Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shake it Off



The title of this post is not an homage to Taytay. This post is about pain. And injury. And the horrible job we all do managing both. "Shake it Off" "Rub some dirt on it" "HTFU" "Get up" We have all heard those things at varying decibels yelled at us in our athletic careers. Or our time riding and racing a bicycle. Grand Tour season means we get to see vivid photos and video of some poor bastard who hit the deck ripped all his spandex (and skin) off and rode to the finish line. Hard man. Tough. The envy of all. This isn't about me or cycling really. It is about being a good parent, dad and coach.

But like all things in my life the bike shaped me. It made me who I am. My earliest memory of childhood and getting hurt revolve around a bike race. I think I was 10? Maybe a bit younger. We lived on one side of a circle. My friend lived on the other side. It made for a perfect race circuit. The race started at my house. Two riders staged up. Then set out at warp speed. One took the low road. One the high. Who ever got to the Piersiak's house first won. We raced bikes when we got bored of rock fights, building forts in the woods and creating general mayhem. We were kids. It was a much more loose time in America. Your mom kicked you out around 9 am and didn't expect you home until it got dark.

So one day I was winning. Big time And I was sneaking little looks between the houses to see if Robby Sullivan was gaining on me. I was so stoked to be beating Robbie. We were arch rivals at this contest. I lost more than I won so this was a good day. My euphoria was about to be short lived though. As I bring my head around to look up the road I straighten up just in time to see a parked car right in my path. Luckily I am going so fast I don't even attempt to brake. There is no time anyway. I hit the car full speed and full on.

Now cars in the '70s were solid. Big. Metal. No plastic. I sail over the car and hit the hood. I sort of roll over it and land on my feet on the pavement. Well lost that race. Shit. I dust off my wrangler jeans and pick my bike up and start riding home. Pretty sure I had a concussion. Or just had my bell rung. As I am pedaling I notice my jeans are wet. Like soaking wet. Ok that is weird. I get home and find my mom. "MOM I CRASHED MY BIKE!" Moms looks at me. Ok you look ok. Then I lift up my jean leg. Massive cut across the knee. Blood is soaked all down the leg. It is making a nice red smile. My mom casually grabs a wash cloth and washes off the blood. Without washing her hands she pushes the fat that was sticking out of the wound and slaps a butterfly bandage on it.

She then waves her magic nurse wand and says I am ok and to go back out and play some more with Robbie until dinner is ready. This scenario on some level would replay again and again for my entire youth. My mom was a tough nurse from Rosindale. Her brother was a hockey player. They were dirt poor. Toughness wasn't a thing to be celebrated etc it just was. You were tough. Or you didn't survive.

But looking back and even reflecting on my adult life and my relationship with pain, injury and life choices I wonder just what type of dark passenger I really inherited. I really am not the type of person to look back and fret about things like that. At 50 you are in charge of your Karma. Own it. But when you have kids. And you coach other kids you start to change your view and think a bit about how you view injury, pain, toughness etc.

As a parent you want your kids to have a better life than you did. Even if you had the best life you want things to be better for them. And if you maybe had a tough childhood you want to make sure they live a pain free childhood. I know that is impossible but it is a good goal to have. The times are certainly different as well. And for the better. I am glad I am a man living in this age. I am more present than my dad or his dad ever were. I am certainly more "sensitive" than they ever were. And have been involved in the care of my kids from day one.

But I am getting way off track. This is supposed to be about Syd. Syd loves hockey. And lacrosse. Two sports I love. Two very tough sports. Syd has been hurt in hockey. A concussion. Separated shoulder. But as she has become a better skater and gotten a grasp of the game she has been pretty injury free. Knock on wood. I have always tried to balance telling her she is tough and celebrating that and letting her be not tough. But I sometimes probably put out that being tough is good. Syd has had a fantastic Lacrosse season. She plays goal. Goalies are like magical unicorns. Especially a good one. At her last game she stopped 11 shots. Only let one in. That is unprecedented.

The goalie in lacrosse is in a tough spot. I would say a save percentage of 50% is good. There is a saying that if you as the goalie stop two shots you can help your team win. That is how frequent the shots go in the net.

On that last game she got chopped from behind and fell. She seemed fine. Finished the game. Like I said its tough. She gets hit by balls in the leg, arm shoulder. Her pain tolerance is high. She was fine Saturday after the Friday night game. Then Sunday am she couldn't walk. I assumed it was a sore muscle etc. So I did what I do. I got her some treatment. Figured out a solution. Got her a brace. Taped the leg and off we went to LAX.

She had a good game but was obviously hurting. We went to see the Dr the next day. Orthopedist the next day. I breathed a sigh of relief it was just a strain and a hammy. No breaks or torn ligaments. Two weeks of rest. Ok no worries. A bummer but it is what it is. We did the same routine we always do. RICE. Tape. Stretch. Etc. It was getting better but not really. So we went to the Physical Therapist. At PT as I was describing past injuries and the PT was doing an assessment I had an epiphany. One of those the room goes real quiet and you sort of get tunnel vision moments. What are we doing I thought? I am pulling out all the stops to get a 12 year old in net for a town league LAX game. She is in pain. Her body is not working right. So I texted my friend Michele. She always gives the best advice. This article she sent me pretty much made me cry.

