Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best Christmas ever (and what i learned from a botched loaf of bread, a cookbook, and a $7 t-shirt).

I have to admit Christmas Eve i was feeling a bit down, for some legit reasons and for some not-so-legit reasons. The legit reasons, i had not been able to spend as much time with a very important person on account of some different issues. The not-so-legit reasons, well i have to preface the not-so-legit reason with a little description of my family and one of our christmas traditions. Each year all the individual families in my larger collective family make or put together cutesy little creative gifts for the other families. Usually it is some sort of homemade holiday decoration or a favorite recipe with a little package of cooking utensils, something along those lines. I've never really participated in this tradition until last year when T-dub and I decided to give some of the red pepper jelly i had made, all wrapped up in cute bows and ribbons. So this year we decided to give a loaf of beer bread to everyone. I would make it and T-dub would wrap them up all cutesy again. Now the thing you gotta understand about beer bread is it is incredibly easy to make, pour some beer in a bowl of flour, sugar, and baking powder; put it in a bread pan; cook for 50 minutes; and you're done. No waiting for yeast to rise. No kneading. None of that. Mix and cook, that's it. After a little experimentation I had come up with a honey wheat beer bread that T and i both really liked, it's especially good toasted with an egg in the morning, so she bought stuff to wrap it and i started cooking. What i hadn't accounted for was that four loaves cook in the oven a little differently than two loaves, and well, i overcooked the first batch and undercooked the second batch.

Undercooked beer bread, still all doughy in the middle.

T had left for her family dinner and so i was left to head to my family's christmas eve dinner empty handed, no tasty delicious beer bread to share. I was feeling rather glum about it. To make things worse, when i got to the Flogger and the Artist's house, practically the first thing i saw upon entering the kitchen were three perfect loaves of bread that Reggie had made for dinner.
Family arrived, we had a great dinner, kids chased each other around the house and wiped their snotty noses all over their new toys, but i was missing T-dub and bugged that i had botched the beer bread (how's that for alliteration), so i went and sat down in a front room for a minute just to get a minute away from all the wonderful christmas spirit and enthusiasm (and partially to hide from the embarrassing fact that i didn't have any cute gifts to share with the rest of the fam). At this point each of the families had started distributing their presents and the artist and flogger's girls came in and put a book in my lap, wrapped in a pink ribbon. One look at the title and i was both ashamed and deeply saddened.

Here i was upset i had undercooked a couple loaves of bread when i suddenly felt the real tragedy of Bunny's loss. As i was sitting there starting to feel real grief my brother Luke came in the room to see how i was doing. Again, i felt a bit ashamed and deeply saddened. Here i was feeling the emptiness of Bunny's loss, and my brother, the one who deals with it on a daily basis, came in to check on how i was doing. He asked me how i was doing, said if i wanted to cry, he would cry with me because it was something he had gotten real good at over the holidays, and put his arms around me and gave me a big hug. Yes, we cried together, not the first time and i can't imagine it will be the last.

So i got up out of my pouty chair, followed my brother back into the room where the family was gathered, and enjoyed the time i had with my family because i can always make another batch of beer bread, but i won't be able to get back time with the one's i love, some of whom carry much deeper wounds than i.

Nieces dressed up for the nativity reenactment.

The next day T-dub was determined to make Christmas a great day and make up for the time we hadn't been able to spend together. At this point i should preface the rest of the story by saying neither of us is rich. We don't lack by any means, but we're not rich. As a result we had agreed to not get any big gifts, but to keep it simple. We exchanged stockings and a few other small gifts, and this is when i realized how amazing it is to have someone in my life who pays attention and knows the small things that make me happy. I couldn't help but smile when she handed me my stocking and i handed her the stocking i had for her, and they were stuffed with almost identical goodies.

Our Christmas stockings, both of them topped off with Amano chocolate and RJ's soft raspberry licorice.

As i pulled treats out of the stocking i also pulled out a small, wrapped gift. I unwrapped it and immediately got a little emotional again. T had got me a "Twenty12 Women's Professional Cycling" T-shirt. I know, i know, a t-shirt, right, and last-year's design on sale at that? Not that big of a deal, but for me it meant a lot. Again, it was an incredible indication of how much she listens and cares (we had talked about the t-shirts a few weeks earlier when we both saw a twitter about the team clothing on sale). It was also a meaningful indication that she wants me to be a part of this next endeavor of her life, and i couldn't be happier.

