Monday, February 18, 2013


I got to thinking about this word on Valentine’s Day. It means different things to different people, of course, but to those of us who are competitors it has a particular meaning.  Whether you’re a runner, a golfer, a cyclist, a pool player, even a competitive Scrabble player, having heart has a particular meaning. I want to talk about that but first, I have a request.

Tour de Cure

For people with Diabetes, having heart means keeping a focus on your diet, on your meds, and on your lifestyle not because it’s the right thing to do but because failing to do so will lead to your death. It’s that simple. Diabetes kills people. It kills some of them even if they do all those things properly. That’s why I’m going to ride again this year in the Tour de Cure of the National Capital Area, on June 2nd this year.

I’m planning to ride in the century ride, just like last year, and travel over 100 miles in one day on my bike to raise money and awareness for this horrible disease. Last year, a lot of you donated money and together we raised $1500 toward the total of $800,000 raised in this one event.  This year, the larger goal is $1,000,000 and I’m hoping to get to $1800, with your help.

No donation is too small. In fact, if everyone that reads this blog donated only $5 I’d be almost halfway to my goal. (I know I can’t believe that many people read this blog but have you seen Facebook lately?) Here’s a link to my donation page for the TdC.

Thanks! I'm riding for you!

Heart is a noun that should be a verb

Think about it.  This thing works so diligently in the human body that it should be a verb. The average person’s heart beats over 100,000 times a day, almost 40 million times a year, over 3 billion times in the average lifetime.  Damn.

To have heart, then, means that you’re always there. Hanging around until your best effort is needed and then you give it for as long as it’s needed or as long as you can give it.

Two wheeled heart

I was out on a ride some weeks ago, riding by myself and feeling pretty good although I was beginning to run out of gas.  I’d been out for a little over two hours and had ridden 33 miles, or so, with about 5 more miles left to make it home.

I was pedaling steadily up a false flat (the road appears to be flat but actually has a slight incline) trying to hold my pace when I saw them approaching in my rearview mirror. A group of three riders, in a tight pace line, was gaining on me and doing it quickly. I watched their image grow in my mirror as I continued to plod along. My cadence increased slightly, much like your foot comes off the gas pedal of your car when you see a cop on the road; you aren’t really thinking about doing it, it’s just a reflex.  As a result, I was close to 17 mph when they came alongside.

They were younger guys (at this point, most everyone is) and they were in really good shape; well defined calf muscles are a dead giveaway for serious cyclists.  And they weren’t even breathing hard, greeting me with full sentences and no gasping as they rolled past me.  I puffed out a response, pretending not to be working too hard. (Cyclists that are working in a pace line, I'm told, use about 40% less energy for the same speed. That's why you see them doing it!)

They were about twenty yards past me when my brain said to me, “Really? You’re just going to let those guys just drop you like a bad habit?” A little groan escaped my lips as I stood up and accelerated toward the last rider, intent on catching the wheel and riding along with them. 

It took me about 100 meters to catch the last rider and when I slid in behind him, I was doing just over 20 mph. I settled into a bigger gear, held my position and worked on recovering from the burst, trying desperately not to sound like I was going to pass out. The guy in front, looked back at me in surprise.

“You don’t mind if I wheel suck, do you?” I croaked.

He grinned and said, “You just have to keep up.”
From my point of view

Fair enough, that’s all I wanted. My legs were already starting to come back to me, thanks to the slipstream effect, and this was starting to feel pretty good even though we were now going up an actual hill.

In seemingly no time at all, we reached the crest and the front rider came up out of the drops and onto the hoods. Everyone else followed suit as we rolled down a slight decline.  The three in front chatted for a second, grabbed a quick drink as I did the same, and then began the next push.  I stuck to the back wheel of the last guy in line and kept my cadence at a comfortable level. My computer seemed surprised that we were going 25 mph on a flat; it’s not used to that kind of performance.
Hah! You wish, pal!
I spent the next four miles rather enjoying the feeling of flying along, just above the pavement. I was pedaling near my maximum effort but the reward was bigger than I’d ever felt before. As a result, I just kept pedaling, watching the line to ensure I didn’t do anything stupid, occasionally looking at the powerful efforts of the guy at the front and just marveling that he could do it, and that I could keep up.  I felt great!

