers:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Home Again

After Joe Martin, my body was thoroughly trashed.  I had just completed my first two NRC stage races with only 3 days “rest” between them.  So we busted it back to Colorado through the night to our own beds, finishing the drive late Monday morning.

The next two nights I was in bed early for two sleeping-so-well-that-you-have-really-bizarre-dreams nights with 10 straight hours of sleep.  I must say, the basement room with nearly zero daylight incoming does wonders for recovery!

Unable to stay in one place for very long, I took the opportunity of the break in our racing schedule and headed for home, where I would play piano with Alan, a teammate from last year at Ian’s (another teammate from last year) wedding.  Spend a year traveling and racing with a group of people and you become great friends, who knew?

My task for the past month has been to learn the song that we would play, which wouldn’t be too complicated if I had a piano to practice on and music to read.  After procuring a roommate’s USB keyboard, I set to work transcribing the piano and guitar parts by ear and with the help of a youtube tutorial of the song.  What can I say, I like a challenge!

After busting out the 13.5 hour drive with one 10-minute stop, I was home, and it was great to see the fam again.

The next day, Shane and I headed for Austin to get ready for the wedding.  Every day’s an adventure when the Haga boys are together…here we are attempting to close the garage door without getting out into the rain, not thinking it through completely:

In Austin, we met up with our buds Alan and Lawson, who was taking enough time off from being a cycling superstar to attend the wedding.  Feeling we should dress to impress, we hit the strip mall in search of the perfect ties to complete our ensemble (pronounced in the frenchiest accent you can muster).  If you happened to be at that particular strip mall, we were the four idiots sprinting down the street in the pouring rain.  We would not let Lawson busting his butt on the sidewalk-to-tile transition into a store hamper our pursuit of the perfect tie.

Our efforts paid off with amazing ties by Alfani (pronounced in the snootiest nasal voice you can muster).

The morning of the wedding, I jumped on the bike early and rode the 50 miles to the wedding site with the groom and best-man, and we were saved from an impending bonk during the rehearsal by the caterer, who had just finished barbequing some chickens.  Barbeque so good, the smell it left on my fingers survived two showers!

Alan and I shredded at the ceremony, in both our four-hands-one-piano duet and me accompanying him on violin.  My plan of taping the music to the piano to conquer the winds worked perfectly!  That sheet music wasn’t going anywhere.  However, it probably would have been better to tape the pages in the correct sequence, and to discover the mistake sometime before playing it in the ceremony.  Just guessing, though.
Sometime during the next week, I went for a long ride at home.  It was a warm day—nearly 90 degrees, a good 20 degrees warmer than a hot day in Fort Collins right now.  I stopped twice to refill bottles, drinking a total of 170 oz. of fluids in 4 hours, and still overheating to the point that my power numbers looked the same as climbing a mountain at 9000ft….  Oh how my heat tolerance has faded!  It was good to know, though, as that Friday night was a big-money crit in my hometown and I needed money!

On Thursday, my parents got back from their trip to MD Anderson in Houston for my dad’s 12-week checkup, where they learned that he is now “In Treatment, No Evidence of Disease,” which is apparently as close to remission as a an advanced lung-cancer patient can get.  We’ve known from the results of his previous checkups that the trial drug he is on was making significant progress, but even still none of us were surprised at the news (or at least I wasn’t). Ever since his diagnosis a year ago, many many people have been praying for him and we trusted that he would be healed.  Couple this news with the fact that my parents would be seeing me race for the first time since his diagnosis last year, and it was a great time to be home! If you want to read up on my dad’s story, here ya go: 

The crit was a lot of fun, racing late at night under the streetlights in my hometown.  I had a front row callup, which is always cool.  Also cool was friends from college coming out to watch the race, and getting to catch up with them a little bit.  Taylor, Matt and Kathleen, Steve and Rita…I met them all when I was a cat 4, just learning how to rotate in a paceline.

I made sure to animate the racing all night long, getting in a break on the very first lap.  Nothing I was in ever stayed away longer than a lap, but it was not for lack of effort.  It’s nice coming down from altitude to race, as it takes approximately 3 seconds to recover from a hard effort (or at least it feels that way).  There were 3 or 4 consecutive laps at one point where I attacked at the same place each lap.  It was clear that I was on a very short leash, though, reminding me of my collegiate racing days….  There were only two two-man breaks all night that stayed away for more than a couple laps, and once I bridged to them, they were caught within a lap. Frustrating, but when the field wants a bunch sprint there’s not much to be done about it.

I kept trying for a break up till 2 laps to go, then jumped back into the field and managed 11th in the field sprint.  Far from what I was hoping, but making a month’s rent in 75 minutes is always good!  10 hours later, I was back in the truck heading for Fort Collins again, where I would have one day to rest and prepare for the next trip—this time to Hood River, Oregon for the Mount Hood Classic.