So, I let go of some of my old demons. Being tough is dumb. Especially when you are 12. We are shutting it down. I hope she feels better and can go back to LAX before the season is over but if she doesn't it doesn't matter. Getting healthy and healing is all that matters. I learned a valuable lesson from this. They say pain is a great teacher. It truly is. And in this case my 12 year old and her pain taught me one of life's great lessons.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

That which does not kill you makes you stronger


Kanye wrote those lyrics. Totally. That is my story and I am sticking to it. Ok maybe some german guy stole them for some techno song. I don't know. I am going with Kanye. He knows suffering. I mean look who is married to. But I digress. The point is no truer words about cycling have ever been rapped. Kanye was probably rapping about the GAME. Not sure what the GAME is but that is probably what he was rapping about. I mean the GAME could be basketball but I think he's too short for basketball. Boxing? Hmmm nah his wife could kick his ass. Anyway. For our purposes the GAME is the Biker Life. I came to the Biker Life a broken man. I never rode bikes past the age of 16. Once I got my license it was all mustangs and what ever other car I could beg borrow or steal from my family. Even the nerd kids (who I was one of) never rode bikes post 16. Ok that one kid did. The same one who wore a helmet when he rode (WTF?), ate a macrobiotic diet and his family composted. Yeah you can tell he was really popular in a town all about hockey, keg parties and muscle cars.


I played hockey. And lacrosse. Got into martial arts and windsurfing. Went to college. My college (RISD) had ZERO sports. But did have a cycling club. I thought they were weirdos. No way I was joining a cycling club when I could sneak into frat parties at Brown. So how did I end up in the Biker Game? After college my girlfriend and I packed all our belongings into my jeep and headed west to SF. It was the summer of 1989. We made it out in one piece and still together. There was a dicey moment in Colorado where she almost ditched me but we stuck it out. We found a place in the Marina in SF. Cute little place with a  deck. Rent controlled. This was before the whole dot.com disaster so rent actually wasn't that bad for two twenty year olds with entry level jobs. We lived a very simple lifestyle. I sold all my windsurf stuff. Ironic because I was now 5 minutes from a world-class windsurfing location but you have to eat and pay the rent. So I took up surfing. Much cheaper and still a lot of fun. I worked three jobs. Sometimes four. I had a job as a clerk downtown for a law firm. I say clerk but it was really gopher. Go get lunch. Drop off fed ex. File stuff into boxes. Total glamour job. But they were nice so I stuck with it. 


On October 17 I got out of work a bit early to drop off some things for the office at Fed Ex. It was a gorgeous day. SF is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. As I was walking towards to the Fed Ex office it was like a wave rolled over the city. I am sure it was some trick of my brain or something but I swear I saw the road come up in a wave like you would see in the Matrix. Then the buildings started shaking and all hell broke loose. Like I said we had just gotten to SF. In one of my jobs they had given us "Earthquake Training" That consisted of a pamphlet with panicked office workers hiding under desks or in doorways. I am one of those people who value safety so I pay attention to that stuff. For some reason one of the graphics in the pamphlet clicked in my brain. As the buildings were shaking and people were running my only thought was run for a doorway like the stick figure in the pamphlet and live!


Well, this of course was 100% the wrong survival mechanism. Yeah, if the whole row of buildings had collapsed maybe that would have been smart. And while the buildings weren't collapsing stuff was falling off the buildings. Facades, some glass. As I was running back towards the Fed Ex building a piece of brick about the size of a football went by my head and smashed into my leg as I was running. I was sure I broke my leg but I was running so fast I was able to dive over the counter and tuck myself under the counter with all the workers. Totally surreal moment. The shaking went on for a while. My leg was pretty jacked up. I couldn't walk. I think I held the hand of one of the Fed Ex workers as the building groaned above us. I was pretty sure I was going to die.


But then everything went quite. Then sirens and car alarms kicked in and it sounded like a disaster zone outside. I convinced the nice worker who's hand I was holding to drive me to the ER because my leg was broken. She put me in her car and drove me out to the Sunset. When she dropped me off a whole triage unit rushed out to see only me. They literally said are you the only one? I told them my story and they examined me and took X-rays. Somehow I did not break my leg. I walked home to see the Marina engulfed in flames. My apartment was fine and my girlfriend was in our living room eating all our survival supplies. You are supposed to have 7 days of food and water. We had a cocktails party worth. It was gone by night fall. The following weeks were something out of a dystopian novel but in no time things were back to "normal" I however was not "normal" I was suffering from pretty serious PTSD. And my leg was pretty messed up. While it wasn't broken I had a bruise from my femur all the way to my foot. I couldn't really walk.

