I spent this past winter weekend, (as I have many) outside in the brisk fresh New England air watching Cyclocross Racing. Cowbell in hand, swaddled in Patagonia, I diligently cheer on My Boyfriend at his races. I love it (and him.) I am happy to report that after several years of freezing my ass off, I finally have the “Chic Arctic CX Apparel” dialed in. (Aside: Expect a product review of Sorel’s “Joan of Arctic” Boots in the upcoming weeks. Joan has saved my paws on numerous occasions. Love. Them.) Cyclocross racing is incredibly competitive in New England. The current men’s National Champion and former National Champion (for years) both hail from the region. (Cool huh?) In short: CX is no joke here. It’s tough. It’s uber competitive. The Elite field is always deep, as are the Master’s Races, and every other damn Category. It’s balls out. Courses weave around the fans, off camber, over barriers, through the sand and mud, and stitch jaggedly across the landscape– back and forth, back and forth. Heart rates are pegged. Lactic acid abounds. Men (and women) are lean, strong and exceedingly fit. It is not for the weak. I have been toying with the idea of CX racing for the past year. I ride and I run. Far and Hard. I’m “fit.” But…Can I really pull it off? Do I have the guts to try? Can I really? That’s exactly what I had been thinking. That is until I met Ernest.
I met Ernest at a cyclocross race last October- The Night Weasels Cometh. We have a mutual friend. I was seated having a beer and he asked if they could join me. I looked up and saw Ernest. It’s hard to miss him. In fact, it is impossible. He was one of the largest men I had ever met. Among the ultra thin and lean cyclists, he is giant. My friend introduced us and Ernest began telling me his story- openly. Actually scratch that. He started by telling me that he had been out on his bike earlier that day. When I think back to that very second, I am so utterly disappointed in myself. Ashamed. For one split second I thought- Really? On his bike? He must be ready to tell some sort of self-deprecating joke right now. How does he possibly ride a bike? This all lasted but a split second in my head but it still bothers me that for one NANOSECOND I doubted him. Shame on me.
Ernest grabbed the end of his worn leather belt which had deep notches in it. He told me he had weighed 570 pounds. He showed me how many inches ago that was. It was a lot. I was stunned. Mouth open. He had been bigger. At that time, he had lost 100 pounds or so riding with my friend whom he met online.
–Hey you wanna go ride bikes? That’s how it started. A simple question.
–Sure. An even simpler answer.
Ernest had the courage to ask and he had the decency to answer. They became friends who bike together. Ernest had made a decision to take back his life one pedal stroke at a time. He turned to the most unlikely place- the Cyclocross Community. He turned to the ultra lean, underweight, insanely fit, iron lunged, spandexed, New England Cyclocross Community. And they accepted him. At the time he told me he was waiting for his custom Seven Cycle to arrive. His goal was to ride in a real cyclocross race by year’s end. And guess what? He did.
I often think of Ernest. His drive, determination and fortitude are unparalleled. I see him often at races. When I met him, I liked him immediately. And so do the many people who call out, high-five and cheer for him. That man has guts. So strong. So brave. So inspiring. I am rooting for him more so than anyone I have ever met. Ernest matters. His friends in the Cyclocross Community are teaching him just that. He. Matters. I wish health for Ernest. Health and Happiness to a Big Man who wanted to make a change and had the courage to ask a simple question- a simple question answered without hesitation by a new friend. Sometimes the smallest of gestures, requiring the most minimal of effort, are the most impactful. You want to go for a bike ride with me? Sure. I am so proud of him. I saw Ernest all kitted up this past weekend as we pulled up to the course. He was racing…