Thursday, August 23, 2012

LiveSTRONG 2012 Ride Report -- Epilogue

Paul and I grabbed a quick bite, then went our separate ways. I had a great time riding with him, and I am grateful to him and my brother and eternal riding partner, Patfish Hunter, who has done every Challenge with me. I missed the people who could not be there, Jennifer, Michael, Kurt, Sean, Randy, George and Brad.

The ride home is always a cramp-fest, with quads, calves, and even my lower back seizing up. It's always been that way, and this trip was no different. I came home to an empty house as Mrs. Fish had taken Li' Fish over to church. I stretched, got a shower, stretched, cleaned up my gear and stretched. Mrs. Fish came home and I just hugged her, grateful to have had the last amazing 19 years with her.

Then I had to go pick up Li'l Fish. I walked into church and a lot of the youth group were really happy to see me and then I heard "DADDY!" It was the same voice I heard six years ago when I finished my first Challenge, and an eight-year-old Li'l Fish came bobbing across the parking lot into the arms of her daddy. Tonight, a young woman looked me almost eye-to-eye, and I realized just how much she has grown since that first Challenge, and just how much I have been given in these six years.

I am blessed...

LiveSTRONG 2012 Ride Report -- Part VI

Paul and I quickly fell in with Andy, a foul-mouthed guy from Plymouth Meeting. He said he was riding for his friend who had died from intestinal cancer. Andy wanted to remember him properly, and he thought the ride would be the ticket. He was skilled rider, and strong on the climbs. He could also curse a blue-streak that would embarrass a Marine. At one point, he said, "I'm not a #$*&ing religous guy" and I replied, I am. He asked why, and I told him my story, and he agreed he could see, maybe, how God was working in my life. It was an interesting moment. Interestingly, when he pulled up next to us, I was wondering how much longer I was going to have to ride with this #$*&ing guy, and when we separated, I honestly wished it would have lasted longer. God does continue His work....

The LiveSTRONG Challenge does bring out both the best and the worst in people (it's a lot like cancer in that way). Readers of this blog might remember how I almost got into a fight with a Prius guy two years ago (STORY HERE). As Paul and I pushed into the last 20 miles, a guy in a convertible BMW rolled by heading the opposite direction, raised his hand (or, more accurately, one-fifth of his hand) and gave us a "salute". I can only assume our ride to beat cancer had ruined his afternoon drive. Paul asked me if anyone had ever, in the history of cycling, received that "salute" and just decided in that moment that, "You know what? Gosh darnit, you're right. I really need to stop riding my bicycle because it's ruining the drives of all these people in their fancy cars." No cyclist ever has.
The irony is that, in a BMW convertible, flipping the bird to people actually exposes it to sunlight. Which causes cancer. The irony was not lost on me. Or Paul.

Mile after mile, Paul and I pedaled onward. The last section of the ride actually looks very similar. Hills, rolling hills. And more rolling hills. They're not big hills, but they are consistent. We call them rollers. Up and down the rollers we went. It affords you time to think, and for me, I have always used this time to think about the people I have known through cancer. this year, I spent a lot of time thinking about the man who would have been my father-in-law. He passed away shortly before Mrs. Fish and I started dating, and I was sad that he never got to see what an amazing woman she has become. Even sadder, he never got to meet Li'l Fish, and to see just how amazing she is. I can't help but wonder at how cancer had robbed him of this, and robbed us of that experience.

And then Paul and I rolled over the last hill and I was looking down at the bottom of the hill and the area where the finish line was. It always catches me a little off guard, because it's so unexpected. After dozens of hills, you're suddenly...DONE. Paul and I coast down the hill and he heads left in the supporter's chute, I go right into the Survivor's chute, and for the sixth time, the announcer says:


LiveSTRONG 2012 Ride Report -- Part V

The other thing that I discovered about Dave was that his sister and brother-in-law own the Landis Store. The Landis Store is the most epic of rest stops, located at roughly the halfway point, and you have to ride the 100 mile route to get there. It is also located at the top of a 1 mile climb that is incredibly steep at points. Honestly, it's the climb that puts the "Challenge" in the LiveSTRONG Challenge. At the top of that climb, the Landis Store offers live music, chicken and rice soup and the friendliest volunteers on the course. It's a party! I always think of the Landis Store fondly, because it was so special to my friend Kurt, and I was thinking of him as I was talking to Dave. Sadly, he could not ride with us this year, due to an injury. Toughen up, and we'll see you next year, Kurt. I gave Dave a BUTNZ! for himself, and one for his sister, for all of her hospitality over the years.

