I got an email this morning (a forwarded forward, actually) regarding this past weekend’s El Tour de Tucson. For those of you that have followed the site, you know I’m a big fan of the stories in the middle of the pack. Or, in some cases, as I was often there myself, the story at the back of the pack. My greatest memories of events like Leadville were watching the folks who were aiming to beat the twelve hour mark. Words like gritty, determination, pride, and perseverance are appropriate. I’ll tell you this much, I’ll not soon forget watching two young children run cheering alongside their mother as she proudly pedaled up that long finishing straight at the eleven hour and forty five minute mark.
The triumph of the human spirit is a beautiful thing to witness.
El Tour is like that. There were a lot of stories out on the road last weekend. This is one.
Subject: Fwd: FW: Youngest El Tour Finisher
This story had me in tears and I feel every one should know this…
This is why I do so want to keep you all alive and safe on our roads, we must work even harder. This is why Richard DeBernardis does these events, and so joyous when they are over. Stay safe and well always.
Subject: FW: Youngest El Tour Finisher
This was sent to me late last night by my friend, fellow cyclist, and fellow LCI Anton Russell. Those of you on my GABA list may know him, those on my friends list probably don’t. His daughter, Olivia, set out to do the 109 mile El Tour De Tucson. I saw them at the start line and she had the biggest smile on her face…I wanted to share this story because it’s really inspiring and heart-warming – something we need right before Thanksgiving Day.
The original is below.
From: Anton Russell
Subject: Youngest El Tour Finisher
Yesterday I witnessed the heart of a True champion.
Olivia awoke at 5 am with her eyes aflame with ambition. On our way to the starting line, she was frequently stopped by people who wanted to meet the young girl who had set out to be the youngest girl to finish Tucson’s great 109-mile perimeter race. She was even approached by a few racers who wanted to take a picture with her. I reset my odometer that would keep track of our mileage throughout the day at the start line. They announced for riders to prepare to race. She bowed her head and prayed. She waited – anxiously.
From the moment they announced the start of the ride, her cool demeanor dominated her ambiance. She began her day on a tremendous trek that was too early for even the sun to accompany her. But she never felt alone, because dozens of riders and people in the crowd were voicing their support for her dream which began to fuel a nervousness in her soul. She had to stop twice because she almost felt like throwing up.
Olivia continued to ride nonstop as she dominated the entire southwest side of Tucson – from downtown to Old Nogales highway/Bilby – 11 miles in one hour before most 9 year-old people were even out of bed. She removed some layers of clothing, ate some fruit and cookies and pressed on.
Her accomplishments were already significant – as she has collected close to $800 toward her $1500 goal for charity and the fact that she was there – when her first major challenge presented itself. A relentless uphill battle with Houghton road immediately followed by the unforgiving incline of Escalante road. She had already surpassed more than 30 miles and could have easily counted this as more than sufficient. But when the film crew arrived and mounted a camera on her bike, she felt the urge and pushed on.
Olivia was soon rewarded with what she considers the greatest gift to El Tour riders – Freeman road. For about 4 miles, she gleefully was carried downhill at speeds that approached 30 mph while she admired the beautiful scenery of Saguaro National Park. For the remainder of the ride, she would politely request that a Freeman road was soon approaching when the going got tough.
Houghton road approaching Bear Canyon made the ride seem too tough and she began to feel doubtful. We sat down in a ditch and talked for a while about her goals and how she had accomplished so much – 42 miles -that she could stop now and still be a hero. Just then the sweep vehicle pulled up behind us to inform us that we were in last place. This champion’s heart told her to roll on, so we did.
Olivia reward was to admire the beautiful atmosphere of Sabino Canyon and began to make plans about camping as we pushed our bikes through our second ditch in Canyon Ranch. But then came the agonizing terror of Snyder road – the equivalent of climbing more than one UA football stadium by bike. I sincerely hoped this would be where she would throw in the towel, but Olivia simply said “there better be some downhill after this” and pushed us ahead.
That process took a lot out of us, and at 54 miles Olivia looked up at Sunrise road from the bottom of Kolb and said she couldn’t go any further (if she was allowed to cuss, she would’ve because we had it with these uphill battles). She said she could come back next year and try the 109. I called up the follow vehicle and they got into position to pick us up. Olivia paused. The man in the sweep vehicle told it like it was – we had fallen behind. There were going to be 2 more big hills just like this one right after this. We had to make the choice to either call it or he was going to have to leave us behind and close the aid stations that were ahead of us. Olivia said let’s stretch and keep on going.
Olivia ruled those hills, and every hill after that she posessed with grace. She was counting blessings when out of nowhere Laura, a member of support staff called a SAG vehicle, pulled up behind us as we were in the Westin La Paloma area. That was almost 3 PM. She was a Godsend, our source of encouragement – and she stayed with us until the end.
We passed closed aid station after closed aid station, but Olivia was pressing on to the 73-mile mark where she knew that her Girl Scout Troop #753 – aid station #13 – wouldn’t leave until she got there. She didn’t have verbal
confirmation, but she believed it. Sure enough, we arrived at that station to cheers from her troop leader, her children and Olivia’s big sister. It was 5:30, almost 12 hours of domination; and this champion just got her second wind.
It was all downhill from there. Olivia was singing as she outlasted the sun. Mom, grandparents and sisters came to be take part in the follow party. They brought inspiration and great company to witness the greatness of this young champion’s heart. It was the best part of the ride.
Night pulls such a heavy blanket over the tired soul. She had come so far. She gave more than she had because she wanted that finish line so bad. She could hardly walk nor hold up her head. She knew she had to stop – so she did. It was 9:46 PM and we were on the frontage road, just north of Prince road – 4 miles from the finish line. After 14 hours and 46 minutes and long after everyone from the race (except Laura and the film crew documenting the race) left – Olivia had nothing else to give. I called the film crew to tell them she called it.
I called up the follow vehicle to pick-up our bikes. I looked at the odometer on my bike. It reads – 109.41.
We took our champion to the finish line and she got the one thing she wanted all day long – crowned with a medal by Laura.
Olivia did it, and I saw the whole thing.