Last night the folks on my old cycling team had a private party for Joe Dombroski. Last week he won the GiroBio which is the Tour of Italy for people 23yrs old and younger. Joe raced with me as a category 4 and a few races as a category 3 before he skyrocketed to the Pro ranks. He now races for Treck Livestrong which is Radio Shack's development team.
Before the party we had our normal Wednesday night group ride that the bike shop puts on. It's probably the 2nd hardest group ride in the area behind the "Goon" ride down in Rock Creek Park. 29 miles with 4 sprint points, some tough hills, and one hell of a long fast section back to the finish line.
Joseph (aka Joe, aka Dombro, aka JoDo, aka VigriniaSlim) is off for a week and suffering a bit from Jetlag having just returned from Italy so he rode the scooter. This week since it was a private party the ride was pretty thin. I used to think that meant less talent, but in actuality a small group means after you pull or if you have a bad spell there's not much of a peleton to sag through and then latch on to the back. If you falter for an instant...pooof.....they're gone. I was having a pretty bad day having devoted myself mostly to running lately. That and the switch from 80's and mild, to 100 and humid had me in the hurt locker from the start.
Normally we have a pretty neutral roll out until the first hill, but some old fellow jumped early hoping to sag climb the hill and all he did was excite the young fellows who dumped all their testosterone into the base of the first climb. UGGhhhhhh!!!!!!! I was nearly dropped a dozen times in the run in to The Plains. After winding through The Plains we do 2 loops of a flat loop with little traffic. We have a fast slightly downhill ride into a right hand corner that's normally quite easy, but this time of year the corn in that field is high enough that you can't see if cars are coming. Of course the youngsters don't much care about cars.....and oooof....I was nearly dropped again expecting a slowdown to actually look before blasting into the road.
In the final chase back into town I was able to jump the climb and get into a breakaway with Jared and Greg and we pretty easily pulled away from the field. After the hill Jared jumped and Greg and I couldn't.....and then Joe came along with the scooter. We never like to give Jared the glory of winning the very group ride that he organizes. Plus we like to piss him off.....so I jumped behind the scooter and drafted all the way up and tried to beat Jared at the finish. 3rd of 3 in the sprint. DOH!!!
During the party it was really great to see Joe and hear all about the race and his experiences in Europe. In the last few months he won a few stages and places 2nd in the Tour of Gila, Won a stage and finished 4th in the Tour of California, and now just won the most prestigious U23 race and beat the current World Champion in the GiroBio. As I stood there watching Joe soaking it all in, watched his dad smiling with pride, and saw the people who just enjoyed being in the presence of the closest thing there is, on this day, to cycling greatness....I realized that I used to be that guy. Different sport and different circumstances...but for a time (in my mind at least) I was near the top of the field with the ability to dream as high as I wanted and with others who enjoyed the journey with me.
As I looked around however I saw Jeremiah Bishop, Jared Nieters, Bryan Burns, Dave Fuentes....and a room filled with people who all (in their disciplines) had at some point also been "The Guy" and yet here we were realizing that we were really just another fish in the pond compared to Joe. I had this same feeling when training with Dmitry. Some people are just on a completely different level....and yet they are so affable and casual that you'd never really know it unless you know. Joe could blend in with any high school or college kid in America, yet here's the best cyclist since Lance Armstrong out zipping along next to me on a motor scooter smiling from ear to ear...just another one of the guys.
I'm reading a truly amazing book right now called "Shantaram". In this book there's a section where a group of gangsters sit around and talk about suffering and happiness. In their discussion they come to the conclusion that true happiness is not possible without suffering. Because if you've never suffered you cannot fully recognize and appreciate happiness. They also conclude that true happiness is relative and that your mind can control much of it. That when you do find happiness it's important for you to find something else to struggle towards....because lottery winners and others who think they've found happiness and quit struggling and suffering end up locked in unhappiness.
I looked around the room and saw people who aspired to be VirginiaSlim and ended up being Jeremiah Bishop, Bryan Burns, Dave Fuentes, etc. Each of those guys have thousands of people who look up to them and don't see any difference between them and Joe. The same as people who run a 4hr marathon can't recognise the difference between Dmitry and myself. Yesterday I stared at Dombro and realized how happy I am. How running and cycling and the accomplishments I've earned in my lifetime have made me happy. Happy enough that I can't seem to really get excited about any sort of athletic goals. But I also saw excellence and realized how far I was from it. That makes me suffer a bit.
Now it's time to use that. My feet and lower legs seem to be adapting slowly to the orthotics. Soon it'll be time to start building. No, I can't be Joe or Dmitry....but I can be TerribleTerry....and I can still find out just how fast this 37 year old body can go. Just how much punishment I can take. If that gets me running a 16:40 5k or a 14:40 5k I need to find happiness in my pursuit. As those gangsters concluded...Suffering is the mirror image of happiness. The only way happiness exists is if suffering also exists. I can't wait to get my miles up and start suffering :-).
Funnest VirginiaSlim memory.....