Thousand yard stare Jesus anyone? thanks to Conrad for snapping me as I babbled inanely
The only time i can remember being as cold this year was in Flanders in March, the odd thing was not that in Tucson i thought of Belgium but that in Belgium, i'd thought of Tucson. I can remember each and every lap that i passed the warm cafe with the smell of cigars and coffee i wanted to give up. my fingers hurt so much that i wanted to cry and my jaw was cramping from cold. I remember looking back through my legs, so low in the drops as the wind whipped straight from the Siberia (or so it seemed) and seeing the Yaqui charm dangling off my saddle and thinking that nothing i would ever endure on a bike would ever be anything like as tough as what the guys on the rez had to deal with just to get on a bike. If i gave up just because i was cold how on earth could i ask people to overcome the barriers that society, economy and culture put between them and the health of their community.
I'd spent the week before The El tour in the Casino Del Sol with my friends, fundraisers and volunteers from AYUDA preparing for The El tour de Tucson with our Pascua Yaqui participants, we put the finishing touches to bikes and introduced Mexican hot dogs to Canadian kids, we sat at the expo for hours trying to find someone who wanted to make a difference, not take a sticker. It was a pleasure to introduce the higher ups from AYUDA to the higher ups from the tribe, to see worlds coming together for the wellbeing of people who wnt to make themselves better. We attended stuffy, formal dinners where wine flowed and small talk came awkwardly and we had our own dinners where tears flowed and big ideas were raised easily.
It's hard for me to express how proud it made me to see my participants dressed up and being honoured in front of hundreds of people, what means more to me is that they were honouring themselves, that they had ridden themselves to a place where they could stand up, smile and be proud of themselves. What made me even prouder was seeing some of my participants stand up in front of just a couple of dozen people and talk about what this year has meant to them, about how through divorce, through the death of loved ones, through abuse from the roadside and miles and miles of self doubt, through (deserts as hot as) hell and high water they'd kept on with their cycling because it had come to mean something to them, it had stopped being about a medicinal benefit, about "taking" exercise and it had become a spiritual benefit and had become about loving exercise.
I stood at the finish line, shivering in my woefully inadequate jacket and welcomed all of our riders. From grandmothers to grade schoolers via tribal padres and boxers each one of them finished in the freezing rain with a huge smile. Some sang their ancestor songs along the way to stay motivated in the freezing rain, others thought of their children hoping that through their example they'd be able to grow up and look forward to long, happy, healthy lives. The power of a hero can't be underestimated but we all need heroes we can relate to. Overcoming the adversities placed in front of these guys makes them heroes, standing up and being proud of being native American makes them heroes, getting back up when a million and one things knock them down makes them heroes. These aren't heroes who you read about in magazines, these are the heroes who can really change the world, because people can really relate to them. They're ordinary people who have overcome their situation to prove that they CAN make their lives better, an din doing so they have made the world that they come from better, brighter and more welcoming. They really have changed the future of their community and that really is a victory more meaningful than crossing the line first.
In so many ways the start line was the finish line, months of training, hugely improved blood sugars, weight loss and as many finger pricks as pedal strokes. Just by getting to the start, by overcoming a distaste for wearing lycra and a fear of being out on the road. For keeping riding when people around them were reinforcing what society already told them: you can't. For all these reasons they'd already won. Yet for so many reasons they started as they crossed the finish line and made a commitment to share what they had learned with their colleagues, their community, their children. They committed to riding further and eating better to being more visible as positive role models and to teaching others what they'd shown through their example, that their health was their own and that they had the power to improve it.
What i saw people do on a bike this weekend is truly more impressive than anything i've seen before.I don't want to name all the individual who helped, i couldn't but It's only fair to extend my gratitude to Focus, Primal Wear, Camelbak, Kryptonite, The World We Want Foundation and the Diabetes hands foundation. And to my partner in health Apryl Krause. I want to extend my thanks to everyone who gave us money, product, support, letters, emails, good wishes, thoughts, prayers or even just a smile. Without so many people riding in front of us on our proverbial ride to health this wouldn't have been possible.