Saturday, November 17, 2007

and the days go by...

Heh. Rob's not the only one who can write a lot!

It's the "off" season, when I try (and to various extents, generally fail) to not gain too much weight or lose too much fitness. It's also the season for increased navel-gazing; perhaps it's the weather turning grey and gloomy that causes introspection. You'd think that hours spent on the bike staring at the stem cap fixing bolt would bring that about, but usually that results in bizarre, mantra-like internal dialogue, occasionally involving Simpsons characters singing popular songs.

Over the past few weeks I've been contemplating just how I got here, with this group of people, doing this thing, and finding it an indispensable part of myself. It's a pretty dang valid question; less than four years ago, to me, diabetes was something that you got when you sat on the couch watching TV, and had a diet consisting largely of food best classified as "other." Juvenile diabetes was therefore something that fat lazy kids got. I'm sure that's not an uncommon view; I've heard it even from at least one of my donors.

It's not terribly surprising that I was so ignorant;my closest contact with diabetes of any sort was an ornery cat named Macarthur, owned by a family friend. Macarthur needed an insulin shot every so often. I assume he did not get his blood sugar checked pretty much ever, as he barely tolerated uninvited affection.

Looking back to the fall of 2004 now, it seems like a chain of serendipity that got me here. I got a nice bike in high school, and rode it at least a few times every summer. But a desk job killed what little athleticism I inherited from my folks, and I ballooned to over 280 lbs. not long after starting work at Herman Miller (my workteam celebrates the smallest event with a huge potluck). Dieting got that down by a good 50 pounds in the spring and summer of 2004, and then I rediscovered how much I liked riding my big red 25 year old Viner.

I also discovered that I wasn't as flexible as I'd been in high school, and that my bike was really too big for me. So I went shopping. Somewhere in there was my first contact with soon-to-be-coach Mike. Most of the time when I took my bike into a shop they pretty clearly looked at the big ol' thing, with its 27" wheels, 6-speed freewheel, downtube friction shifters, and brake cables actually sticking out of the top of the brake hoods, like it was some sort of dirty Huffy. When I rolled it into the old Velo City Cycles location, though, I heard "Hi, can I help... Hey, nice Viner!" (Say that out loud. It's funny, 'cause, yeah, it's pronounced "vee-ner.") That day also stands out, as it was my first metric-century length ride, from Grand Haven down to Saugatuck and back.

I didn't end up getting a bike from Velo City then (though I rectified THAT just today!), due to the high pressure sales tactic that Village Bike Shop employed. Nothing breaks my resolve (or budget) faster than something that just works soooo well, and letting me ride a top-of-the-line bike ("just to give it a try, and see if it fits") was pretty much like swatting a fly with a baseball bat. So, Ruby the Wonder Bike came home with me.

I think that was the first important moment in this path. Knowing what I spent on that bike, it would have been a cryin' shame to not ride it. I also knew that my interest would dwindle over time without something keeping me in the saddle. I know me - my garage has layers of 90% complete projects. Having that bike kinda primed the pump.

In the later fall of 2004, I did a career interest seminar at work, and met Diane Aamoth. I'm not sure how the subject came up, but we ended up talking about the Herman Miller group that rode in an American Lung Association ride every year. I was interested, so she added me to her mailing list.

That's pretty clearly moment #2. Having a group to ride with, and a ride to focus on, seemed like a good way to help hold my interest on the bike.

Well, over the winter, it became clear that the ALA ride wasn't going to happen. I guess Herman Miller sorta went bike-related charity shopping, and through Rod Stephens, found Stacey Chase and the JDRF. An email went out (I'm pretty sure I still have it) announcing the opportunity to go to Asheville, NC to ride 105 miles. It sounded cool, but the fundraising requirement was scary. I signed up anyway - moment #3. I also looked up juvenile diabetes, and started to get an intellectual understanding of diabetes in general, and type 1 in particular. It is certainly not a lifestyle disease; it is an immune system attacking and destroying the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Our first training ride (or at least the first one that I made it to) was my first contact with the team in bike-related setting. I met Ann O'Connor for the first time, as she, Andrea Terry, and I, and Mike and Linda on the tandem, did a nice 30 mile loop from Velo City to Saugatuck and back. Ann was the first person I met who had type 1 diabetes. At the second training ride, I met the Scheidels (still on their mountain bikes!), Joe Schmeider, Mike Hulsebus and Brian Shoemaker, and others, for 30ish miles from Ada Park. We started to feel like a team - The Vibe was clearly present.

The moment when I saw what juvenile diabetes is was at the pool party at the O'Connor's house. When it came time to eat, most of us headed for the food, but a few of the kids didn't - they went right over to their parents to get their blood glucose checked. I can just eat; my son can just eat. Kids who can't do something so simple and human as to just eat is a prime indication of what this illness does. It's undeniably true that people with diabetes today are far better off than ever before, but it's still a band-aid on a broken bone to have to draw your own blood every time you want to eat a meal.

So, in early October of 2005, with some basic knowledge and understanding of what I was doing and why, I went to Asheville. It was, in a word, transformative. So many events are anticlimactic and ultimately leave a person unsatisfied, but this - this was invigorating, and heartwrenching, and thought-provoking, and powerful, and simply the best thing I'd ever done. The simple satisfaction of riding a challenging century was completely overshadowed by the overarching rightness of the reason for doing the ride.

Since then, it's only gotten better, to the point that participating in this almost feels selfish. The rides are fun, certainly, but if that was all they had going for them I think my interest would fade. They've given me a sense of value or personal worth that sitting in an office just doesn't provide. Moreover, they've given me friends - the people who are associated with this event are truly extraordinary; to know them and to experience their drive and commitment has been a high privilege. Now, after three rides, because of these people, I'll claim this event as my own. It hurts people that I care about. It's become personal.

I simply can't imagine not being a part of this, for as long as necessary. The words that graced the bottom of all of our bike tags summarize it best - "Only a life lived for others is worth living."


Katie said...

My my my, did. You've made me cry and I already knew the story.

You guys and your stories. You are sticking the knife in and turning it all the while throwing salt on it.

I'm proud to be your friend. And congrats on the gilded helmet. Are you still wearing it?

ZipMike said...

You know, team members without a direct link to a diabetic amaze me - in a good way. True, I get to see it every day, but you do it without the motivation I have. It makes me wonder if I could be as passionate about it if I were in your shoes. Could I be that charitable?
I have no choice, you do and I think you're amazing.

Nicole said...

Your ability to so wonderfully articulate what so many of us are thinking continues to amaze me. I'm lucky to know you, G. Diddy.