Lessons learned biking across Iowa (on RAGBRAI)
I did it. I made it across Iowa. I biked 200+ miles, raised money to support people facing cancer, and achieved a personal goal while acknowledging 20 years since my cancer diagnosis.
If you follow my blog, you know that I’ve been training all spring (okay, more like the past year!) to join Team LIVESTRONG at the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) to raise funds for and awareness of LIVESTRONG’s programs and services for people affected by cancer. I did this in part to honor 20 years from my bone cancer diagnosis and in memory of my dad who always believed in helping others before cancer took him from us. It was a special way to help others facing the disease that forever changed my family. And I did it.
When I decided to join Team LIVESTRONG on RAGBRAI, I’m not sure I really understood what I was getting into (ha, always a good reason to throw yourself into something!). A friend wanted me to ride last year so I decided to help the support team/staff last year for a few days to get an idea of the event, but I didn’t ride. By the end of that week, I was inspired enough to go home, buy a bike and train for the hundreds of miles I planned to attempt (read that blog). And train I did (with many thanks to friends who shared endless tips/insight into cycling, rode with me or encouraged my crazy idea). I admit that I was ridiculously nervous in the days leading up to the event. I guess I doubted my ability to bike so many miles with the titanium rod in my leg (I seriously need to stop doubting myself. I’m starting to annoy myself.). Guess what? I did what I set out to do.
If it’s possible to say you’re proud of yourself without sounding stuck on yourself, then I’ll say it. I trained hard, absorbed as many tips and tricks as I could, asked a zillion questions (sorry and thank you to my coach), read blogs, watched videos, mentally and physically prepared, raised funds for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services. While I wanted to ride the entire 400+ miles of the 7-day event, I took my surgeon’s advice and rested in between the biking days, achieving almost 200 miles. I felt physically awesome after each day. My leg started bugging me as the week wore on, but I’m convinced that it’s from sleeping on the ground in my tent (a perfect reason to invest in a thicker sleeping pad) rather than biking (and I feel fine now). I learned enough to be even better next year (eek, did I just type NEXT YEAR?).
The week brought many high moments and some lows (a very dear friend had a health
issue on the bike, causing him to fall and be injured. He thankfully will recover but it caused some terrifying moments of worry). I learned SO many things about me, other people, biking, Iowa, and life. Enough to fill half my new journal while in Iowa and inspire multiple blogs (if I had the energy to write that much at this time)! For now, I’ll share just a few lessons with you.
There are some really good people around me: I’ve shared in the past about the awesome camaraderie and kindness of my LIVESTRONG friends. As much as cancer sucks, it is a common bond that ties many of us together. From the other RAGBRAI newbies to the multi-year veterans, I shared many laughs, hugs, tears, drinks, jokes, smoothies, dances and, of course, miles on the bike with my 70+ teammates. They pushed, pulled, encouraged, cheered and supported me. I have deeper bonds with those who started as friends, and many new friends. And outside of the team, I was surrounded by thousands of other cyclists. As I waited 30 minutes in line for a shower, I had a wonderful conversation with a mother and daughter who I ironically rode beside me for a few miles earlier in the day. They recognized my Michigan Awesome jersey and tribute cards. It was a great opportunity to share LIVESTRONG’s programs and services, and simply get to know two friendly women. I thought it a little weird when a man randomly commented on my ‘beautiful scar’ running along my femur, only to learn his wife is a also a bone cancer survivor and he was going to tell her of my accomplishment on the bike to motivate her to stay strong. There was the young woman who brought me to tears and shared a hug as she talked about her dad also dying from multiple myeloma. And the many others who told stories of how LIVESTRONG’s programs and services helped them or others. These stories, these moments, filled me so much with motivation, joy, appreciation and sadness (that this disease still affects too many).
I’m stronger – mentally, physically and emotionally – than I give myself credit for. This week taught me that I need to believe in myself more. I admit that I was ready to throw up that first morning as we pedaled out of the campsite. But a few miles in, I found myself smiling at friends as we shared the beautiful morning on our bikes, and a few miles later, I settled in as we rolled along the road, and a few miles later, I laughed aloud at the pure joy of being on my bike. As the week progressed and I biked more miles, helped take care of my friend, laughed until my stomach hurt, cried, listened, shared, hugged and simply felt myself be in the moment, I realized that I may never have all the answers to life, but I’m doing a pretty good managing it right now.
We live in a beautiful country. When I told people that I was joining LIVESTRONG to bike across Iowa, many people replied, “You’re spending your vacation in Iowa? In the July heat?” Well, yes. I’ve come to love Iowa. As we moved east across the state, the land started to roll into hills and the scenery turned even prettier. I was in awe of our campsite in Waukon on the last night as we were tucked at the end of a runway at the municipal airport overlooking farms filled with soybeans, corn and cows. The sunset’s colors streaming across the skyline made my breath catch and the glorious night sky filled with stars brought tears to my eyes as I thought how incredibly fortunate I am to be alive to experience this magic.
Life is short, so don’t waste it. When you or someone close to you endures something serious, it makes you hit pause on life for a few moments (or it should). You can’t help but be reminded that life is precious. As cliché as it is, it’s true that we only get one life. Don’t settle for less. Twenty years ago, I had that reminder slapped in my face when I was diagnosed with cancer. Thirteen years ago when my dad died from cancer, it struck me again. There’s been many other moments throughout life to reinforce that thought. It’s why I search for happiness in all I do; why I left an unhappy situation to seek true love and joy; I explore places away from home to meet new people and experiences; I try not to hesitate to share how I feel; I push myself to be a better and stronger person; I embrace new adventures and opportunities, I try to laugh and soak in the joy of life.
Sometimes you have to throw caution, responsibility, worry and fear into the
cornfield and ride your bike. Despite being nervous about riding the first day, I knew that I would be okay once I got on my bike. I trained on this bike, I fit so well on this bike and I truly love riding this bike. There is something about being on the bike that eases every pressure in my body and mind. It’s a freedom that’s hard to describe, especially as a bone cancer survivor. When my femur was replaced with a titanium, I gave up a lot of freedom. I can’t ride my beloved horses, run, play tennis, volleyball nor many of the activities that I once enjoyed. I think of this rod in my leg from the moment I get out of bed to the moment I lay back down. Don’t get me wrong – I am forever grateful to have my leg because there is an alternative. I never want to hurt my leg, but I need freedom. And riding my bike gives me that. Very little beats the moments when you feel the wind tickle your skin, the sun warm your face (while wearing sunscreen) and the power of your body moving with the bike. You have to soak in the scenery, breathe in the air and think of nothing but what’s around you.
It’s easy to make a difference in the lives of others. More than 70 people came together to bike across Iowa to raise awareness of and money for programs that support people facing cancer. So many of my teammates have their own stories of cancer in their lives, and also had stories of sharing LIVESTRONG with others as they biked the route. It takes one person to make a difference. Together, we raised more than $140,000 for these programs and services (thanks also to many of you who donated to our cause).
As fun as this trip was, and as proud as I am of myself, the point of this trip was, of course, more than my story. It was about coming together as a team for LIVESTRONG, for people affected by cancer, raising money for programs and services that support thousands of people fighting this terrible disease, sharing stories and information to ensure we are all one in the fight. And it was a heck of a lot fun being able to help others.
There’s still time to donate to our LIVESTRONG team’s fundraising efforts to help more people facing cancer. Click here to donate.