Editor's notebook / Pain is my pleasure
Ask any avid cyclist and they'll tell you that my biggest mistake was not wearing biker shorts.
For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the sport, the highly-padded athletic apparel makes bearable for your bottom side long-distance bicycle rides. Despite amazing advances in technology, though -- including biker shorts -- there still is no clothing that can eliminate muscle cramps and overall bodily fatigue.
Too bad -- both would have been of great use for my 25-mile bike ride as part of the 2010 Connecticut Challenge. As a last-minute registrant whose cycling experience is limited to my childhood BMX days in Fairfield, I regrettably opted for running shorts. And, at the time of this writing on Tuesday, I'm paying the price because the pain is still present.
But, a lack of preparedness aside, I did it -- I finished. I challenged myself and came out on top. And I feel like a better person for it.
Yet Saturday was not about me. It was about the 11 million Americans who are cancer survivors. It was about our children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and other family and friends who, after beating what is probably the toughest challenge of their life, face a lifetime of physical and emotional obstacles. It was about raising the funds that they need to live, to thrive and be happy.
I don't have any cancer survivors in my family, only victims. So I am not too familiar with the struggles that individuals and families endure when facing life after cancer. But I am no stranger to the pain cancer causes.
That's probably why I was so moved, so empowered, at the start of the race when a group of cancer survivors took a lap around the green on Greenfield Hill -- some were younger than 10 years old. I resolved then and there that was all the inspiration I needed.
And I used it, too. I had to. There were times during the ride -- mostly pedaling uphill -- when my leg muscles grew weak, when my butt hurt so bad I couldn't sit down (riders behind me ---- if there was anyone behind me! -- inevitably saw me shifting, squirming, standing, doing anything to give my cheeks some reprieve from the punishment of an unforgiving bike seat). Oh yeah, did I mention that the heat and humidity were punishing on Saturday?
Yet every time I felt I could not go farther, could not make it up the hill, I thought about those cancer survivors. I thought about how they did not give up, how their challenge was one they will face for the rest of their lives, how incomparably more difficult it is than riding a bike for 25 miles. They gave me the strength I needed to finish.
The support of people along the route, who stood at the end of their driveways cheering us on as we passed, and those at the finish line yelling words of encouragement were also major motivators.
Reflecting on the day, I remember that it was with a profound sense of purpose that I drove to Greenfield Hill Congregational Church for the start of the ride. The sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon and most people were still in bed, catching up on sleep lost to long days at the office all week or, perhaps, a long night out on the town. That's what I typically would have done.
Saturday, though, Saturday was different. Despite being a bit groggy, I felt energized. Despite being nervous, I was excited. Maybe it was because I knew I was not alone.
I joined with 733 other riders and hundreds of volunteers who were determined to face head-on the challenge that is life after cancer. Sure, we were there to ride. And ride we did -- a total of 35,640 miles, to be exact.
We also raised money -- approximately $900,000, and counting -- and that was why we were there.
We were there for people like Jessica Ellison, a 15-year-old cancer survivor who rode with her mother, Susan, of Westport. We were there for Fairfield resident Pat Sclafani, a cancer survivor who rode 12 miles with his daughter, and then caught up with his friends to ride 50 more. We were there to support all cancer survivors.
And no matter how much my butt may hurt today, and even though I probably walked with a limp for a day or two and perspired more on Saturday than I probably ever will in my life, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Why? Because the friendships created, the sense of accomplishment achieved and, most importantly, the positive impact of the funds raised through the Challenge will last a lifetime, certainly long after my bottom-side soreness subsides.
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.ctchallenge.org.