#KalamazooStrong

Jan Spalding News 1 Comment

RPM friends,

In an editor’s world, too much news is a high-class worry, yet it always pains me that I can’t fit everything I have in 16 tab pages of bi-monthly publishing. Enter: this new website and the ability to grow timely news space, and unrestricted space in general. (Yes, I am a little late to the blog party.) I am passing this first entry to Brian Sullivan, avid cyclist and RPM contributor. While I tend to refer to RPM as energy news, Brian’s words are solemn, as he shares his experience of joining the Peace-Pedal-Pray memorial ride in Kalamazoo last month to honor and reflect on the five deaths and four injuries of the cyclists who were hit by a truck while on a ride. Nothing could be more fitting for the inaugural RPM post, as Brian’s retelling embodies the spirit and yes, energy, we all live for in our sport. Lance Armstrong also joined the ride, deepening, not detracting from, cycling¬†community’s solidarity. Thank you Brian:

Contributed by Brian Sullivan

On the evening of June 7, a group of nine cyclists in Kalamazoo were hit by a truck in a collision, killing five and seriously injuring the other four. The incident sent shock waves throughout the cycling community–not only locally, but nationwide.
One week later I had the incredible honor and privilege to attend the memorial ride which took place along the route of the accident. It was honestly one of the most profound and deeply moving experiences of my life. Over the course of the roughly 30 miles, a group of hundreds of cyclists from all walks of life rode together, under police escort, to show compassion, support and solidarity. Regardless of skill level, age, race, gender, discipline, the massive group rode together as one body, one family, one identity–cyclists. Supporters, families, friends and fellow cyclists lined the entirety of the route, many holding signs and cheering us on, some giving high fives as the riders passed, and many silently but openly weeping.

As we passed the site of the accident, the weight of the situation hit me, and hit us all, with full force. Conversations stopped, the collective energy of the group all but disappeared, even the wind seemed to cease. There were five bikes by the side of the road, each painted gleaming white, covered in flowers, notes, and pictures. I did not know these people, I had never ridden in Kalamazoo, I knew no one at the ride, but I was shaken to my core by the power of this place. The woman in front of me started crying loudly, echoing the pain and deeply personal impact. Knowing there was absolutely nothing I could say to comfort her, I simply placed my hand on her shoulder. Several minutes later she told me how much that had meant to her in that moment. This is the beautiful and painful thing about the cycling community: we are all bound by a love for the sport and the community it creates. When such a horrible tragedy happens, we are all affected.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Lance Armstrong was there. Immediately after the accident, Lance posted a very well-written and thoughtful post on Facebook. Now, I adored Lance for a decade, defended him to any and all detractors, and saw him as my inspiration, both on the bike and off. Developments in recent years have somewhat tarnished this feeling for me and many others. Say or think whatever you want to about him, but there is no doubt he understands the power of cycling.

I was a little afraid that Lance’s presence would only hurt the ride, making it more about the opportunity to see and ride with him than about the solemn spirit of the ride. I hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t turn into a media circus. My fears were washed away when I saw him. What I saw on the evening of June 14th was not the brash, fierce, untouchable and intimidating icon that he once was. No, what I saw was a truly humble, approachable, generous man. He was not there as Lance Armstrong, he was there purely as a cyclist. He was there for something much bigger than himself, much bigger than any one of us. This was not a publicity campaign. He was there, like we were there, to mourn the tragedy and show support That night, we didn’t ride with Lance, Lance rode with us.

While the presence of Lance certainly added excitement to the experience, it was not the biggest takeaway. I left that night feeling like I was a welcome and integral part of something greater. It’s not about how fast you go, how many races you win, or how light your bike is; it’s just about the fact that you ride, about the feeling we all get heading out on a ride on a perfect evening. It’s about being outside with a group of friends, strangers, or even alone, about enjoying life because we never know when our time is up. To quote Lance, “It’s not about the bike.”

Comments 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *