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Monday, September 23, 2013

Fallen But Not Forgotten

I did it! Yessir, I’ve gone from cycling a paltry 21 miles back in June (to which Barry Haarde prodded me to go further) to 105.5 miles yesterday. Not bad for a 55-year-old mom. I’d jump up and down but my left knee is stiff.

Brother Tim Morrow, wife Lee,
and Laurie Kelley
On Saturday, I completed my first “century,” riding over 100 miles across Massachusetts. Many lessons learned from this event, and many parallels to our hemophilia community. In fact, I thought about our special community the whole way.

Our police escort, all 105.5 miles

The first annual “Ride to Remember” honored two fallen police officers killed in June 2012 in the line of duty: Kevin Ambrose of Springfield, and José Torres of Westfield. My brother Tim Morrow, a K-9 officer in Springfield, my hometown, was a close friend of Kevin Ambrose. The ride raises awareness of the perils of our men and women in blue, and also raises money for law enforcement families. So I couldn’t help but think of my friend Barry Haarde, who rode across America, both last year and this year, to raise money for Save One Life, and to raise awareness of our “fallen,” those with hemophilia who died from HIV, contracted in the late 1970s and early 1980s from the blood-clotting products they used. Barry posted a photo each day of his ride on Facebook of someone who had passed away, including his own brother, to honor their memory. Like our police officers, these young men sacrificed their lives so that others, including all our children today, can have a safer life. Only, they did not go willingly into this service. No matter. Heroes all.

About 250 police officers, colleagues, and family members, like me, gathered in Springfield, Massachusetts Saturday morning, September 21, at 6 am in the mildly chilly air. We were blessed with excellent weather: no rain, slight overcast skies for a while. While we milled about, eager to get going, like race horses twitching in their gates, we were reminded by Sgt. Delaney, who organized the event, this was not a race. We would stay together as much as possible—very tough, as the roads were often one lane each way as we weaved our way through the charming towns of New England. My brother Tim and I are naturally competitive and wanted to break away (well, he later did!) but we complied as much as possible. He had trained weekly with his colleagues; I trained solo. I’ve never ridden in a group before. I looked about and saw a lot of hardware—expensive bikes, wheel, spokes, cables—and software—arms, legs, heads. I was a bit wary of riding too close to anyone due to my own inexperience in group riding.

We gulped down bagels and bananas and at 7 am shoved off, herded by a police escort of about 20 motorcycles to keep us in formation, much like a pack of helmeted border collies. What would get us through 105 miles to Boston? Not just bagels and bananas.

“Take is easy, baby…” (Take It As It Comes)
Music helps pass the time and motivates, so I thought of my favorite songs from my favorite band: the Doors, of course. I was amused at how many songs and lines seemed appropriate for this journey.

I was shivering in the misty cool air, but thought of our guide Jacob on Mt. Kilimanjaro: “Pole, pole…(slow, slow)” A journey of a thousand miles starts with a few steps. We were cautioned to go at a slow pace, 13 to 15 miles per hour. Now, 15 miles per hour is my regular speed, but here it was like crawling. It was challenging to have riders blocking my view, causing me to swerve, weave, wiggle my front wheel to keep balance. The first rest stop was only 18 miles away, which also seemed too soon. We’re used to going 20-25 without a break.

We took it easy and it was. My fingers and palms would go numb occasionally from the morning chill but that would ease once the sun rose. Stop #1: Palmer. So far so good. We laughed, joked, ate more bananas and guzzled water. Tim and I would later mention we have never eaten so much in one day in our lives, but you have to eat. It’s the one piece of advice I took seriously: eat every 15-30 minutes, drink constantly. My sister-in-law Lee made delicious sandwiches that went down fast. On we go!

“Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel…” (Roadhouse Blues)
The pack was still thick as we kicked off to the next segment of the ride. I had to constantly monitor who was riding up on my right or left, who was slowing down in front. Hills. So many hills. Steep and long. I’m not a big person, and I don’t have the quadriceps that some of these cops have, but I noticed on the hills I blew past a lot of the guys who could outgun me on a straightaway. I attribute this to my cross training and core workouts with my trainer, Dan. When the quads burn out, and they will quickly on these hills, the body kicks in other parts, like back and abs. Mine were primed and ready to take over on hills. This is why cross training is so important: you can get serious back problems from overtraining one part of the body and not all parts. Yahoo! Up the hills I went, happy.

Laurie coasting; Tim behind
with raised fist
We passed through such quaint and picturesque New England towns: congregational church steeples piercing the blue skies above, pumpkins plopped next to hay bales, antique shops. This is Sturbridge, our next stop and a historic town. I am baffled that I have never toured Sturbridge before this!

Break On Through
Nothing can explain why, at the third stop in Charleton, I hit some sort of wall. I routinely ride 70 miles every Sunday; what was this all about? My mind felt fuzzy, quads buzzing with fatigue. I kind of stumbled in and grabbed some food. I resented having to stop so often, but you know, in the end, it was good the organizers made us stop. Otherwise we would burn ourselves out. I hardly saw Tim; he seemed to know everyone, and was busy chatting with his comrades. I actually am used to riding alone, and being alone, and didn’t really know anyone. I made a few friends, but preferred to use my rest time to stretch, eat and hydrate. Time to break through this wall. Maybe I should rename this section Pink Floyd’s The Wall?

Light My Fire
Well, things change! Back on the road, muscles got warmed up, and we hit a huge, long hill right off the bat. That was tough but again, I found the hills not a problem. I felt more motivated and competent and pushed it. Looking at the MapMyRide app, which charted my whole ride, I hit 18 mph at some points on this ride. Maybe that was down hill? Naw, because my speedometer said 35 mph going downhill. We were kicking it! This felt great now. I learned something important about group riding, which I now prefer to call team riding: you can draft. This means you ride behind another cyclist, who absorbs the brunt of the wind. You ride faster with less effort. I usually can’t get above 18 mph, and even then only for a short time; now I was easily doing 19 mph with minimum effort. A lesson for teamwork, a lesson for our community. Stick together; lead; follow; be efficient; allow other leaders to take the helm when you get fatigued; listen to the leader, who spots danger first—Slow! Pothole!

Occasionally I would reach behind me and grab Snickers bars from the back pockets on my shirt, or Shot Blocks, or Gu gel, which give instant energy. Whatever I was doing it was working. Felt great!

Queen of the Highway
After 5.5 hours, we hit Grafton, next stop, about 60 miles in. We all checked in with each other: “How you feeling?”  We lost a few riders and I watched the noble bikes sadly get hung on the inside walls of a truck, feeling badly for the riders. There were a couple of crashes too; riders who got too close to one another, or perhaps hit a pothole. My brother Tim even crashed. Flying downhill, probably at speeds over 35 mph, there was a sudden left hand turn at an intersection; he couldn’t slow down fast enough because the riders in front of him were going slower, so he thoughtfully went straight across the intersection, into a field and catapulted over his handlebars! Luckily, he hit soft ground and despite this spectacular landing, didn’t even have a scratch.

Only 40 something miles to go. This was so doable and easy! I plugged in my headphones now, and cranked up my music. We had a full police escort the whole way. The traffic in the oncoming lanes was stopped; all traffic in intersections was stopped. The world stopped for us! Occasionally we had folks coming out of their homes to stand by the side of the road to cheer us on. Sweet. I felt unstoppable. Finishing was not going to be a problem!

I noticed that when hills appeared on the horizons, the riders, some 100 or more ahead of me, would swarm suddenly and become a huge pedaling mass. This is when I took to the incoming traffic lane, as I could pedal pretty well up the hills, blowing by the big guys (and some petite women) who puffed and struggled. I started riding on the incoming traffic lane; I didn’t have to get too close to other riders, and had lots of room. Fun!

Stop 5: Ashland High School. Eat, eat, eat, hydrate. Stretch. Channel 22 news was interviewing riders, and providing live coverage. This was our last stop till Boston! About 30 miles to go.

