Tuesday, October 2, 2018

When Dreams Come True

I always dreamed of becoming a State Champion at something, it could have been anything: athletics or academia. Since my athletic prowess was limited, the closest I ever came was in my eighth-grade math club and that was not very close. Like most kids I dreamed of being a pro athlete and even making the Olympic team and winning a gold medal. All kids dream, but those dreams very seldom become a reality.

In 1979, I was a freshman in high school and a kid by the name of Keith Alston from neighboring Neptune High School won the state wrestling championship (Winning a wrestling state title in New Jersey was very hard since there was only 1 champion for all schools regardless of size). I read the article and dreamed about how cool that was and how lucky he was. I turned the page and there was a short article about how Alston died in a car accident coming home from the event. For years, I debated if Alston would have changed his destiny by giving up that state championship in exchange for the rest of life – about another 60 to 70 years. I don’t think Alston would have changed his destiny because he reached the pinnacle of his sport, a sport he loved and he trained so hard to excel. It changed my feelings about winning a state championship, I do not think there was anything out there more important than life until I found cycling because this sport comes with some risks.

After winning a state masters cycling championship (Colorado and Wyoming) in the time trial it made me truly understand the sacrifice, love, and pain associated with athletics. People do not understand the love people may have for a sport and how much suffering it takes to win a state title. I am certain Alston made the choice for his destiny. Why? Because I take some of the same risks every day. When I train outside I know there is a chance I may not see another day. Cars do not see you and even if they do they do not slow down or give you room. I go fast most days, and although I am going at or below the speed limit, when people see a cyclist they are not expecting them to be going 25, 30, or even 40 MPH so they pull out in front of me. I avoid at least one close call every week, yet I continue to ride and train. It would seem the risk is not worth it. Each year dozens of cyclists are killed or maimed from car accidents in Colorado alone. I try to mitigate risks by cycling on less busy roads, cycling at off peak hours, and wearing bright clothing but nothing will completely eliminate the risks. Why is it so important to risk life and limb? I do not exactly know. I believe being diagnosed with a neurological disorder changed how I view life. I literally thought I had ALS and would be dead in a few years. After ALS and MS were ruled out, I realized I was lucky to be diagnosed with cramp fasciculation syndrome. What I have is no picnic, but I have been given a second chance at life. Although exercise intolerance is one of my symptoms, I fight through it for one last chance to achieve some of my childhood dreams. The pain of training on top of a neurological disorder is extremely intense. I keep telling myself I will quit once I reach my full potential, but each day and week I keep getting better. I do not understand it and more importantly my doctors do not understand it. Yes, you can improve and get better at certain sports even in your 50s, 60s, and 70s. Each year I accomplish all my goals. It is amazing, I have never had so much success at anything.

I may not have ever been an Olympian or raced in the Tour de France but I race against a person who has accomplished these feats – Norman Alvis. Alvis was one of America’s best cyclists outside of Greg LeMond in the 80s (and 90s). Alvis was a U.S. cycling champion and held the one-hour time trial record (on a track) for nearly 20 years (it was just broken last year). Alvis currently holds the U.S. record for the one-hour time trial for the 50+ group. He rode the Tour de France and Italia multiple times. His team finished 10th for the team trial in the 88 Olympics. Alvis beat me by a mere 7 seconds in an 8-mile time trial earlier this summer (16:48 to 16:55). I may not have accomplished my dreams of the Olympics, but I am holding my own racing against a former Olympian. The success of Greg LeMond generated dreams of riding in the Tour, and although that did not happen, I am holding my own against a guy who did. This is just as good as accomplishing that dream.

Please do not give up on your dreams and goals. No matter how hard and difficult persistence and hard work generally pay off. I am not saying dreams are worth dying over, but accomplishing them before you die is well worth some risk. Unfortunately, it took a situation where I thought I was going to die before I truly pursued some of my dreams. We should not require a wake-up call before we show some urgency to live life to its fullest.

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