Monday, September 17, 2007

LOTOJA



Just over a week ago, Tony and his DNA Cycling Team finished yet another Lotoja bike race. Exactly what is Lotoja you may ask. Lotoja is the longest, one day sanctioned bike race in the United States. Encompassing 206 miles and traveling through three States, over 1,000 riders partipated in this years' 25th addition. Participants begin in the pre-dawn hours in Logan, Utah and cycle through some of the most gorgeous, yet grueling terrain before they reach the finish line in Jackson Hole's Teton Village.


For the past four years Tony has participated in and finished Lotoja. The first year was his best finish time as he placed fourth in his category. When I met him at the finish line we both had tears streaming down our cheeks. The accomplishment in and of itself was amazing; a courageous display of determination and physical ability.


My friend Whitney and I got our feet wet supporting our husbands. We only got pulled over once by the Idaho State Patrol, mastered the art of handing off Musette bags and miraculously made it to every feed zone while still caring for a two month old baby.


Tony's second Lotoja was the infamous ride of 2005. Temperatures on the course would be recorded as one of the coldest in race history. As I waited at the Montepelier Feed Zone which was at the base of the 7,424 foot Strawberry Summit, I saw rider after rider suffering from hypothermia and needing assistance from EMT's. Scary is an understatement. Finally, Tony arrived and I was certain that he would abandon the race. I will never forget the snowflakes scattered through his hair beneath his helmet and clinging to his eyelashes. I urged him to get off the bike and warm up, but he refused, insisting that if he got off the bike, he wouldn't want to get back on. Only 424 riders finished the race that year and Tony was one of them. Watching him recover from the ordeal, I honestly thought that he would never again ride Lotoja.

But alas, we were back in 2006. With the DNA boys, if one of them decides to do a race, it almost becomes contagious, and soon several of them commit to the ride. Such was the case with the 2006 Lotoja. Certainly it couldn't be worse than the SNOW we encountered in 2005. Right? Wrong.

Tony and his teammates (Adam, Rick, John and Justin) committed to stay together throughout the course of the race. Cycling is indeed a team sport and riders rely on each other to take pulls at the front of their pace line while the others conserve energy behind the lead rider through drafting. The boys seemed to be doing well, everyone was in high spirits...until the last feed zone in Alpine.

We decided to take our kids along to help support Tony. They loved the excitement and energy of the race as much as I did, and were anxiously waiting for their Dad in Alpine. We waited and waited and soon I could see the concern on each of my friends' faces as they worried over their husbands. Soon riders were entering the feed zone talking of a huge wreck just a few miles back. Deep down inside I knew it was our boys.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, our boys coasted into the feed zone slowly. They had had a wreck in their pace line where Justin had cross wheeled a teammate in front of him, and Tony went down on top of him. Aside from a bit of road rash and being tangled in his bike, Tony was fine. Justin, on the other hand, had broken his collar bone and sustained serious damage to his bike.

Justin was determined to go on, so Gina, our resident sports medicine guru, quickly bandaged up his wounds and loaded him up with percoset, and they were off.

The last 50 miles were torture, with Justin in incredible pain, soft pedaling his bike, now with only 3/4 of a handlebar and unable to change gears. To add insult to injury, he flatted twice and twice his team stopped to help him, and then continued to accompany him to the finish line. When they finally rolled across the finish line together, we were all relieved. I had never had such an up close and personal experience of watching team work in action. My respect for these men increased tenfold as I realized how much they cared about each other and what great friends they were. Although their finish time was disappointing, I was so impressed with how they were able to put competition aside to be team players.

This year the DNA boys decided to do a Lotoja Relay. I celebrated this news all summer! Riding in a relay allows you to enjoy all of the fun and excitement of Lotoja without spending the entire summer in training. I watched Tony enjoy his mountain bike all summer, hardly clocking any miles at all on the road bike. The kids and I delighted in his time and attention. We took a family vacation, we goofed off and spent many Saturdays at the pool instead of on the bike.

Tony rode the second leg of the relay which was a climbing stage from Preston, Idaho to Montpelier, Idaho. His portion of the race was 45 miles in length with a total of 3,400 vertical climbing feet and included the infamous Strawberry Pass, which was dusted with snow just two years ago. All of the boys did very well and DNA took 2nd overall in the relay race.

It was so great to spend a day alone with Tony in the car. It was very enlightening for him to witness the race from the support end rather than the cycling end. Lotoja is magical in so many ways. You see so many different types of athletes from those who are competitive cyclists to amateur athletes riding the race as a personal goal or to support a cause. You witness suffering, elation and despair. Each year I am inspired over and over again by the strength of the human spirit. Each year I marvel at the beauty of not only the scenery, but the view of the colorful peleton, working together towards a common goal. Each year I love our team and their wives, my sweet friends, just a bit more. I love Lotoja. I can't wait for next year.

6 comments:

Brooke said...

that's the exact way i feel about marathons. although i don't know that 26.2 can even compete with that!

yay for tony and his supportive wife!

Your BFF said...

I couldn't have trained, competed or finished without your support. I love you and appreciate your encouragement and patience with my passions and for making something that is so important to me, so important to you.

Jonathan said...

Jill,

You're such a great writer. Thanks for putting the experience into words. Gina and I feel lucky to have such great friends. That was one fun weekend.....Can't wait to do it again next year.

Whitney said...

Being support crew is contagious too! I always love this weekend with our 'family', the DNA crew! Thanks for articulating the experience so well (as usual!). Thanks for the memories!
love you!

Carlee said...

You just got me pumped for next season! We have to make sure Tony will do the relay next year. Also, make sure you tell Whitney I am IN for the relay.
Can you believe we converted Brooke to our blogging scene?? ha ha!

Christine B. said...

wow Jill, you really know how to write. I could visualize every word you wrote. What an adventure for Tony, that is truly amazing what he and his friends were able to accomplish.

Thanks for the blog note...Connor plays Tight End..I hope Cole is having a great time playing..let me know