Pop a Wheelie!

May 29, 2013

I spent the better part of Monday (May 27, 2013) at the top of Lookout Mountain, TN. On the one hand, it is because my sister-in-law and brother-in-law live there, and they are the greatest people in the world and it was great fun to hang out with them. On the other hand, they were a cheap place to stay in order to spend the day as a volunteer at the US Pro Cycling Championships.
Because of a connection I made some years ago when I volunteered at the (now defunct) Tour of Georgia, I had an inside track for this gig. I was assigned to work the KOM (King of the Mountain) station in the Women’s and Men’s races. After a few opening circuits in downtown Chattanooga, the racers made their way up Ochs (pronounced ‘ox”) Highway, then down Scenic Highway, a 16+ mile loop. The women completed the mountain loop twice, the men four times. From downtown, there was a roughly 1150 foot climb in elevation over the course of roughly eight miles.
You may think that sounds like “not so much,” but trust me—this was a monumental (pardon the pun) climb. And these racers, with monstrous thighs and phenomenal cardiovascular systems, powered through it.
In every bicycle race, there is something called the “broom wagon.” This is to “sweep up” cyclists who abandon (quit) the race, or fall so far behind that officials deem them necessary to be removed. The broom wagon this past Monday had four brooms attached to its grill, making it unmistakable.
On one of the men’s circuits—being run in the afternoon when it was quite hot—I was directing traffic from the top, where the racers topped out and turned down the mountain, when it seemed that everyone, racers and cars and support vehicles, etc., had come through. But I realized that the broom wagon had not passed. I stood in the intersection, wondering and waiting, when I saw flashing lights approaching from downhill. After a moment, I saw the bobbing helmet of a racer, almost being pushed by the broom wagon. I instantly felt sorry for the guy, being so far behind everyone else. All of the many spectators there began clapping, half-heartedly for this guy, and ringing cowbells (what is it with that tradition?) As the guy drew closer, listening to the weak support for him, I felt even worse.
He reached the KOM line. And then it happened.
Exhausted, discouraged, not motivated by the crowd, this guy had the audacity to pop a wheelie for a few seconds. And when he did it, the crowd went wild. They exploded in cheers, yelling and screaming for him, cowbells ringing madly.
And he made the turn and disappeared.
I did not catch his race number, I have no idea who he was, or whether he even finished the (100+ mile) race.
But I know that for one moment, this guy set the world on fire.
As I watched him ride away, I did not feel sorry for him anymore. I realized that to be in that race, he has to be an incredible athlete, and I felt pride and inspiration.
Some day you may be dragging your way along, slogging through life, feeling like everyone is beating you and better than you.
When that happens, pop a wheelie to the amazement of everyone around you. Not literally, but through doing something to make someone else smile, lift someone else’s spirits, just do something that no one thinks you have in you—and the world will stand back and cheer.


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