We pulled into the next rest stop and Pat, Paul and I regrouped. We quickly refueled and got back on the rode. Pat had committed to the 45 mile ride and Paul and I were still undecided. We got right back into the swing of things, when all of a sudden, we came up to a fork in the road, and it was decision time. Go left and do the 45 mile ride. Or go right and shoot for 70 miles. Paul and I were still feeling really good, so we decided we were going right. Pat was ready to head for home. It was really strange, because I honestly thought we had more time (I think in life we always think we have more time, until suddenly we don't). We said a quick goodbye, and I was saddened that our time together was over so quickly, so suddenly, and without any warning.Paul and I rode on, but I was feeling a bit melancholy.

The miles rolling steadily under our wheels cured me of my melancholy, slowly but surely like an old-time tonic. I like to see old friends, and you actually see people you remember. Jon's Crew, a group of people who ride in remembrance of their friend, were there again this year. On one significant hill (are you getting a picture of the course, or do I need to emphasize that there were hills on it?), I pulled a BUTNZ! out of my jersey and held it up, so the people cheering at the top of the hill could see that I was going to toss it. As I did so, one of the guys yelled, "Are you Team Fish?"
"YES!" I said as I tossed the BUTNZ! and rode past, wondering how the heck he could know who we were.
"We have five of your BUTNZ!", he shouted as I rode on. He had come out with his family every year I have ridden, and because they are alone at the top of a really hard hill, shouting, cheering and ringing cowbells, they really stood out. So year after year, I tossed them BUTNZ!. Very cool! He actually has a Team Fish rookie BUTNZ!

I came up along another rider and we got to talking. He was riding on a bike clearly marked with IronMan stickers, and I thought that was pretty cool. His name was Steve, and it turns out he was not an IronMan. He was riding in memory of his father-in-law, Ira, who was a seven-time IronMan. The family had taken to calling him "Ira"nMan, and it was a joke they thought was pretty funny. Ira passed away suddenly from a heart attack this year, and Steve and the family were looking for a way to honor him, when they saw the LiveSTRONG Challenge. They realized this was exactly the type of challenge Ira would have loved -- physically demanding and also finding a way to give back. I thanked him for coming out, and choosing the Challenge to remember Ira.

We separated and I saw another guy riding alone, pedalled up and introduced myself. He asked about my dignosis and I told him my story, then he told me about his friend, the smartest guy he ever knew. They were in high school together, and had stayed friends over the years. Sadly, his friend was claimed by brain cancer, leaving behind his wife and two kids, aged 4 and 8. As he told me about it, he choked up, and it was clear how fresh all of this was, how unresolved his emotions were, but he said he and his friends were coming together in meaningful ways to help the family, and to honor their friend. It amazes me how much stronger this disease makes us, and also those who are left behind. It's one of the reasons I think we are going to beat this disease someday. Instead of despair, cancer awakens something within us, those who fight the disease and win, and those who are left behind after someone passes. It teaches who we are and what we are capable of, and it is simply astounding.

Paul and I rounded a turn, and I told him the next hill was going to be challenging, emphasizing the word in such a way as to let him know that, perhaps, those last 30+ miles of hills weren't in the same arena as this one. I remember this hill. As we started to climb, I actually started feeling better. My legs were under me and I rode up the hill, passing people as I went. I looked back and saw Paul was doing pretty well on the hill as well. I could tell it was putting "the hurt"on him, but he was powering through, slow and steady, grinding out the pavement.

We got to the top, and it was again decision time. Left for 70 miles or straight for 100 miles. Amazingly, we had made the cutoff time. Wisdom is the better part of valor, and we actually opted for the 70 mile course. I didn't feel defeated. I didn't feel disappointed. Seventy was my initial goal, and I was sticking to it. Paul was totally on board, so we would ride the second half of the Challenge together, all the way to the finish.

