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July 3, 2007

And still I ride. I give in to the thrill and to the fun, risks to myself and others notwithstanding. After all, if I wanted a life without risk I'd live in Naperville. I'd order my meat well-done and use paper towels to open restroom doors.

Me, Jan. 24, 2006

Bike racing has been my life for three years, and I've made it my calling to spread its joys, by writing on this blog, by rallying my team, by creating a Web site to recruit people into the sport.

How do I now square that with the risks that Saturday's tragedy reminds us of? How do I tell a family that their father should join me?

At this moment I can't.

Racing is no less safe now than it was a week ago -- with new awareness it may even be safer -- but at this moment I'm not sure how to go on.

At this moment my thoughts have not reached conclusion, but here is a start. I expect these thoughts to evolve and reverse and reverse again. They are what they are.

All life's decisions balance risk and reward -- the reward of jaywalking vs. the risk of getting hit by a bus, the reward of a hamburger vs. the risk of heart disease -- but right now my inner scales are out of calibration.

I know I want to race again, but the desire is not yet back. I can't imagine bearing down on a finish line, surging out of a pack or wanting a wheel enough to elbow someone off it.

And I can't imagine riding on the outside. As I drove to and from Wisconsin this weekend for a visit with family, my insides quivered every time I found myself staring at the centerline.

I mourn Beth, but separately and selfishly, I also mourn that my sport is in fact full of danger. It seems so unfair. Cycling would be just so perfect if it were not so risky, if it did not exact such a toll.

I've already sent myself to the emergency room twice this year. Ellen doesn't want me to race anymore. Mom says she understands this is what I love and that there are risks with anything, but I don't think she means it.

I could always ride without racing, but I can't fathom it. Cycling without racing would be like golfing without a green, or sewing without fabric.

In all seriousness, I would need professional therapy to switch to a new life without racing.

This is not to suggest that such a life couldn't be as fulfilling, with more free time and money for loved ones and other pursuits. I'm just saying I'm not ready for it yet.

Ten years ago I was 40 pounds heavier and content to idle in front of the television. A lot has changed. Cycling is now who I am. I like who I am.

I like the dedication it has taught me. I like the health it has brought me. I like smugly looking around a room and knowing I'm the only bike racer. In short, I like the person that racing has made me, to say nothing of the relationships it has found for me. Could I still be that person without it?

Would it be too much to say that cycling has saved my life?

If lightning were to strike me now, it could not be said that fate stopped me before I could live a full life, that I did not find all the joys and experiences I was looking for. Ten years ago, that would not have been the case.

Again with the inner scales, as we wrestle with what is worth the risk. For every 50,000 people who complete a marathon, one will die. For a big race like October's Chicago Marathon, that statistic almost makes tragedy a matter of course. But how many lives has marathon training saved? How many thousands of people will now live to be 80 and see their great-grandchildren?

What if my father had been 40 pounds lighter and rode a bicycle instead of idling his time in front of the TV?

When someone like Beth is robbed of the chance to experience a full life's joys, it falls to the rest of us to experience them on their behalf. This is our charge, whether those joys come from racing or not.

It's a natural reaction to want to continue this sport "for Beth," to do an extra 50 miles "for her." But I don't think it's necessary to continue racing on her behalf, and it's a little presumptuous to say what she would have wanted us to do. Anyone who quit this sport would not be doing her disservice. All that's important is that we do something on her behalf, that in whatever we do, we touch others, we create and we love.

For those who do decide to continue racing, there is a new duty: to keep the rewards worth the risk. There has to be a point to what we do. We must keep this sport fun, safe and positive, and we must let the haters, the intimidators and the cynics know that they are not welcome.

Even if it is not always requited and even if most teammates don't yet know me from Adam, I have in three short months developed an intense love for my team, not just for its riders but even for its uniform and what it represents. (Yes, I'm crushing on laundry.) When I see a teammate, any teammate, I swell with admiration and a desire to put their needs above my own -- true love, in my book.

Me, June 29, 2005

The team has long felt like family. I felt it last spring, when my father passed away. There is something that binds us, something more than that we pay dues to the same treasurer. Like family, we share goals and values. Like family, we did not choose to be together -- we just are.

Last night we met to hug, cry and tell stories.

Just as I can't imagine not doing this, I can't imagine doing this without them.