Headed Home

So, after a lot of deliberation – and I do mean a lot – the Shiv has a new home. Or, rather, it has what might be considered an “old” home, but more on that later. One of the recurring themes in the essays – I still hesitate to call them “applications” – that I read was a focus on community. Not just the triathlon community, but how the people who were “nominated” (in the overwhelming majority of cases, people were writing for somebody else) affected their local community in positive ways. Some of it was through being what I like to call a “steward of the sport” – encouraging other people to participate, supporting local events, fundraising for charities, and more. But mostly it was just sharing the love of triathlon. It was truly astounding to read all the ways that these folks inspired others to join them, to follow their own dreams, and to just “do.” It was clear the impact these people made on those around them. That made me think a lot about  how I impact those around me. 
Unfortunately, the life of a pro triathlete means that I have a rather ubiquitous community but also, in many ways, that I lack the same sort of very direct and immediate community that I had as an age-group athlete, or, even more so, as a college rower. My community now is largely virtual – Twitter, Facebook, Slowtwitch, Instagram, etc. – which is fantastic. It’s what allows me to do things like this and to have folks from South Africa (!) write in. I got letters not just from all over the USA, but from all over the globe. But one letter I got resonated a lot, and it resonated even more as I read the other letters, because it talked about that real grassroots, hometown community that I think is the true lifeblood of triathlon.
I’m never sure how much detail to give into my thought process on this whole thing. It’s tremendously hard to narrow down, and once I get to the very last few, it becomes an agonizing debate. I literally lost sleep over this. I wish I had a lot of bikes to give away. But I only have the one. And my decision making process is as flawed and biased and human as I am, because it’s basically the result of my flaws and biases and humanity. I rely on my wife Jill and some close friends to help narrow it down to about 5-10, though even my gritty and hard-nosed compatriots had a really tough time this year, but after that, I shoulder the responsibility of deciding. I *want* this to be my decision. Last year, I thought about putting it out to a public vote, but ultimately, I decided that I should be the sole decision maker about where the bike ended up. That said, I value transparency more than anything else, and so I will share some of how I decided, because I hope it makes folks appreciate what’s important to me and why it is that I did this last year and again this year and, hopefully, will continue to be able to do this for many more years. 
I was biased towards folks that were in the middle of the age range – say 30-50 – because I felt like these were people that would get the most use of the bike. Some of the older folks (not to say that over 50 is old, or my mother will kill me; and not that I’m saying my mother is over 50… I’ll stop digging now…), I wondered how long the bike was really going to be useful for. For the younger folks, I wondered how long before they wanted something new/faster/bigger/better/more. I get, ridiculously, a new bike (at least one) every year. I don’t need it, but I get it. It’s mostly a function of sponsors wanting me to be on the current generation of products that they are selling, and I like it because I get to do fun stuff like this. But the bikes being made today are outstanding pieces of equipment that will last a decade or more if cared for properly. And I wanted this to go to someone where I felt like it would get a decade of usage. So age was a factor in that.
And as much as this bike takes a big, big chunk out of the cost of triathlon, triathlon is still an expensive sport. Racing is expensive. But I wanted this bike to be raced. This bike was just a bike. It wasn’t going to provide a wetsuit. Or race entry fees. Or running shoes. Or travel. Or… Well, all those other expenses. And I really wanted the bike to be raced. It’s a great bike for just riding around, just like any two-wheeled machine, but it’s a race bike. It’s meant to be raced, and I was certainly biased towards folks that, unfortunately, were the sort of folks that needed a bike but also were not so hard up that they weren’t going to race. In many ways, this was one of the hardest set of decisions to make, because what it meant was that I was cutting off some people for being too needy. And that broke my heart. To be honest, a lot of this broke my heart. I get a lot of joy out of giving this bike away, but I don’t get any joy out of telling a lot – and this year it was a lot a LOT – of people that I can’t give them my bike…
I also was biased towards letters that came from a person writing for themselves; as much as that might seem counterintuitive, I think it takes a lot of guts – a LOT – to put yourself out there and make a case for yourself. It’s hard – really hard – to talk about yourself. And I tried to weight that bravery appropriately. So I gave you MORE credit if you wrote in to say, “I need this bike.” After that, I gave a lot of credit to wives writing for husbands, because the love and care that was apparent from those letters was truly astounding. Once letters became more removed than that, I started to wonder a bit how truly accurate some folks could be about a “friend’s” situation. How well do I know about my friend’s finances, free time, etc? And, more importantly, their wants and needs? It’s not important to me that I get “credit” for doing this, but I also didn’t really want to box the bike up and send it off to someone where it might have been a case of, “wait, who just sent me this bike? And why…” I mean, I get it, very few triathletes are going to turn down a bike like this if it shows up on their front door, but I wanted it to go to someone who clearly understood the get-a-bike-give-a-bike part of the deal. That understood why they were giving to World Bicycle Relief. That understood why they were giving to a charity of their own. And I thought that was something that was harder to really understand once the recipient of the bike became too far removed from the person doing the writing.
All of these things got me close – really close – to picking the recipient. But that sentiment that kept resonating more and more as I read all the letters was a short but simple phrase in one of them, “The bike should stay in New York.” The letter came from someone who comes from my community. My original community – the Hudson Valley. I left the Hudson Valley at the end of December, 2006, when I packed up my car and headed to Flagstaff, AZ, with my mom as my copilot. For the prior 26 years of my life, the Hudson Valley was my home. I was born there. We had a brief detour to NorCal, and a not so brief detour to Tokyo, Japan (though we returned to the Hudson Valley every summer to our very small cabin – with outhouse – in Brewster, NY). I am a New Yorker. It took me until this year to actually give up my New York drivers license and a get a California one. That’s a long time. I became a triathlete in New York. I did my first triathlon in New York. I bought my first bike in New York. I broke my first law as a triathlete – and got my first fine, for “Illegal Swimming” (in a reservoir) – in New York. And, being that this was the bike that won the first (and, for now anyway, the only) Ironman New York City, the bike has New York roots too, which the letter also pointed out.
And so, this kid from Briarcliff Manor, NY is passing the bike along close to home. Officer Fred Galbraith is a police officer in the Briarcliff Manor, NY police department. Now, to preempt the cynics, I promise that he will have no obligation to save my mother from her admittedly heavy right foot… What he will have an obligation to do is ride the bike on Rte. 100. And by the Croton Reservoirs. And through Katonah. And Rte. 35. And a whole bunch of other places that are probably meaningless to the vast, vast majority of people reading this. But places that mean a lot to me. They are the roads on which I learned to love to bike. And where I became a triathlete. Ironically, an overwhelming majority of the rides from my parent’s house take me directly by the Briarcliff Manor Police Department. It’s a GREAT place to ride from, and I expect that Fred will ride from there.
Like me, Fred discovered triathlon in the Hudson Valley. He inspired his wife – who wrote to tell his story – to start running; I inspired my mother. He inspired his coworkers to join him swimming, biking, and running; I, uhm, quit my job and decided to become a pro… Alright, let’s stop with the comparison, shall we. Well, maybe just one more… And now, in spite of his wife’s fear that she may lose her husband to endless hours on a bike, like me, Fred is going to have a S-Works Shiv with Zipp wheels and aerobar, a Quarq, and a couple awesome Clay Smith Cams Mr. Horsepower stickers. 
Enjoy, Fred, the bike is coming home to New York. See you on Pleasantville Rd. I’m sure of it…

The story from Fred’s wife Lyzz, who wrote on his behalf, will appear in the next blog, along with Fred’s selection of charity.

2 thoughts on “Headed Home

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