Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 08 – Day 3 Cycling, sometimes starting is finishing
“Der Reifen ist geplatzt” is the first sentence I learned in German a long time ago. It means “the tire has burst” and while my bicycle tire didn’t burst “Der Reifen ist platt” — the tire is flat — is how my day started. After leaving yesterday’s time trial competition with a bruised hip and mechanical mishap, I woke up early and the first thing I noticed was that my back tire was flat. With little time to process another flat tire in three days, I walked my bike to the pickup point for the start of the World Transplant Games bicycle race knowing that the mechanics who had worked on my bike the day before would be able to help me fix it. Seven cyclists loaded in a van for a rainy ride to Hetton Lyons Park.
When I had my first flat, I pumped some sealant into my tubular tires, agitated the wheel, put air into the tire and voila it worked. The second time was not a charm. The mechanics put sealant into the tire which looks like white moose for someone’s hair. They inflated the tire and then I quickly took some practice laps on the course. When I came back, the tire once again went flat. It’s hard to come half way across the world with a bike and have access to extra wheels. At this point, I had to look after my bruised hip so I went to the next flap in the tent to the physical therapists, which were two women from London who had volunteered to serve and pay their own way to serve at the Games. They iced me and gave me a leg massage. When I excited the tent, the mechanic offered to take me to the nearby city of Sunderland to a bike shop with better equipment to quickly and effectively help me. He said it was 10 minutes away. It was 12 noon.
After 10 minutes of driving it was clear that it would be a 20-minute ride, 22-minute to be exact. Granted, I did get to see the Stadium of Light
but my bike needed repair for a bike race starting in 40 minutes. When we arrived at the bike shop, the mechanic, like the mechanic three days prior felt obligated to lambaste me for having tubular tires. “In this country, we don’t use … ” After signaling his annoyance that he didn’t like to look at tires like mine, he went to a shelf to look at his various sealants. After taking some time to consider which sealant would be best — murmuring under his breath “this one is better … oh no, but for this tire, I think this one will do the trick” he returned to begin his operation on my tired tire. 27 minutes to go! When he opened the package with valve he realized the sealant he opened was meant for a mountain bike. “Oh right, I needed the other one.” 26 minutes. At this point, I handed him the sealant out of my back pocket and I said, “Here, use this one. I’ll take responsibility for it.” The white mouse color sprayed out of the tire all over his workspace. “I hate this product.” So much for a friendly mechanic. He had the man who brought me to the store pump up the tire and we left.
While we driving back, I was calculating my arrival (12.55) but with traffic I had to keep moving back my arrival time which turned out to be 12.57. I jumped out the car and ran to put on my helmet and shoes while the mechanic put my tire on. As I whisked it away, the chain got stuck … again and the mechanic rushed over to get the chain back on. I arrived at the start line in time to see that the previous race had one lap to go. I made it.
Once the previous race ended, I quickly set my goals. Stay with the first group. I didn’t notice that I had no warmup time but I figured I could stay with the leading group. 1 minute to go. I reached down to touch my bike tire. It was soft. 3-2-1. I got in my pedals quickly and made it into the first group before the left turn descended and then I felt the softness of my back tire. It felt mushy while I was suddenly going 30k. Still I kept up till the first small punchy climb but during the climb it was obvious that the low tire pressure affected my climbing. I felt 10 pounds heavier.
Change of plans: “complete one lap before my tire went totally flat.” When I made it to the end of the first lap, I stopped briefly to check the tire pressure. It was lower but it was still rideable. New goal: “Finish three laps.” After three laps, I repeated stopping, checking for air pressure, and continuing. New goal: “What is a number of laps I would like to finish that is meaningful? Nine I told myself. It was half of 18, my favorite number. IN order to finish the course, we were required to finish 17. I was far behind but I still had to have goals. At lap 6, my American teammate yelled out to ask about how many gears I had. “11” I shouted. At the end of my 7th lap, my friend Tim Hartman from Holland held up his long arm with a tire. He and his Dutch friends stopped me and proceeded to put a new tire on my back wheel. I immediately noticed a difference going downhill but uphill the shifting creaked across the teeth. Still, I was at least “rolling” and so at the end of every lap, I decided to stand while climbing the final straightaway toward the finish line as a way of thanking my Dutch friends and my American teammate. I was also appreciative of an Irishman, American supporters, and other well-wishers who cheered me each passing lap. They had supported me while I rode on a flat tire and now that I could dig a little more, I was going to show my appreciation. Toward the final two laps, I developed some rhythm. During my ride, I thought about my donors, my parents, my preparation, what I could do better for 2020 and 2021, and the 11 months that had led up to this day. My legs felt decent. Yes, I was disappointed, but I wasn’t angry because I just felt that I had some bad luck.
As the race finished, I returned the tire to Tim, then found the winners of my age group, and got a picture with Gavin, one of my fellow competitors (see below), then climbed back in the bus for the 30-minute sunny ride back to Newcastle.