We rode down chip sealed roads (a nightmare), potholed roads (even worse) and silky smooth asphalt (the old hyms talk of Heaven's roads being paved with gold, but I know it's going to be a fresh coat of asphalt), arriving at the next rest area, which I remember as "The Worst Rest Stop in the World". I think it was the first year I did the Challenge. I stopped here and the volunteers seemed disinterested, there was very little to eat, and there was nothing going on. This is Sparta. Or, at best, Sparta-like.Even more disappointing, this stop is at a Fire Station, and I was riding in memory of a friend's son, a fireman who was killed tragically in a car crash. I couldn't help but think about how disappointed Donnie, the young man who was killed, would have been, and how different it would have been had he been in charge of things here. Fast-forward to this year, and I have to think Donnie's spirit informed the organizers of their shortcomings in this area, because there was an immediate change in feel to the stop. As soon as we pulled in, there was a six-year old kid running up and giving all of the riders high fives and congratulating them for getting this far.
"Were you in the Tour de France?" He kept asking all of the riders as this question as they pulled in, and they, of course, said, "No, no. Not me."
Until I got there.
"Yes," I said. I was! And it was awesome! Did you see me?"
"Yeah. You were on TV!"
"You're right! That was me! Thanks so much for all of your help. I really appreciate it, buddy! Here's a BUTNZ!"
He was overjoyed. I was too. It was a beautiful moment, and one I will cherish for a long time.

Paul and I saddled up and pedaled out of the stop. I felt really good.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

LiveSTRONG 2012 Ride Report -- Part IV

And so, we were off. Like a herd of turtles. The first chute out of the parking lot is a slow affair, but I am fine with that because low-speed crashes rarely cause major damage. Patfish, Paul and I rode out together, onto the streets of Montgomery County. There is a moment where, as you start out, you want to do the entire ride as quickly as possible. You can always tell the first-timers by their enthusiasm and how quickly they go out of the gates. As an experienced rider, I remembered to hold back a little and just ride at a steady, somewhat restrained pace.

The first couple of miles are surprisingly difficult. Your body needs to remember how to ride, and until that happens, you actually feel winded. It's a little disconcerting, to be sucking for oxygen in the first couple of miles, but I have been to this rodeo before. My body started to settle in, and Pat and Paul and I fell into a nice, easy cadence.

The weather was absolutely beautiful. In fact, I was actually a little chilled for the first couple of miles, and unusual feeling for the LiveSTRONG event. The first couple of years I did it, the weather went to triple digits, with what had to be more than 90% humidity. We have also ridden in lightning storms, windy conditions, and a torrential downpour that caused a crash in the hills. By contrast, it was slated to be in the mid-70s, and I was ecstatic. This was, hands-down, the best weather we have EVER had.

The course starts with a series of rolling hills and we rolled up and down those hills. We talked about Paul's huge transformation from pudgy, out of shape guy to marathon-running, healthy-eating, clean living dad. We talked about Pat's kids, the coolest twins on the planet. It was good to reconnect with them in this venue. One of the things I realized last year was just how lonely the training regimen is for LiveSTRONG. There are a lot of empty miles on the road, getting into shape for an event of this magnitude. This year, I didn't train nearly as hard, and I was using this easy time at the beginning of the ride to decide whether to ride the 45 mile course or the 70 mile course. I knew I would pay for it on the ride (and especially AFTER the ride, if I went for the longer ride).

The way it's laid out, you get to checkpoints and you can decide how you feel, and if you want to go left for the shorter course or right for the longer course. Additionally, each time you take the longer course, it also gets progressively harder with longer and steeper climbs. Paul was asking me about the 100 mile course, and I was thinking about how best to temper some of that enthusiasm, so I explained the course options and then simply told him to take a wait and see attitutde at each of the checkpoints.

We got to the first refueling station and I needed to get water and Gatorade. In my haste to get everything squared away at the beginning of the ride, I hadn't made the time to fill my bottles. Still, I knew there was a station in the first fifteen miles and that I could borrow from Pat or Paul if I got into trouble. I did not need to do that, so I quickly got my liquids squared away, grabbed a banana and a peanut butter sandwich, and we got back on the bike. My experience has taught me to eat early in the event, because it's harder to eat as the day goes on. The banana has potassium which helps prevent cramps later on, so I made sure to eat that.

As always, the volunteers were AWESOME! It takes hundreds of people to put on an event like this, and the simple act of cutting bananas, making sandwiches and mixing Gatorade has not gone unnoticed. I always make a point of thanking the volunteers, because their support is so critical to this event.

Another on of my favorite things is the spectators that come out to cheer on the riders. They are so enthusiastic, and it is simply contagious. Even better is when an entire family comes out to cheer us on. My buddy Kurt makes BUTNZ! (check him out at with the Team Fish logo and we toss them out along the course. The volunteers love them, and Pat, Paul and I also make a point of tossing them to the kids. 

