Youngest El Tour Finisher

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.

From: Prairiejean
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.

From: Jade
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.

God Bless,
Anton Russell

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About big jonny

The man, the legend. The guy who started it all back in the Year of Our Lord Beer, 2000, with a couple of pages worth of idiotic ranting hardcoded on some random porn site that would host anything you uploaded, a book called HTML for Dummies (which was completely appropriate), a bad attitude (which hasn’t much changed), and a Dell desktop running Win95 with 64 mgs of ram and a six gig hard drive. Those were the days. Then he went to law school. Go figure. Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

43 thoughts on “Youngest El Tour Finisher

  1. Oh yeah – that reminds me of the year I didn’t know that they changed the route, and people no longer go uphill on Freeman road but down it, and I showed up with a few dozen full water bottles on a trailer to find that I was hours late! Freeman is not mile 70 anymore! (more like mile 25?)
    In 2000 I had the privilege of starting in front of the barricade but I opted out of doing El Tour in protest of the sponsorship of Don Diamond.
    I’m really impressed that a 9 year old finished it. Desert kids are tough indeed.

  2. im crying now. i LOVE the little girls that get out and race. one of my little kenda teammates – she was 10 – did RAGBRAI last summer. amazing. i just tell them to keep riding and one day they may make some money riding bikes.

  3. Gods timing is perfect! It was definetly a moment where the Lord intervened to place in this child a driven spirit. She now has been given a seed of confidence,faith and trust. Not only for herself and her future. BUT also a confidence that came from her Daddys patience. He encouraged her, he sat with her, he listened to her, he talked to her supported her and he stayed by her side even after everything was over and got dark. Not enough little girls have that security and support that only a Father can give. Almost like an example of what God can truly be to us… Olivia you were glowing lastnight baby girl! I love you!!! PROUD OF YOU!!! Keep on keeping on…..

  4. …damn, amigo…i was wondering myself but i didn’t wanna be the first, so i was biting my tongue in light of the recent verbal conflagration…

  5. My 8 year old boys did the 40 and I don’t think they would have had the attention span for much more. Kudos to Olivia and also her Dad. It’s tough to give up a fast ride with friends to give time to help someone else (the backside doesn’t care if you spend 10 hours in the saddle riding fast or slow, it’s all the same pain after awhile). It’s also telling that she kept pushing the easy way out away the many times she was offered it.

  6. …ummm, joetheelectrition…ahhh, that’s not really my issue here…

    …(still biting tongue)…

    …but paul makes a few good points…

  7. hallelujah.

    Seriously, tho. That kid rocks. Top shelf badass. Dad too for setting it up for her, but the credits hers and hers alone.

  8. Jonny, She’d be a good candidate for a Baller post. ..it’d be all kinds of inappropriate attention and all kindof the wrong venue for a 9yr girl, but I wonder how many of the hard men featured in the baller posts cranked out centuries before they were double digit ages.

    baller.

  9. Dudes, wait a minute. The girl is 9. It took her 14 hours to finish. Very admirable feat of endurance, but not yet baller status. The guys (and gals) that get to that place do so through years of work and winning.
    I finished it in under 5:00, but does that make me a baller? Not really. 180 other people did that year too. It is true, El Tour is NOT a race, but people in the front few groups treat it as such. It’s a race against your old time, against the ranking, and if you get top 10 then you are on the court and playing some serious ball.

  10. Joe – I’m sure you probably rode the very first El Tour when it was 209 miles of dirt wagon roads, when you were 8, on a fixed gear.

  11. Now, first of all, I think this kid is tough.

    But there is something just a little creepy about the narrative. I can’t quite put my finger on it but . . . .

    Maybe it’s: how exactly does it come into a nine-year old’s mind to complete that bike ride without ever (apparently) having done anything like it before? Hmmmm? What’s up with the whole girl-scout troop waiting for her? I’m just mulling over the reality here. And the weird detail about the odometer perfectly registering the 109 miles? It’s just a bit . . . unsettling.

  12. I did El Tour once, as I’ve said already. It was 111 miles back then. Tangerine was an uphill. Freeman was an uphill. I rode my club mate Mauricio’s wheel like a taxi for the first 20 miles and found myself right up there. I had a flat 32 miles into it and lost my *sweet* position with 30 guys behind a motorcycle. I did solo break-aways for both bottlenecks and had to leave two other groups to finish with a final group of older guys all struggling to make it in under 5:00 and go platinum. I drove them like dogs, drove myself into the hurt locker, and pulled for that group at 22.5 when everyone wanted to go 21. When the pace line wavered, I yelled “Get up there, close that gap.” I knew that we had to hammer that last ten miles. That’s why we got in at 4:58, and one guy said to me:
    “I’ve been trying to make it under 5 for years. It was because of you that I made it.” It was indeed an epic ride. November 1999