I ended up losing my job downtown because I couldn't go into a building downtown. Felt like my whole world had collapsed no pun intended. I found a good therapist. Her office was on the outskirts of downtown. She was a super nice lady. We would take little walks towards the office buildings and then talk and sit down. I used to make her cry in our sessions. Therapy worked but it really didn't fix me. To help with my leg the PT suggested bike riding. I thought that was silly but borrowed a bike from a friend and rode over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin. And that is when my life changed. I fell in love with the Marin Headlands and mountain biking. I found a job at a small rag called California Bicyclist. The crew that worked at Cal Bike were the most rad people I had ever met. And it set my life in an entirely different trajectory. The Biker Life saved me. It took years to shake off the PTSD. But it finally went away. The Biker Life continues to boggle my mind. It is not easy. It seems to be the hard way. But the rewards are endless. All my friends are bikers. I have more friends than I deserve. I have a community that I can count on and that gives so much back. I am so lucky to have been hurt that day. If that hadn't happened I don't even know how my life would have turned out. Thank you to all of you who have made this life so great.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Roll with a Good Crew


I have been on two cycling "teams" in my life. I use the term team loosely as most of the "teams" I have been on are more like clubs. Or a crew of friends on a mission to bring the funk to all things on two wheels. This cycling life has been a wild ride I will say that. It all got started out in Norcal in the late '80s early '90s when I got a job at a regional rag called California Bicyclist. It was like joining a cult. I started in the art department and worked my way up to editor. It transformed my life. From that point on 99% of my friends were bikers. I somehow found my way on one of the coolest builders in NorCals teams. Still not sure how I tricked them into letting me on the Sycip team. Mostly I think it was because Jeremy Sycip and I just were really good friends. I had some amazing times on Sycip. The first two years home in Boston I rode for Sycip. It was pretty rad racing in New England for a Norcal frame builder. I guess that red kit stood out or once again I made a good impression on the cool kids because somehow I snuck onto HUP United. I remember meeting Zac Daab at Providence Nationals. Next thing I knew I am one of the boys in blue. Bizarre how life works. 


While on HUP I have made some amazing friends. Best crew I have ever been a part of. In the ten (has it seriously been 10 years?) years I have been on HUP, I have had some incredible times on the bike. Rapha Gentleman's rides have gone amazingly well and epically bad. The Ronde de Rosey was born. We helped grow the women's team from 2 riders to 10 and a female DS of HUP NECX. We helped launch a lot of brands. We helped build this community we call the #NECX. HUP taught me what a team is about and what a community is all about. Zero drama, ride for your teammates, be there for people no matter what, be inclusive, no whining, live large, be nice and don't be a dick. I came to New England sort of fast and kind of hungry and with a chip on my shoulder. Twelve years later I am slow, my dad bod is legit but I am way happier than when I moved here and count myself as one of the luckiest people on the planet to have so many amazing friends, a healthy and happy family and the biker life. 


So when two of my best friends in the #NECX told me they were forming a new team and asked if I wanted to be a part of it I didn't even hesitate. Pete Smith of Mad Alchemy and Mike Zanconato are two of the coolest guys in the industry. Both have had such an impact on my life. Both have supported all my crazy shenanigans no matter what. And if you know me you know how off the wall I can get. This past year Pete moved home to New England after living in Colorado for a bit. It was so nice to reconnect with Pete and his family. The new team came together as a mash up of the Zank team and Pete's crew. With a few familiar faces in for good measure. It really is a group of tight friends first. All the riders are super strong, experienced and are just awesome people. I have known most of them for a very long time. The Zank crew are like brothers to me obviously. I am like their older really slow brother but you get the idea. I am so stoked to be a part of this team!


The new team is called Mad Alchemy Zanconato. The focus is on adventure. Road, mountain, gravel and of course cyclocross. Single speeds will be a huge part of this team. The Zank SSCX series is really where it all came together. We have some amazing sponsors in: Mad Alchemy, Zanconato Custom Cycles, Jakes Ice Cream, Tip Drip Lube, Selection Naturel, Craft USA, Challenge Tires, and Lazer Sport. The team consists of Pete Smith, Mike Zanconato, Keith Burgoyne, Lesli Cohen, Erik Saunders, Jason Howes, Liz Lukowski, Matt Mollo, Matt Myette, Roni Vetter, Peter Bradshaw, Ryan LaRocque, Scott Rosenthal, and myself.


For an idea of the types of races and rides we will be doing check out Carl's calendar. It really is the most amazing resource for all the great rides in New England and its environs. For now I just want to leave you with the thoughts that I have loved my time on Sycip and HUP and owe both those teams everything. Without them I would not have lived this amazing biker life. I will always be a part of HUP. My blood runs with HUP bleu. I will still be lurking around the Death Star. But I am also really excited about this new chapter. I am counting down the days to the Ronde de Rosey and the first chance to ride with this new crew and fly our new team colors. Until then follow our rad adventures on Instagram at Madalchemyzank.