Off we went, riding forward. Always forward. I like to ask other riders what brings them to the event. At one point, I met up with Dave, a two-year colon cancer survivor. We talked about our experience and he asked my how I knew I had cancer. I told him my story, how the doctor had found a lump after I had told him I was having some pain. I thought it was simply due to riding too much, but then I found that was not the case and my whole life changed. He told me how he felt that he was not urinating properly, that something just seemed "off" and so he decided to go see his doctor. It probably saved his life. He is my age, so routine checkups were still five years away. It would have been too late. We lamented how men in particular seem to be reluctant to go to the doctor when things seem wrong. He talked about how many men he has talked into going to see the doctor.

If something seems OFF, GO SEE A DOCTOR. Please!

Monday, August 20, 2012

LiveSTRONG 2012 Ride Report -- Part III

We assembled in a multi-colored sea of spandex, covering the parking lot. Honestly, I don't see this many fit people all year, and to see them in one place, for one cause, is incredibly humbling (I'm not as fit as most of the people there) and inspiring (I COULD be as fit as them). And, if you're a bike fan, it's doubly cool. The colors of the skittle-explosion Colnago, deep blue Trek Madones (I hear Trek makes good bikes), orange marmalade Orbeas, Celeste (my Lownje friends know it as seafoam) Bianchis, and even the irony of a blue LeMonde (he was the American cyclist who initially accused Lance of doping). All of them were assembled to fight cancer and to ride with a legend and a hero.

Lance Armstrong is a tool. There. I said it. It doesn't feel good to say it. But I said it. Allow me to explain. At the start of the ride, Lance always takes a few moments to address the crowd. It's always been one of the highlights of the event for me. As a cyclist and cancer survivor, I get to hear a guy who overcame cancer to win, arguably, the hardest bike race in the world. Seven Times. Consecutively.

So when that happens, I expect to hear something special. After all, I am standing with more than 3,000 people who have given their time, their energy, their resources, and their money to raise $1.7 million and be part of an event that bears, in part, the name of this miraculous person. And then he tells us, "I was going to ride the 100 miles with you, but I got tied up with a wedding party in the hotel last night, and, well, that's a different story."

Allow me to translate: "I stayed out too late last night, I got way too drunk, and now I am really just a little too hungover to ride the full 100 miles." Philadelphia is no bump in the road for this event. It's the most important fundraising city in the LiveSTRONG tour of events. And I wonder if there are corporate people who pay even more to be part of that ride. Lance would know. Or should know.

And so, Lance, I'd like to take a brief moment to give you a little advice. I am going to give you 1.7 million reasons why you might NOT want to do something so stupid, ever again. Because when you say something like that, what you're saying is that those people who showed up to ride in your event really aren't as important as the enjoyment you were feeling in that moment, the hedonistic pleasures of crashing a wedding. And that's really not a good idea. For 1.7 million reasons. Seriously.

I think it's important to say this doesn't change my thoughts about doing this ride. I will always raise money to fight cancer because I had cancer, and now I don't and the reason is that people raised money to fund research so I could be here today. But, it does change my thoughts about how I think Lance thinks about those who come out to the event. Or, more accurately, it gives a little insight into how he might NOT think about those people. And that's a mistake. Because that's what a tool would do.

There. Now that's out of the way.

The start of the ride is settled into three large groups -- those riding 100 miles, those riding 45 miles and those riding 20 miles or less. Paul (he really needs a Fish name) and Pat and I started in the 100 mile group. It's something we have done since the very first Ride. Initially, it was because we were shooting to do 100 miles, but I quickly realized it's also the group that starts first, so you actually get out ahead of the other groups. This gives you a little more room, and a little more time. Which is important because there are 3,000 other people looking for room.

True to form, people were crashing right at the beginning of the ride. I imagine that it's pretty embarrassing to crash before you even reach the start line. So Pat, Paul and I stayed back to keep our bikes and dignity (relatively speaking) intact. As we approached the start line, the announcer was commenting on the riders. I rode right next to him and yealled, "Team Fish!!!" and he announced our team as we started out on the journey, to the clickity, clickity clack of spinning chains and shifting gears.

LiveSTRONG 2012 Ride Report -- Part II

I am an early riser by nature. It has been that way for so long I honestly can't remember the last time I slept in. So, it was no surprise when I woke up feeling pretty well-rested at 5.30 am. I laid in bed in that beautiful fugue state between sleep and wakefulness, contemplating the day ahead. I have a friend, Steve, who says he prays in the morning and he pictures God going before him to prepare those places. It's a simple and beautiful prayer, and one I used that morning.

Fortunately, I did not go back to sleep, because my wakeup call never came. I wandered next door to bang on Patfish's door, and it's a good thing I did that, too, because his alarm clock failed to go off. We saddled up our gear, loaded our car and went to the lobby as they had free breakfast. In talking with Jessie the day before, she said breakfast might be a problem at that hour but there would still be bagels, cereal and the like. Patfish and I found the bagels and helped ourselves. Oddly, there was nothing to grab them with, so I just reached in a nd grabbed one, careful not to grab any others.

