I can answer that question with one simple three letter word, but it’s much more complex than that. I’ve enjoyed being active and competitive most of my life, but there was one time when I was neither and eventually snapped out of it by finding myself on two wheels. I’ve journeyed quite a distance from that first ride, one that I could have never forecast back then, but certainly a ride that’s been worth the trip and the desire to get on a bike and ride came from the inspiration of one person. This is the story of the beginning of my now pedaling passion, inspired by my dad. Sometimes, the best scripts are the ones that write themselves.
During my senior year of high school, as I attended the third different school in four years, I decided to go off to the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation to help pay my way to college and help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. While in high school, I played multiple sports. Football (always my favorite), wrestling, track and cross country, and golf were the ones I participated in, but for some reason I took that senior year off all of them. Maybe it was a burnt out feeling of moving, maybe it was the difficulty of constantly competing for playing time against new athletes on new teams, maybe it was that I just became lazy and more focused on partying than being an athlete (most likely). Whatever the excuse I draw up, there’s nothing I regret more as a young parent of teens than my decision to not finish what I started. I had been active from the moment I learned how to walk until that last year of high school, and I know in my mind I could have helped out a team and would have helped my health. Not to mention, I now realize I will never again participate in that level of organized athletic competition. I especially wished I had been a little more active when I found myself at Parris Island in boot camp.
Going back to my childhood … after that first 6.2 mile road race where I slowed up my father as he waited on me so that we could finish together, we eventually went on to run many more together. He also went through a period in which he ran many marathons with a close group of friends, some of the big shows. He completed the Boston, Marine Corps, and numerous others, and once even ran a fifty miler from Louisville to Frankfort. I never got into the high mileage events, but we finished plenty of 10K races together. From Lake Cumberland, to Gatlinburg, and several spots in between. I liked the liberating feeling of being on an open road and challenging myself to be fit, and testing myself to finish better each race, but most of all, I had a special bond with my dad.
There was a short period of time when my (now divorced) parents temporarily separated and my dad had to stay somewhere other than our house. It was a sad, tough time for our family, as my siblings and I were all young. I remember being the first one to ask if I could go stay the night with my dad, I missed him, I missed our family being together. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the story that my dad never knew his real (biological) father. It was also the first time I learned my dad is a “second” sharing the same name with him. Initially, I was told his dad left my precious grandmother, Ma’amaw Lucy, shortly after my dad was born. I later found out Ma’amaw left his mother, whom they were living with and she could no longer be under her control. He could have left with my grandma, should have, but didn’t. Regardless, of the details, once I learned that my dad grew up not knowing his real dad, it was just another reason that I feel strengthens our bond.
My dad, who I call Pops, had spinal surgery a decade or so ago. It was not the outpatient, simple operation. It was a more complex surgery that kept him off work and off his feet for months. His back problems were probably brought on by several things, but the running may have been the biggest contributing factor, and according to the doctor, he should never run again. So, upon fully healing and getting back to work, he somehow found himself riding a bicycle to make up for lost time running. At first, he rode to work and home daily, then he connected with some local friends that ride. As a news and feature writer for the local newspaper in Frankfort, KY, he wrote about a group that rode across the state to help raise money for the Grand Theater on a cycling event called GABRAKY (Grand Autumn Bicycle Ride Across KY). The following year, he joined them on the open road on his commuter Trek hybrid bike and shortly after completing that ride, he bought a Giant carbon road bike. He’s been a cyclist ever since.
The following summer, as I longed for sharing a past time with my dad, and needing to regain some sort of fitness after becoming somewhat lazy, and out of touch with a healthy lifestyle due to the hustle and bustle of working and raising a family, I decided to train for the same ride and do it with Pops. I’ve been a cyclist ever since, although I did let work get in the way for one short time period. I long for opportunities to ride my bike. It is a passion that I have developed that I’m simply not sure where I’d be in life without it. And yes, before I got into it, I thought the people looked “dorky” in all the cycling attire that I now have a closet full of, and wouldn’t trade it for anything!
My dad has numerous passions and hobbies that I’m not that interested in, and I have plenty that he doesn’t care about. But two things we both find common ground on and always will are family and cycling. Even though my parents are now divorced, we still have family gatherings at birthdays and holidays all together, and they may be better friends now (I hope so). They still attend my children’s sports or school or church events together sometimes. We don’t get to ride together as often as we’d both like to, but cycling is a bond we will always share, and I owe Pops a great debt of gratitude for being the answer to the question: How I found the bike? Dad, of course! There are tons of reasons I still ride today, with friends, family, sometimes complete strangers, and most often by myself, but it’s hard to imagine I’d be the passionate cyclist I am, if not for the bond with my dad. By the way, to steal a line from a Twitter cycling account I follow …. in regards to cycling alone often, I’m not anti-social, just pro-solitude.
Thanks for being the inspiration to me to ride a bike Pops,
P.s. My first born son is a “third” sharing the same name as my dad!