George Sheehan was a cardiologist, a prolific runner and an accomplished author. He once said that “not to yield says it all. The enduring, the surviving, does not stop with age. We may even grow more skillful at it as the years pass. So do not envy youth.“
I thought of him as I pounded out my 100-mile Closer to Free ride a few weeks ago. I did not yield to the distance. I endured…and survived…and my age didn’t stop me.
Dawn broke on September 12th, revealing a glorious day to live, and celebrate, life. I methodically went through my pre-ride routine, checking my gear and visualizing my routes, excited for the adventure that awaited me.
Satisfied that all was in good order, I shoved off in silence, shaking out eight serene miles before meeting a friend for a 40-mile leg. We then met his friend, one with whom I had never ridden.
The mystery man was described to me in a text as a “strong rider,” and I quickly appreciated how the adjective “strong” shorted him. This multi-year finisher of IRONMAN Lake Placid cranked it up pretty quickly, and in lieu of letting him go, I decided to hang on his wheel and learn. I watched his cadence, his stunningly efficient gear-shifting, his cornering and how he attacked, differently, roads I had ridden dozens of times over the years.
In a snap, the 40-mile leg was over. It was exhilarating and slightly exhausting, but very gratifying. I might have even grown more skillful as the miles passed.
After refueling, I rolled out for the balance of my ride. Time marched on, and I felt stronger as I clipped off the 52 final miles.
One month shy of turning 57 years old, I felt stronger than ever before. Perhaps because I was blessed yet again with the opportunity to ride 100 miles when some unfortunate people can’t even make it out of bed.
Stronger because I could see how the distance remains a metaphor for life – it had physical and emotional peaks and valleys, it ebbed and flowed, it had expected and unexpected twists and turns, it demanded attention and focus, and I could not get from mile zero to mile 100 in any meaningful, or purposeful, way without dogged persistence.
Stronger because this ride was another brush stroke of the “pedalling through the pandemic” mosaic that I am in the midst of painting in 2020.
Stronger because each mile ridden raised money for a just and worthy cause, for folks who might not have the strength or stamina I refuse to take for granted.
Stronger because I felt connected to, and in service of, the Smilow Cancer Hospital community, including its patients, survivors, caregivers, and first responders.
Stronger because I was living the words of Lord Huron singing “what good is livin’ a life you’ve been given if all you do is stand in one place?”
I have never stood in one place, opting instead for perpetual motion, and have no plans to stand in one place in the future. To stand in one place is to lose your strength.
And you don’t have to either. Led Zeppelin told us in “Stairway to Heaven” that “there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”
Grab your bike and meet me on the road. There are lessons for us all to learn, and it’ll make you feel stronger.
So do not envy youth.