"Hey," came a voice behind us. "You can't grab those bagels!" Someone was clearly upset.
"What," I replied.
"You can't just grab those bagels! Breakfast doesn't start until 7 o'clock"
"I'll be gone by then."
"And you're supposed to use the tongs!"
"There were no tongs."
"That's because we don't set them out until 7 o'clock."
All I could say was, "Really?"
"Yes, really. You can't help yourself, you need to make special arrangements with the front desk if you want early breakfast."
"Ummmmm. I did."
She harumphed and glared at me. Yes, she glared at me. And Patfish.
And then I thought, "What are they going to do, kick me out?"
"Thanks for the bagels" I said, smiled and left.

Getting to the event is supposed to be easy. And it would have been, except for two critical facts. First, I was following Patfish and he wasn't sure where we were going. Second, I need coffee in the morning. Non-coffee drinkers will never, ever, no matter how desperately you implore them, understand this need. Patfish is not a coffee drinker. So, when I say, I need "coffee" I think, inherent in that fact, is the understanding that if I don't get said coffee, bad things will happen. To me or to you. When I realized we were lost AND there was a chance I would NOT get coffee, I took charge. I pulled him over, took the lead and went on my quest for coffee. Fortunately, we quickly found coffee (Dunkin' Donuts, FTW!) and DeKalb Pike, which leads straight to the ride site. Winning.

My buddy, Paul, had driven down to meet us. He had texted (the wonders of technology - how did we do these things before cell phones?) that he was there and we quickly found each other in the bike corral.

Team Fish had assembled for the Sixth Annual Team Fish LiveSTRONG Ride (It's NOT a Race!).

LiveSTRONG 2012 Ride Report -- Part I

I just finished my sixth LiveSTRONG Event. Each year, it coincides, roughly, with the anniversary of my diagnosis with testicular cancer. I am one of the lucky ones. I am a survivor. So I get to live my life, and part of my role as a survivor has been wrapped up helping to fight this horrible disease. I choose to raise money for the LiveSTRONG Foundation ( and ride my bicycle as far as I can. So I trucked down to Philadelphia on Saturday to pick up my race packet and get the goods for Team Fish.

One of the most important things I do every year is take a list of the names of those affected by cancer, the people my supporters have asked me to remember on this day. I add those names to the Wall of Remembrance. Every year, the list gets a little longer. Still, it seemed I noticed more people who are fighting and winning this year.

People sometimes ask me about where the money goes and if does any good. Less than 50 years ago, what I had was considered a death sentence. Now, it has a 95% survival rate. Look at the statistics of colon cancer, breast cancer and so many others, and you'll see a similar trend. According to one study in 1997, one in 4 patients survived cancer in the 1940s. Just two decades later, that figure jumped to one in three. Today, we are at more than 50% survival rates. And, those with the disease are experiencing an improved quality of life while under treatment; surgery is less radical; and even chemotherapy is producing fewer side effects. We are learning about this disease, and because we are learning, we are winning. It's one of the basic tenets of the LAF: Knowledge is Power.

After posting the names of those friends and family members, I registered for my team. Fortunately, I got there right under the wire. As always, the volunteers were friendly and AWESOME! I love the volunteers at the LiveSTRONG event and realize just how integral they are to the success of the event. Nadia and Amanda took quick care of me, got my registration packets together and I was off to the hotel.

 I stayed in a completely different place this year. For the first four years, I went down to the area and stayed with my mother-in-law. Last year she got sick, so I stayed in a hotel right next to where she was staying so I could stop in and say hello. Sadly, she passed away this year, so I stayed at a Hilton Homewood Suites a little closer to the event. Jessie, the girl behind the desk, checked me in and I was set.

My brother, "Patfish Hunter", showed up close to dinnertime. Pat has ridden with me in ALL SIX EVENTS and I am so glad to have him ride with me. We went out to carbo-load for dinner at Boca, a nice Italian Restaurant with good food and exceptionally slow service. Note to Italian restaurants: add extra staff on LiveSTRONG weekend. Just sayin'.

Coming back to the hotel, we settled in to watch Stars Earn Stripes (which was surprisingly excellent) and then called it a night. I set up my wake-up call for 6.00 am and then settled in for a remarkably deep and comfortable night's sleep. I don't usually sleep well on the road, so this was a great exception.