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November 12, 2008

An Uphill Push

My four-year-old daughter – who is soon to become my five-year-old daughter – has become quite the little ballerina this year. She takes regular lessons, and prances about the house showing off plies and piques and tendu stretches (with her flexible little body, she can touch her toes to the back of her head – it makes me wince just to watch sometimes). It’s all very cute, and might make for an interesting post someday.

But today’s story isn’t about my four-year-old – it’s about her 10-year-old brother, who looks forward to his sister’s ballet lessons just as much as she does.

That’s because when my wife drives our daughter to her late-afternoon ballet lessons in Salinas, she drops my son off with me, and we unload two mountain bikes from our cars. (My middle child, to her dismay, has to go and watch the ballet lesson. Don’t feel bad for her, though – other days of the week are juggled around her schedule. By the way ... isn't parenting fun?) My son and I then spend the remainder of the day riding the trails and enjoying some precious one-on-one time.

Over the course of several months, he’s developed into a somewhat decent rider: our five-mile rides have stretched out to eight or nine; our cruising speed has become noticeably faster; and our once-maddeningly frequent rest breaks have become much less common.

The most noticeable change is how our short, gentle hills have become steeper, more challenging climbs. His improved climbing skills offer a two-fold benefit for my son: it gives us access to about 10 times as many trails as before, and it increases his chances of encountering some “real” mountain bikers using the same trails, most of whom never fail to shout some encouragement to a 10-year-old kid working his way up a large hill. (It also has an obvious health benefit, but I’m not going to ruin his fun by reminding him that he’s exercising.)

Nevertheless, there are numerous climbs that are still too steep for him to climb all at once. In most cases, we’ll stop for a brief rest, then resume the climb from the same spot. However, on some slopes, he’s forced to dismount and walk his bike up the steepest portions, which for obvious reasons has become his least favorite part of bike riding.

In these moments, I know the activity isn’t fun for him, and I try to think of ways to keep him from getting discouraged. I tell him that I had to walk a lot of hills when I first started riding, and that there are still some hills I’d have to walk even if I was trying my hardest (although, in my defense, my mountain bike only has four usable gears – but that’s another story), and that even the best riders have to get off and walk sometimes. Later, as we drive home after each ride, I find myself hoping that he either remembers the fun parts more than the difficult ones, or understands that the hard stretches are what make the good ones possible. I’m never really sure if the lessons sink in, though.

That’s why I was glad to find an outstanding video from the New York Times: a profile of Dave Wiens, the defending champion of the Leadville 100 MTB Race. The video (and its companion print article) describes Wiens’s training and race strategy in preparation for facing a certain 7-time Tour De France winner who decided to drop in on the 2008 Leadville race.

(Armstrong and Wiens)

The entire video is time well-spent (but, sadly, is not embeddable – I’ll link to it below) – but the revelation that immediately captured my attention comes briefly at the 3:07 mark, and again from 3:15-3:22. It was impressive enough for me to call my son over to the computer, and start the following exchange:

Me: You know who that is, right?

Son: Is it Lance Armstrong?

Me: Yeah. See what he’s doing?

Son: Pushing his bike up the hill.

Me: Yup. This is in the middle of a race. And these are two of the best riders in the world. I told you it happens to everybody.

Son: Whoa.

I didn’t bother explaining that this particular scene probably took place at an elevation close to 12,000’, or that it was something like 80 miles into one of the most demanding off-road cycling events imaginable. For that matter, I didn’t even tell him that Armstrong lost the race, as Wiens pulled away with about 15 miles to go to claim the victory. In this case, the details are superfluous; the important thing was that my son saw Lance Armstrong pushing his bike up a hill.

I honestly don’t know if this little pearl of insight made any impression upon my son, or reassured him about his own struggles on the bike, or encouraged him to approach our major climbs with a different mindset - all I know is that he wants to go riding again this week. I figure that as long as we keep doing one ride after another, and one hill after another, the larger lessons will eventually fall into place.

(See the New York Times video on Dave Wiens here)


Makita 11/13/08, 7:08 AM  

Very cool! I love that you were able to find a video to share w/ him that proved your point. Visuals are so strong. He may not vocalize that the lessons are sinking in, but the fact that he wants to ride again is proof... the fact that he is getting stronger is proof. I can't wait to ride/run with my kids. It will be a joy to share my passion with them. :D

P.S. I'm going to bookmark the video... just in case I may need it in the future.

Backofpack 11/13/08, 8:09 AM  

You are a great Dad! The weekly ride, the lessons, the "teachable moment". Cool beans Donald!

Gretchen 11/13/08, 8:21 AM  

Rather than typing exactly what makita and Michelle just said, I'll just add that I am in total agreement with them.
You rock!

Legs and Wings 11/13/08, 8:21 AM  

Yup, that's a good one! Thanks for the link, I'm headed there right now.

olga 11/13/08, 9:47 AM  

Good daddy you are!

stronger 11/13/08, 9:54 AM  

I relate to every bit of that post! I'll have to show the video to D. I wish we could have been out on the course rather than just at the finish.

Rick Gaston 11/13/08, 5:01 PM  

That's awesome. I think he'll remember these rides as as an adult and hopefully have a good positive influence on him. To be the kind of person that enjoys the outdoors and balances exercise and hard work with relaxing with the family and television...kind of like dad.

I try to tell new trail runners the same thing - don't get discouraged when you have to walk up a hill, we all do it, even the pros.

David 11/13/08, 5:23 PM  

That's what I call bona fide good dad parenting. There's a merit award for you this month.

21stCenturyMom 11/13/08, 6:08 PM  

My recollection of being a kid with a frustration is that a video like that is like the sun rising when you thought it would be dark forever. You go from feeling like a loser to realizing that you are just one of the gang and a really cool gang at that. All of a sudden your deficit becomes 'just the way it is'. Lucky kid that you found the video and showed it to him.

It was a great video, too so thanks for sharing!

Darrell 11/13/08, 7:32 PM  

Good stuff all the way around. Your kids have a great Dad!

Anne 11/14/08, 4:47 AM  

I think far more than that "teachable moment," as Michelle said, will stick with your son. What wonderful memories you're creating with him, and for him.

Dave 11/14/08, 5:59 AM  

Donald, As a dad...I enjoyed your story. Loved the video...sent it to my friend who does the Leadville 100 bicycle race.

Annette 11/14/08, 7:21 AM  

I love that you and your son are spending regular quality time together having fun - I mean, exercising. ;) What a great example you are for him in showing him an active lifestyle. Even if some of those rides suck for him, he'll remember those times when he gets older with positive thoughts. :)

Deene 11/14/08, 10:19 AM  

this is quality bonding time, your did will not forget. I have cherished memories of horseback riding with my father.

209Mike 11/14/08, 11:16 AM  

That is awesome Donald. Can't see how you can beat those experiences. I don't want my little guys to grow up, but I can't wait until I can ride or run with them.

jen 11/14/08, 4:08 PM  

Cool post. You are a great role model for your son. :)

Dori 11/14/08, 10:52 PM  

I'm glad your ribs have healed enough so that you can exercise. That was a speedy recovery.

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