Sunday, August 7, 2016

I RAGBRAI with Team LIVESTRONG because.....

"There are no strangers here.  Only friends you have not yet met." ~ William Butler Yeats

It has been one week since I returned home from a week of isolation from the real world. 

Camping each evening, rising before 6 am each morning, breaking down camp, and pedaling away eastward by 7:30 am in search of breakfast.

With 12,000 - 15,000 other cyclists.  Most of them strangers. With the exception of my fellow teammates that made up 2016 RAGBRAI Team LIVESTRONG.

Five years ago I arrived at the team camp having signed up for RAGBRAI after being on the losing end of a bet....this runner had no business being on a bike, let alone for a week long ride across an entire state. 

Five years ago I arrived at the team camp surrounded by strangers, with the exception of a few LIVESTRONG staffers - who also knew I had no business being on a bike.

Seven days later I left with an extended add to the other LIVESTRONG families I have created over the years through other events and volunteer roles for the foundation.

Every year since that first year, there have been a few more strangers showing up at camp on day one.....and by day two, they are strangers no more.

One of our traditions every night is to have a team meeting to review logistics for the next day, reflect on the day's ride and adventures, and share personal stories about our own cancer journey.  This year a teammate suggested we all share "I RAGBRAI with Team LIVESTRONG because...."

Not surprisingly there was a similar theme among the responses.

We all started our involvement for similar reasons - some were cancer survivors, others to pay tribute to a loved one that was impacted by cancer - currently in the fight, a survivor or stolen from us.  We all were involved because we believed in LIVESTRONG and the services it provides to our communities.

As we went around the campsite, there was another common theme in all our responses as to why we continue RAGBRAI'

LIVESTRONG has always been a family to me from that very first marathon I participated in 2009.  The family has continued to grow with every event.

The TEAM LIVESTRONG RAGBRAI family is somewhat different.  8 days of complete isolation from reality......24 hours a day for a full week of highs and lows, of laughter and tears, of support and teasing on another.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. ~ Henri Nouwen
My reality is not easy.  It is not easy for my children.  But it is what it is and somehow we muddle through every day.  I'm not sure how different it would be if cancer had not stolen Brian from us.  It may not have been any easier but it would have been different.

Riding my bike across Iowa is hard - but not reality hard.  Illinois is flat.  Iowa is not.  Life is crazy and I don't always get enough training in.  So why would I keep going?

I do not go to RAGBRAI for the cycling.  I go to RAGBRAI for my family reunion.  For my escape from reality.  This is my summer camp.  These folks let me escape.  These people recognize that the other 51 weeks of the year, I'm pretty much on a tilt-a-whirl.  These people don't care.  These people love me.  These people support me.  These people make me laugh so hard my belly aches for 7 days.  These people lift me up when I am down.

This year's RAGBRAI was the most difficult for me - under trained, overweight and a different mental frame of mind.

I had a particular tough ride on the first day - to the point I was on the verge of tears along the route, I wanted to give up.  But this family.....this group of people.....they embraced me - on route and off route.  They pulled over if they saw me on the side stopped, they encouraged me to take my time - to keep pushing on. 

When I was the absolute last of the team to show up at our daily meet-up spot along the route - well beyond the time they all arrived - I was expecting it to be a solo stop.  But there they were,  In the perfect spot in the shade.  A highlight of that miserable hot, difficult, emotional ride - hearing my name over the dim of the riders enjoying a well earned beverage along the route.

As soon as I got to the group, the tears began spilling out of me.  The heat, the reality that this was harder than I was ready for and the feeling of defeat had overcome me. 

This group.  This team.  This family.  They understood.  They embraced me.  They let me feel  down.  They made me laugh.  They waited.  They got me back on my bike.  They inspired me.  They propped me back up.  They got me through the week.

This is why I RAGBRAI.  This is why I LIVESTRONG. 

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