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: