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I had a boss once tell me I lived a “charmed life”. He was right, I did and I still do. I have a wonderful family, great friends, and a career I love. I’ve always felt as if I was living the dream truly, not in a sarcastic way at all. My trip to W100K was no different. After telling my sister I met President Bush Monday and Lance Armstrong Tuesday she remarked, “Wow, that’s incredible, I can’t believe how lucky you are…if you meet Jon BonJovi on Wednesday I’m going to be extremely jealous”.
About 4 years ago, I became an amputee. Although a career Army soldier, it happened on a back country road in North Carolina, cycling on my way to work. It happened between two safe deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. That was certainly a time I didn’t feel as if my life was so charming. I struggled emotionally and physically trying to figure out how to live my life as an amputee.
Then I climbed back on my bicycle. Cycling has been as freeing as it was when I was 12 years old, getting my new Huffy Santa Fe ten speed, and heading out of the house in the summer. It was my first taste of freedom and my little glimmer of what being an adult must be like. I could ride all over my town with my friends and explore what lie beyond my street. One of the benefits of learning to cycle again as an adult is all those feelings return, perhaps more powerfully than the first time.
I was a road cyclist before losing my leg, but my first love was running and nothing was better than running in the woods. That became a little challenging with a running prosthesis, so some great friends in Virginia introduced me to mountain biking. Getting lost in the woods now had entirely new meaning. I was also introduced to John Wordin from Ride to Recovery. John is this crazy cyclist who decided to start a non-profit, giving wounded veterans an opportunity to further their rehab both physically and mentally by putting them on a bicycle and sending them on a 400+ mile ride for 5-6 days. Most of these kids hadn’t ridden a bike since junior high, but John kits them out with a jersey and helmet and clip-less pedals and sends them on their way! The first few days are filled with accidents because new cyclists aren’t good at unclipping or shifting or braking, but that’s part of his mischievous plan. He knows if he doesn’t baby you or put limitation on you, you won’t put them upon yourself. John has even taught a kid with no arms and legs how to ride a bike! John is remarkable and his heart is as big as his 6’4” frame. I’ve known John for about 3 ½ years and he never ceases to amaze me at what he does for us.
We spoke in the spring of this year and he asked me how my mountain biking skills were and then if I could ride for a few days in April in Texas. He didn’t tell me who I would be riding with, but said it would be great fun and very memorable. My job got busy, and I got a new boss, and honestly, I nearly bailed on taking the trip. THANK GOODNESS I didn’t!!!!! I drove to Midland and met 14 other Veterans in the front of a jet that flew us to Lajitas. We were all a flurry of excitement. Many of us knew each other from assignments or races together and all we could talk about was riding with President Bush. Even now, two days after being back at work, I’m still on a cloud amazed at my experience and the phenomenal people I had the privilege to meet. Three days of riding with not just President Bush and Lance Armstrong, but some truly wonderful people; veterans, support riders, mechanics, doctors, and a pretty talented photographer who managed to make this average rider look like she was born to shred. Truthfully, I didn’t ride “with President Bush and Lance Armstrong”. I sucked their wheels as long as I could until my lungs wanted to explode out of my chest or my lack of technical skills on the trail drove me into a cactus or augured my front wheel so deep into deep river bed gravel I went end over and met the ground face to face! I’ve got more bruises than a rodeo bull rider, but that is not how the grandkids will hear the story!
President Bush is a one of a kind American and I was completely overwhelmed at how genuine and sincere he was. Make no mistake, when he’s on his Trek 29r, it’s all business, Game On! But I could hear the whoops and hollers down the trail when he navigated a tricky piece of terrain, and I was met with a high five when arriving back at the trailhead mid morning on the second day. At the halfway point of day three’s ride I saw a good streak of blood running down his arm, dried in sweat, and yes, I’ll say it in my blog, President Bush sweats and smells as bad as the rest of us after a couple hours in the saddle. I think he was pretty proud of his bloody wrist, just as any other self respecting mountain biker would be.
So, while I didn’t exactly ride with President Bush much, I was lucky enough to spend all of day two with a group I’ll call the “Riff Raff Gang”. There were some wonderful cyclists named Nancy, Steve, David, and a local bike shop owner with a long braid of hair and even longer beard named Mike, who I secretly called ZZ Top guy until learning his name, who kept me, and the rest of the not-quite-up-to-President- Bush-skills cyclists out of trouble and back to the trailhead without too many bumps and bruises.
The food was fantastic and not in short supply and the staff of the Lajitas Resort treated us like Rockstars. Their hospitality was really unmatched and I don’t think my simple thank you note could even begin to address all they did for us. The first night I sat down to dinner I noticed my place card which is not unusual to military folks, but the card at the place next to mine was a name I never expected to see sitting next to me. Yes, President Bush sat next to me at dinner. Of course I panicked, cursing the times I paid no attention to etiquette classes on which fork, bread plate, etc to use. What will we talk about? I’m not too politically savvy…oh, I wish I watched more news and less Food Network and HGTV….read more Time and less People and Cosmo….panic, panic, panic….WRONG I was! Luckily dinner was a buffet and we talked about cycling and San Saba, TX (the little town I drove through on my way to Midland being the Pecan Capital of the WORLD). If he noticed I probably had salad greens in my teeth, he graciously never mentioned it!
To say W100K was an unforgettable experience probably doesn’t come close to doing it justice. I’ll conclude by saying my old boss was right. I do live a charmed life.
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