I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way. After a presentation I have been asked if I have written a book. At first, I laughed and then the thought has intrigued me. I began to think this would be an amazing experience to write and share my journey. I am so very grateful for my incredible family who have been cheering me on and believe in me. I am very grateful for Amy Hackworth who is an amazing editor/writer in this journey. I have looked forward to our weekly discussions and amazed at what I am learning about myself. It has been such a gift to reflect on my childhood, the victories and the challenges in my life and all who have helped me along the way. Each time we get off the phone, I find myself reflecting on all those who have touched my life. Here is a short excerpt:
Our first tandem was a green bike that we thought might be a helpful way for me to get around the neighborhood with our kids, Natalie and Kendall. We were within biking distance of a market, the community pool and plenty of friends and neighbors, so it was a great solution for a while. We’d take the tandem and another bike, and the kids would take turns riding solo or tandem. The bike offered some exciting independence that summer; I loved the freedom of making a plan with the kids and being able to go where we wanted on our own.
When I shared my transportation triumph with my ophthalmologist, he was surprised, maybe even incredulous. “Do you realize how much you’re not seeing?” he asked. And then the blow, “You cannot be on the front of that bike.” It was sobering news. Of course I was disappointed about what I thought was a new found independence. I crossed biking off the list of family transportation options.
Though I didn’t ride with kids again, my days with the tandem bike were just beginning. I could still pedal from behind, and Steve and I discovered the joy of riding together. It opened a new chapter of activity in our life and a renewed sense of freedom and vitality for me.
When I’d ridden with our kids, I’d been constantly vigilant about traffic and obstacles, but when Steve took the lead, he also took that worry from my mind. As we rode more and more miles together, I enjoyed the rhythm and momentum of riding, the unity of my body in motion with Steve’s, and an incredible sense of vitality. Having walked into countless walls, doors, chairs, benches, tables, sofas, a stop sign, and plenty of people, I’d learned to move somewhat cautiously. But I was completely at ease biking with Steve. In place of caution, I felt freedom. In place of discretion, acceleration. As I felt the wind on my face and arms, I rejoiced in the fact that I was not just moving, but moving fast. The effort was its own reward.
I had trusted Steve’s guidance for the past twenty years and I’d already decided I would follow him anywhere. Sitting behind him on a tandem bike helped me appreciate his role in my life in yet another way.
We rode our first race a few years later, as part of a team in the Bike MS 150-mile ride in Logan, Utah. Part of the course took us near my parents’ home, and they watched from the sidelines. As we approached my mom and dad, Steve told me they were there, and that my mother was crying tears of joy. I’ll always remember how they clapped and cheered as we rode past.
After the Bike MS, we decided that biking was definitely our thing. We started shopping for new bikes and just before the following year’s Bike MS, we upgraded our used tandem to something better suited to our new hobby. Steve insisted we get a Burley Softride, which was designed to minimize impact for the rear rider. Since I couldn’t see to brace myself for the small but inevitable bumps of road biking, the Softride provided a welcome cushion. Our new bike had more and better gears, more comfortable seats, and clip in pedals. It was a beautiful bright red and we were thrilled with our purchase.
The new bike was basically the same as our old one, just smoother and more comfortable, with the exception of the clip in pedals, which were brand new to us. The pedals clipped to special shoes, which leveraged our effort pushing down on the pedals and pulling up as well. The clips were secure until released with a simple rotation of the foot. It was a little unnerving to clip my shoes into the pedals for the first time, but I knew I’d get used to them. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t have much of an opportunity.
On our first ride on the new red Burley, we were about three miles into one of our usual routes when Steve suggested we practice some hills, since the course in Logan was hilly. We rounded a corner to climb a hill but didn’t have quite enough speed to keep our balance. The bike tipped to the left. Our feet were securely clipped into our pedals and we were too inexperienced to get them out quickly enough. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I put out my left arm to brace myself against the asphalt. We went down hard.
Steve and I asked the question at the same time. “How are you?” We unclipped our shoes, untangled ourselves from the bike, and stood up. Steve had landed on his hip, which was sore, but ok. My wrist hurt, but not enough to head home. “Let’s keep going,” I said. We biked another ten miles, but instead of subsiding, the pain increased with every mile. I went to bed that night planning to see how my wrist felt the next morning, but in the middle of the night searing pain woke me up. The pain in my arm throbbed, sharp and jagged, with an intensity that took my breath away. I woke Steve up. “I don’t think this can wait until morning, dear.”
At the ER we learned I had broken my left arm in two places. I’d need a cast from my wrist to my elbow. At our request, the doctor did his best to angle the cast so my arm could heal properly while still allowing me to hold Pantera’s harness. My arm felt better as soon as it was set and casted, and by the next evening, I was thinking about Bike MS. I didn’t really need my arm to ride. Maybe the race was still a possibility.
I started convincing Steve right away. This was a setback, I reasoned, but not a deal breaker. We could still ride the race. I wasn’t in pain, and it wasn’t like I needed my arms to steer.
Steve shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t want you to get hurt again.”
I knew he felt a sense of responsibility for the fall that broke my arm. That’s the thing about a tandem bike: you share the load for better and for worse.
“I don’t want to do anything crazy,” I assured him. “If I thought it was dangerous, I wouldn’t suggest it. I really want to do this race with you.” I watched Steve consider the options. Here he was again, faced with a dilemma between the desire to support me in fully experiencing every aspect of life and the desire to protect me from harm.
I sensed his reluctance. “Let’s just try it on Saturday,” I suggested. “Just a tiny ride. We’ll see how it goes.”
We had volunteered to attend an event at Antelope Island, in the Great Salt Lake. We’d offered to take our tandem bike to give rides to those with visual impairments to help them experience the freedom and fun I’d been enjoying. I talked Steve into taking me on a quick loop on the bike. Though I was just a little nervous, Steve was a lot nervous, but he agreed. We rode a quick and smooth quarter of a mile and my hope for the Bike MS flourished.
He spent the afternoon giving rides on the bike, and we both loved hearing the positive responses. People who had never been on a bike before rode for the first time, and others hadn’t ridden in years. It was such a thrill to hear the joy and exhilaration in their voices when they returned from the ride.
On the way home, I proposed some contraption to prop up my cast on the handlebar, and it took just a little more earnest convincing on my part for Steve to agree. “I just don’t want you to get hurt again,” he repeated. I gave him a kiss and assured him that I wouldn’t.
“We can do this,” I said. “I know we can.”
By the time Steve had rigged up a foam pad on the handlebar to support my cast, he was a little more game. I wriggled into my bike shoes and clipped my right foot in for a quick spin around the block. I settled my left arm on the foam pad and took a deep breath. I was feeling great; this really looked like it was going to work.
Steve clipped in, too, and looked back at me. “Are you sure about this, Beck?”
I couldn’t keep from smiling. “I’m sure.”
“Just don’t break your other arm,” Steve joked.
I laughed, too. “What are the odds?”
With that, we pedaled out of the driveway and rode comfortably around the block. “This is totally working,” I called to Steve. “My arm feels great!” Setback overcome! A little broken arm wasn’t going to stop me!
I was basking in our success when we turned back into the driveway. I hadn’t accounted for the weight of my casted left arm as we turned, and I felt our balance shift. I certainly didn’t want to fall, so I leaned to the right. A little too far. Once again, time seemed to slow as we fell to the cement, our feet firmly clipped into our pedals. As we got up, Steve said, "Are you ok? Well, at least you didn't break your other arm." I paused and he asked ... or did you?