After missing the San Jose LIVESTRONG Challenge, which is basically in my backyard, I went to the Challenge in Philadelphia, which took place this past weekend.
I arrived in Philly Saturday afternoon, just in time for the celebratory fundraising dinner. The banquet was a focused on inspirational stories from some who survived their battle with cancer, as a well as recognition for those who raised the most money and awareness for LIVESTRONG during the lead-up to the event.
The speaker for the night was Dhani Jones, a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals. Mr. Jones’s story is one of awareness and support. Known as the “bow-tie guy,” he started wearing a bow tie in college to support his best friend who had been diagnosed with Lymphoma. A bow-tie, he says, always has a story, and talking about your own experiences in the fight against cancer is the best way to raise awareness. There was great energy in the room; every survivor story was met with a standing ovation as people cheered when Lance said LIVESTRONG would only be doing well when it was no longer needed.
To be in Philly representing Trek-LIVESTRONG in the midst of such high-profile people was both exciting and terrifying. I wanted to make a good impression on the sponsors and my bosses, which can be nerve-racking. That feeling is trumped by being part of something much bigger than myself. That said, my mind did not realize on the morning of the ride that the nervousness was supposed to be trumped.
When I assembled my bike the night before, I had snapped off the bolt on my seat clamp, so I could not secure my seat-post. The plan of action was to get it fixed the morning before the ride, but the ride started at 7:30am, so there was not much of a window. On top of that, the hotel I stayed in did not serve breakfast and I only had one water bottle. On top of that, I had contracted some bad poison ivy the week before, and I was supposed to ride 100 miles with Lance Armstrong.
Things were not looking good.
Luckily, with the help of the onsite SRAM mechanics and some well-placed duct tape, I secured the seat post with 15 minutes to spare before the ride. I still faced the issue of 100 miles on no breakfast, but relief for that came in the downpour of rain. The wet roads proved to be treacherous, so Lance and company decided to cut the ride to 45 miles.
Problems solved, I could now relax and socialize.
In the staging area, I spoke with some of the guys from RadioShack and it was great to hear about their passion for cycling. When Lance arrived at the venue (to immense cheers from the 3,000+ riders awaiting the start), RadioShack presented LIVESTRONG a $1.2 million dollar check in an incredible show of support and then we were off. No matter where life takes me in the coming years, I will always be star-struck by Lance Armstrong. To ride with him is of course an honor, but what blew me away was the god-like reverence he receives from not only the cycling community, but by all people who are affected by cancer.
The course for the 45-mile course was a “lollipop”, so for the second half of the ride we were riding back on the same road we had come out on, passing the thousands of other cyclists who were out for the Challenge. The entire way back, every rider we passed cheered and screamed for Lance.
His story, known by the cycling and cancer-fighting community by heart, transcends his sport and the inspiration it provides can be seen on the face of every rider we passed. And even more impressive is how Lance and LIVESTRONG have channeled this stardom into a world-leading organization dedicated to battling cancer. In Philly alone, the LIVESTRONG Challenge participants raised over $3 million for the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The enthusiasm for LIVE and its cause was almost tangible in both Lance and all his followers.
Earlier this summer, my good friend and fellow racer, Connor O’Leary, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I dedicate my LIVESTRONG Challenge ride to him and I wish him a safe and speedy recovery. I am glad I came to Philly to support Connor and to learn more about what battles he will face, and, most importantly, what he has to look forward to once he slays his cancer.
Oh, and I bought him one of Dhani Jones’s bow-ties, so LIVESTRONG buddy and rock that tie!