With only a half mile to get home, I realized that I was going to need to peel off from the group and turn down the road where my house is located.  As we came up to it, I yelled, “Thanks for the pull, guys!”  All three of them looked over in unison, appearing totally surprised that I’d kept up.  I waved.

Fortunately, it’s downhill for the last quarter mile to my house.

Heart on the Table

A couple of years ago, at the Virginia State 9 Ball Championships, I saw an example of heart.  Of a completely different sort.

Jordan is a player of some repute in the Richmond area. He’s been playing at a high level for at least the last 15 years or so. He’s a big guy with a sledge hammer break, excellent shot making skills, and plays very tidy safeties.  He’s been known to play for some healthy cheese, too. (For all non-pool players, that means he likes to gamble.)

In this particular tournament, Jordan won his first three matches on the winners’ side before getting knocked to the one loss bracket.  From there, I watched him as he won four matches in a row to reach the semi-finals of the tournament. Plenty of players do that but how he managed those four wins was what made it so special.

In each of the race to 9 matches, Jordan’s opponent made it to the hill (8 games going to 9) first. In the first one, he was down 8-3 before winning 6 games in a row to win the match. He was down 8-5 in the second match and did the same thing. It got easier the third match as he was only behind 8-7 before winning the last 2 games. In the fourth, it got harder again as he was down 8-6 and still managed a win. At no time during these matches did Jordan appear to be any differently focused or driven; he simply kept pushing forward, giving each shot his full attention and nothing more or less.

No one that I spoke with could remember this sort of thing happening in the tournament before and we also haven’t seen it since.

In the semi-final match, Jordan was down 8-6 and won the next 2 games to make it hill-hill again. Some of the sweators were trying to get people to bet against him to do it again and they were having a hard time getting action, too. But Jordan had gone to the well once too often and lost when he broke dry and his opponent ran out for the match.  Just the same, it was an example of tremendous heart from a competitor refusing to give in until the last ball dropped. His performance that day is still talked about during the annual State Championships.

Final words

I have few heroes but one who comes close is Theodore Roosevelt. TR was many things including a snob, an intellectual, a rancher, a hunter and naturalist, a warrior, a father, an asthmatic, a raconteur, and a loving husband. He was also a man of letters, writing over 50,000 of them, along with several dozen books, during his lifetime. I don't believe he was a cyclist but I know he did play pool. 

Theodore Roosevelt
26th US President
This passage from one of his speeches is, in my opinion, one of the all-time great descriptions of heart.

The Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

I’ll leave it there.


  1. Oh, somehow I am certain that Teddy Roosevelt rode a bicycle. That was a good and thoughtful post, Brian. Good luck with your TdC work.


  2. I think so, too, TJ! I've scoured the internet and can't find a picture of him on a bike. He's on every other conveyance; he's even the first president to fly in an airplane (after he was out of office).

    Interestingly, when he was police commissioner of NYC he started the first mounted police squad on bicycles!

    Thanks for the kind words, my friend. Posting soon? I need my TP fix!

  3. I agree, good post. I'm going to steal your TR speech quote and give it to my basketball guys as we start the post season here next week. Hopefully it will make them think about team accomplishments.

    1. Thanks Jim! TR's words always impressed me because he lived it. He started life in the distinct role that he probably wouldn't survive and through sheer force of will, he became our youngest president and turned the presidency into the most powerful office in the world.

      Good luck in the tournament!

  4. I need to make another cereal bowl... ;)

    1. The first is one of my prized possessions. :-)