Friday, August 7, 2009

Tonya's Reason for Riding

Life just kicks you in the head when you need it most. I had been thinking about posting how I'm really nervous about not being able to actually pull off riding 100 miles. I've had nightmares of being sag wagoned at mile 10. I've thought about riding the 45 mile route and ditching the 100 mile dream altogether. But then I realized I was being kind of a baby. As Kenny Van Hummel, Lanterne rouge for many stages of the Tour de France this year said, "I'll quit when I fall off my bike." Unfortunately, Kenny actually did end up falling off his bike and injuring himself badly enough to have to leave the Tour. I hope to avoid that same fate, but stick with me here!

Alyssa and I got the idea to participate in last year's LIVESTRONG Challenge because she is a regular reader of the blog Fat Cyclist. The Fat Cyclist himself, Elden (aka Fatty), writes about bike stuff in a very entertaining and humorous way, but also about his wife Susan's battle with breast cancer. He was able to combine his hatred of cancer with his love for cycling and formed Team Fatty, with teams in every Challenge city. This year, they have already raised over $500,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, an incredible amount of money and a testament to the number of people whose lives he and Susan have touched. With the tagline WIN Susan, they inspired countless number of people to join the fight against cancer.

On Wednesday, I had already gone to bed when Alyssa came up to wake me to let me know Susan had died. Fatty said it best:

Susan's part in the battle is over, but she didn’t lose. She led the charge. She showed the rest of us how to fight: with determination, focus, creativity, and outrageous endurance.

The fight against cancer is very personal for me. My life changed for good in countless ways nearly 10 years ago when I lost my mom to cancer. Once I got beyond the initial gut-wrenching, debilitating grief, I realized I had only begun to discover the way cancer had changed everything in my life.

There are the big occasions she's missed out on.

I graduated from the University of Tennessee and my mom wasn't there to celebrate the humongous role she played in getting me across that stage.

Dad, Papa, Nana & me after graduation. I put a picture of her on my mortarboard to have her there with me.

I got married and she didn't get to celebrate with the rest of our family and friends.

I wore her butterfly earrings.

We bought a house.

How I wish she'd been here to tell us to run away from the Money Pit, or at least have her here to make my dad get up here to help us! (Hi, Dad!)

If we ever have kids, she won't be here for that. I won't be able to share pregnancy woes with her. I won't hear what it was like for her to raise me.

Mom holding me as we left a swimming lesson

But even more than those big events are the little things I miss. I am reminded daily that she's gone. I wish I could pick up the phone and tell her about my day, good or bad. There's no one like your mom who can set you straight or help you commiserate about the injustices of life. I see much of my mom in myself and I wish I could tell her that. And despite my actions and protestations to the contrary when I was a teenager, I'm damn proud to be like her.

I know how hard my mom fought. She wanted more than anything to experience all of the milestones I wrote about here. For a year and a half, she did all she could to make sure she was here for my dad, brother, and me. But cancer is a big jerk. When I think about all she went through—the nausea and vomiting, the fatigue, the pain, the indignity, the fear—I continue to be awed by her strength, fight, and perseverance.

When the saddle starts to hurt and my shoulders and neck are aching, I think about what my mom, grandfather, and millions of others have gone through. When my lungs are screaming and my legs are burning from pushing up a mountain, I think about them and I push on. I laugh when people tell me how amazing it is that I'm going to ride 100 miles on a bike. What I'm doing is nothing. What the people fighting cancer do every day is amazing. They stare down cancer and tell it to go to hell.

We will win. WIN Susan. WIN Mom.



  1. Tonya-that was very touching and I am writing this with tears in my eyes. What you guys are doing is nothing short of amazing-physically and emotionally. I wish you both all the luck and wish I could be there to cheer you on...I am sure, like many others, your mom would be very proud.

  2. That was beautiful and heartbreaking. Your mom would be so proud of you and all you've accomplished.