“The future’s uncertain…” (Roadhouse Blues)
I was zooming along, when at mile 93—almost done—something kind of popped. In a second I had pain in my left knee, and couldn’t get it to work. I went from 19 mph to 9 mph in seconds. I could not push that knee for anything. I think I was right on Rt 9, police motorcycles swarming around me, riders now zooming by me. I had been popping Tylenols the whole ride to help with general muscle soreness and specifically my neck, which has some arthritis in it. But nothing helped this. I hobbled along, dropping further and further behind in the pack.

I now lost focus on the surroundings and barely noticed the spectators cheering us on; we went through Wellesley, then Newton. I had my eyes down and was pushing my right leg hard to compensate. Don’t quit on me now! Thankfully, there was a final stop at Boston College (that didn’t show on our ride map), where we all gathered in a huge, heaving, blue mob. 

Do It
The famed Citgo sign; the end is near!
I limped over to Tim, who was straddling his bike and gripping his handlebars, even though this was a 30-minute rest, like he was ready to bolt. He took me to the emergency team where they taped my knee. It was the least we could do, and the most they could do. We waited on the grass till 5 pm, when the organizers grouped us for the final push into Boston. There was a ceremony waiting for us.

That was a painful ride. My beautiful adopted home city of Boston, the birthplace of America, all the familiar sites—the Citgo sign! Seeing that made us believe we can do it. But I couldn’t keep up well. I felt I was the last rider (though Lee assures me I wasn’t). The streets were lined with thousands of people waving, cheering, with flags and banners for the fallen officers and for us. I was in a surreal zone mentally. Through Fenway, down a tunnel, popping up to Beacon Hill and our beautiful state house with the gold dome forged by Paul Revere himself.

“This is the end, beautiful friend….”
Laurie rides in to
the State House

Irish twins: Officer Tim Morrow with
sister Laurie Kelley
It was done. 105.5 miles. As I sailed to the back of the State House, I saved my GPS map and stats, and then and there my second and last power pack died—perfect timing. Everyone had that “high” so familiar when you do something athletically great, and are so tired but so euphoric. My brother Tim and I hugged; this is the first time we ever did anything like this together, let alone apart (although he is quite a competitive athlete). My sister-in-law Lee gets the credit for providing our gear when we needed it, giving us fuel to keep us going, and being moral support!

Tim and Laurie with firefighter BJ Calvi, at the finish
A beautiful ceremony ensued, with full honor guard, and the heads of state of the law enforcement, including Attorney General Martha Coakley. Though we were exhausted and hungry, we stood more or less silently for 90 minutes while the dignitaries went through speeches and read the names of every single officer killed in action in Springfield. Very sobering, very sad. Such heroes.

And while standing there, at this beautiful memorial, where the names of Officers Ambrose and Torres had already been added, it reminded me that we in hemophilia do not yet have our memorial. Our shrine, where names can be added, where people can come and pay their respects. Almost 10,000 innocent people with hemophilia and HIV died, becoming the sacrificial lambs for future better and safer treatment of hemophilia. Barry did an astounding ride last year and this year to honor them. Maybe it’s time to think about our own memorial to our own "Fallen But Not Forgotten."

My brother Tim told me that the activity with the highest fatalities when you are a cop is approaching a vehicle, whether for a routine traffic stop or for suspicious behavior. You don't know if or when the driver will pull a gun or if you will be struck by another car. That amazed me; how dangerous is their work! And for us, it used to be that injecting factor was as dangerous; you didn’t know which vial had HIV. Now, we don’t have those worries. We have those fallen to thank. I hope someday we can, through our own memorial.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. John 15:13

The Memorial, in the shape of a shield

1 comment :

Allison Pohl said...

Great story! Very descriptive, and I felt like I was there riding with y'all. Sounds like you need to have the knee checked out though. Popping is not a good sign. :(
Thanks for reminding us that our community needs a memorial for our fallen heroes. They lived, they died, and they should never be forgotten.