Look, guys my age didn’t used to get on the field with women. Co-ed softball was as close as we got and we knew we couldn’t hit the ball real hard or throw it full out or we’d get thrown out of the game for being too hard on the girls. (Don’t hate: this is just the way it was when I was younger, go ask your parents.) Co-ed gym classes were reserved for square dancing and, in general, we boys were completely smug in our beliefs that any boy could beat even the most athletic girls in any sport. (Yea, men are jerks. Ask anybody.)
When I started participating in serious endurance rides it was no small revelation to me that most of the women I rode with could go faster, longer, and with less whining than Grandpa here. I learned, pretty quickly, that attaching myself to a line of mostly female riders was no guarantee that I wouldn’t be dropped and left for dead. In one particular Orlando century ride, the Tour Latino, I was riding in a pretty big group as we approached Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest hill in the Florida peninsula, when I watched a group of 6 young women enthusiastically stand out of their saddles and take off like warrior goddesses charging into battle, never to be seen again by this mere mortal. I was impressed and humbled (especially as I almost walked my bike up the hill).
It’s one thing to talk about young triathlete types of women who can kick my ass but I have a quick story about the toughness of another woman, my wife Teresa. Not long after I bought my road bike I eagerly escorted Teresa into the same local bike shop. While I hoped she’d get a road bike too, the salesperson and Teresa, to my dismay, settled on more of a comfort- cruiser model. Teresa was just recovering from her first bout with chemo and breast cancer so I reluctantly agreed that a cruiser bike was probably what was best for her. This would make riding together more difficult for me since I’d have to ride much slower and my dreams of having a road-riding buddy were set aside. She was happy with her purchase and that’s what mattered the most (at least that’s what I tried to convince myself).
We rode with a very friendly and supportive group of people, Team Boris in Winter Garden, and on Saturday mornings Teresa was able to do a leisurely 10 mile ride with the help of Steve Kavalin, the team leader and world’s best mentor of new cyclists. She had just been through a year of dealing with cancer treatments, so she literally broke down and wept the first time she went the five miles from Winter Garden to Kilarney Station on the West Orange Trail. As Steve suggested, she was taking control of her body for a change, telling it what to do instead of the other way around!
Teresa had some shortness of breath but we chalked that up to conditioning or maybe even asthma, and a few weeks later she showed her true strength, I am still in awe. Even though her bike had a nice set of gears, I suggested to her that there was no way that she could keep going past Kilarney out to Lake Minneola, another 8 very hilly miles on that bike (I was still annoyed with the salesperson. I’m still annoyed, I mean gee whiz, couldn’t she have just sold her a road bike so we could ride TOGETHER sometimes?) My Lord: I should have known better, in thirty years with this woman you’d think I would have learned that you should NEVER tell her that she can’t do something. With Steve and the rest of the teams’ guidance, she did it, even though she was very short of breath and, in hindsight, should never have been able to make it. When we got to the lake, she rested and I sprinted the 13 miles back to Winter Garden to get the car, in case she wanted to quit I would only be a phone call away… Again, I should have known better. She rode all the way back, albeit slowly, again with the teams’ loving support.
She should not, by any objective measure, have been able to make it that far. Three days later she ended up in intensive care in Florida Hospital and we came dangerously close to losing her. That shortness of breath? A few rogue cancer cells had survived the chemo, the mastectomy, and the radiation and had gotten into her bloodstream. Her heart and lungs were surrounded by a cancer filled fluid and it was only by the grace of God that she is with us today. Here, 16 months later, I still get chills as I think of the strength, courage and out-right stubbornness of this woman and realize that I don’t know any man who would have put himself through that jut to ride a bike with his spouse.
I’m not worthy.