  13. …i’m gonna be totally honest with you littlejar & i want you to grant me a little leeway in what i have to say…

    …i find a lot of what you write to be exceedingly hard to accept because as i see it, you’re totally intolerant of so many others for the simple reason that you don’t seem to “get” that your way is not always the right way…

    …again, it’s only my opinion but i’ve watched you denigrate others for doing the exact same thing that you’ll do yourself with nary a thought towards your own actions…

    …okay…that being said, let it go…i hope your ego will allow you to put that aside without being defensive because i also believe you deserve a serious compliment…please, allow yourself to show some grace…

    …your description of that 4:58 ride back in 1999 & the response by the particular rider that you helped achieve a personal goal, was awesome, especially in light of the finishing time…“I’ve been trying to make it under 5 for years. It was because of you that I made it.” was one of the most satisfying, heartwarming things i’ve read on this site, ever…

    ..it wasn’t earth shattering, it doesn’t solve anything in this world but i saw it as a step above the normal & it honestly made me feel good for you, that rider & even myself for having read it…it’s like you transcended the norm & achieved something with it…

    …i leave you with that…

  14. Great ride Olivia, that is one hell of an achievement. And it’s NOBODY’s bloody business why she did it, or why the scouts waited for her. Or the fact that someone made a Christian comment in support of her(I am vehemently non-Christian, but recognise their right to comment.)
    It’s amusing (but only slightly and only for a few nanoseconds) to see what I assume are adults laying down their war stories. Guys, this is about a young cyclist and her achievements, not about YOU.
    And to those who wish to engage in a dick-sizing competition pleeeeze do it elsewhere.
    Fact is Olivia set out to do something remarkable and did it. Full Stop.
    @ Big Jonny: Pse can you start a thread where the aforemenioned sizing competition can proceed without sullying the pages of this site?

  15. Re #27: No and HELL no, I wasn’t any kind of child prodigy, and that ain’t my point. But as to #26 from Gnome:

    Back when I was a kid we’d take machetes and hatchets and such and go out back to the woods. We’d cut out trails, build tree forts and the like. We made many a hike through wild and mountainous terrain(admittedly with adult supervision), living for days on what we could carry and what the land provided. And it did us nothing but good.

    Gnome’s comment; i.e. “What kind of a parent…” had me scratching my head. There was sag support. There were feed zones. The kid had more than ample opportunity to bail, yet repeatedly declined. As I understood it no one was forcing her to do anything. “…that kind of hell…”?

  16. When I consider the Jesus Freak comments of Hallelujah regarding the child’s accomplishments and the fact that a nine year old’s capacity to naturally be so driven is suspect, I come to the short answer that there was more in the works regarding psychological control. As I read and re-read the passage, the voice is that of the parent seemingly living out his/her own dreams by way of their child.

    Yea, sure, call me what ever, it’s cool. If my kid wants to go out and build forts in the woods on his own accord, I’ll support that, but I cannot conclude that any 9 year old child is stoked to ride for 14 hours under their own motivation. In fact, I will be hard pressed to even allow my boy to do the same should that issue arise. I think it’s a bit much for a child (interestingly, the author calls them “9 year old people”). Thus, I believe that “motivation” to triumph as Olivia has done is based on the need to garner love and acceptance of their parents. Love and acceptance is a heavy card of manipulation which I can see a delusioned parent using in order to fullfill their own ambitions. For instance, do you remember the post of the little girl on the starting line of that road race wearing full aero gear and carbon wheels?

    Everything exposed in this story is not simply nuts and bolts. There is more to it.

    I’m happy to be wrong about this as I’m only concluding and setting an opinion here based on my own experiences in comparison to the girl’s feat. Unfortunately, we’ll never know the real scenario. Fortunately, we all get the chance to put our 2 cents of opinion towards it here on the blog. I’d like to meet this girl one day. that’s the only way I would be able to understand how this is a legitimate possibility.

    Furthermore, what does it say of our American ways where a child must be in the hunt for fame and glory. Pretty disgusting imo. Whatev. To each their own or something.

  17. The family’s religious leanings aside (who am I to judge?), that young woman accomplished something really special. And I both recognize and celebrate it. That said, we have read only one account of that day. Her own viewpoint may be far different! Of course, what I would have written immediately after finishing some dumbawfulrace (24 hrs, LT100, et al.) was ofter far different than what I would have written a few weeks, or months, later.

    As a side note, the photo gnome embedded above it hilarious. Good stuff.

  18. …hell, i’ll be honest…i’m jealous of that first kid, olivia…

    …these days, i couldn’t ride my bike for 14 hours straight, even if youse bastids was payin’ me…

    …just sayin’, factual like…