I’m often asked why I choose to ride my bicycle long distances. The simple response is “Because it’s fun”, but I often add the caveat, “It’s a weird kind of fun.”, and make some joke about wearing spandex and getting sweaty. When I have the time and the intuition to explain further, I can’t help but mention my father’s fight against lymphoma…
In 2012 I bought a used aluminum-framed Raleigh 500 road bike from a now defunct bike shop. I bought it for transportation, but I chose that particular bike because I liked the look of its drop bars and candy red paint. Soon after, I began to use that bike for exercise as well and became enthralled with the speeds and distances I could accomplish on that machine.
Then I built a fixed gear from a bike I got for free.
After that I bought a mountain bike.
Then I learned what a chamois was (for cycling).
Then I started researching and developing training schedules.
That Fall I competed in a local Alley Cat (a rolling party, basically an excuse to drink beer and ride bikes around your hometown).
I was hooked; I had become a full-blown cycling junkie in the span of a few short months.
Early in the spring 2013 I was encouraged by my friend and mentor Perry Polnaszek to look into signing up for a “century”, a 100-mile bicycle ride. It was a feat that seemed impossible to my novice mind and legs. After doing some searching on the internet I chose the Door County Century, because of it’s relative proximity to where I lived, the time it would allow me to train, and the probability of having my parents come along to cheer me on and pay for the hotel room.
A few weeks later, while visiting my parents at their home, my dad pulled me aside and showed me a lump on his neck. He explained that it was lymphoma and (being he a physician) the probability of it being fatal. I was stunned to say the least, quite literally unable to fathom the severity of what he was telling me.
After that my training rides took on a whole new purpose. They were no longer just preparation for an endurance event, but rather a meditative escape. I used the hours spent riding to reflect on the mortality of my father (and myself), my faith in God, the ugliness of cancer, the wonders of modern medicine, Top-40 music, and life in general. By the end of the summer I was well prepared for the century physically. But, as I was soon to find out, I wasn’t prepared emotionally and, really, there’s no way I could have been.
My parents were able to come along as support (dad took sick leave from work, which freed up his schedule greatly). The day I picked them up to continue on to Sturgeon Bay (the ride’s start point) was the first time in my life that I saw my father without a mustache. Chemo had culled the majority of his upper-lip fur and that morning he decided to shave off what little remained. Not only had cancer treatment accelerated the loss of hair on the top of his head (a hereditary Writz trait) but it had also taken what I thought was a permanent facial feature away from my dad. I was shaken to say the least.
I don’t remember the majority of the ride itself: pit stops and difficult hills are vague highlights and I have a general recollection of the beauty of the route I was on for around 8 hours. The memories that have retained their crystal-clarity all happened in the last 10 miles. As a solo rider I ended up riding and talking with several different groups throughout the day because of my pace and the time I took to rest and eat at designated stops. The cyclists in the last group I approached on the road were all adorned with purple and white jerseys. As a rode close enough to converse and read their jerseys I came to find out that they were members of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I spent the remainder of the ride with this group, holding back tears, absorbing the sense of accomplishment, and simply enjoying the scenery.
As I approached the finish line, I could hear my parents cheering for me, and navigated the last few hundred feet overwhelmed by emotions and tears. I put my bike on a nearby rack, hugged my parents, posed for pictures, and inhaled a pasta dinner while watching the Packers play the Chiefs, conversing with a couple from Milwaukee who had done the ride on a tandem.
(Dad, mom, and me at the finish line)
Dad’s been in remission since that Fall (a detail I always forget to include when I’m telling this story, because I know he’s ok). This July he turns 60 and I can’t think of a better gift to give him than riding the Scenic Shores 150 in his honor and as a celebration of his life before and after cancer.
If you're interested in supporting me financially on this ride please visit my donation page: http://events.lls.org/pages/wi/2017ScenicShore150/PWritz