After exchanging gifts we put on our warm weather gear and went out for a little ride. Actually we planned a longer ride, but my chain broke, so by the time i got that fixed we had to cut it short, but nonetheless, it was great to get outside, ride in the sun, and wrap up a wonderful Christmas doing something we both love.

Overall our Christmas wasn't extravagant. It wasn't super fancy or full of expensive gifts. But it was wonderful, the best ever even, notwithstanding Bunny's absence, because it was marked by time spent with the people i love and simple gifts from the heart.

christmas ride with T-dub from matt bradley on Vimeo.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bend over, put your head between your knees, and . . .

hold on!!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to give bobsledding a try with the USA adaptive bobsled team up at the Utah Olympic Sports Park. A couple of months ago another amputee connected me to Dave, the guy who heads up the team and has done quite a bit to organize and legitimize adaptive bobsledding with the hopes of someday getting it as a para Olympic sport.

Dave waiting at the top to unload the sled from the truck. Props to Dave for not crashing, i'm glad i didn't get any iceburns my first time out.

Prior to this experience i didn't know a whole lot about bobsledding except you go real fast down an icy track in a big fiberglass sled. It always looked fun, but i hadn't ever given it a second thought until i was invited to slide with the adaptive team and see if it was something i liked. So finally yesterday we connected and i went up and did a few runs.

Dave and Olympic skeleton gold medalist Jimmy Shea and the adaptive sled (notice the "rollbars").

First thing you gotta know about bobsledding is there is the driver, and then there's everyone else. In a two man sled there's the driver and the brakeman. It takes a lot of training and practice and "drive school" before you can drive a half ton sled down an icy track, so you can imagine i was relegated to the brakeman position. You'll also quickly find in the arena of bobsled racing there are a lot more people who want to be drivers, and not very many who want to be brakemen. I quickly found out the reason for this. For the brakeman bobsledding basically consists of: push like the dickens from the start block, jump in the sled, put your head between your knees, hold on, bounce around against the insides of the sled and feel your guts get pulled up through your throat from the g-force, hope like hell your driver doesn't crash, then pull the brake at the end when the driver yells at you to brake (cuz of course you can't see where you are with your head between your knees). Yup, that's it. If you opt to be a brakeman, this is what your view will be like for the entire 50 second ride from top to bottom (except your head will actually be all the way down between your knees):

The bottom of the sled. The two silver levers in between my feet are the brake. Right on the outside of my toes you can see two small handles, those are what you hold onto. The driver chair in this sled is a lot bigger too, with race car style seat belts to keep the driver inside in case of a crash since a few of the drivers in the adaptive program can't walk.

Riding in the back of the shuttle truck with the sled up to the top of the track.

We did four runs yesterday, and by the time i got home later in the afternoon my lower back was so stiff i could barely move. In fact, i didn't know how i was going to bend over to take my prosthetic foot off. Doesn't seem like a short sub-minute run could do that much damage, but i guess the g-forces in the turns and the effort of holding on while rattling around all while doubled over will do that.

When all is said and done, however, it was fun. Even though i couldn't see a thing but the sun and shade flickering off the bottom of the sled, it was an experience, but let's be clear, if given the chance, I'll take the opportunity to learn to drive.

Two of the other guys practicing at the track jumping in the sled after the push.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Because cancer doesn't care how old you are

Over the past week a few other folks in the local cycling/cancer community (i know, crazy to think we have such a thing, and frightening how big it actually is) have shared the story of young Andreas Knickman with me.
At a mere 13 years old Andreas was diagnosed with bone cancer, and is now fighting the disease, going through chemo and all that fighting cancer entails. His mom posts daily updates on his webpage and has suggested how much Andreas loves to read the comments and support others leave on his webpage guestbook.

Fatcyclist is running a little fundraiser for Andreas, with the added incentive of winning a cycling tour in Italy with Andy Hampsten. Go here to read about the contest/fundraiser and make a donation.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

End of one season, beginning of another

The artist after going down on a slick corner while warming up.

Yesterday was the last race of the UTCX 2010 series. I'm a little bummed, since i was out most of the season, you know with the whole amputation thing, i only got to race the last few races, and yesterday, finally felt like i was actually racing, actually in the competition. I wasn't at the front of the pack, but did start to feel like i had a little better fitness and could at least hang in there and keep up. Of course the big joke on me during yesterday's race was the extensive concrete stair run up. Although i get along pretty well in regular activities, stairs are still kind of a challenge for a gimp. First lap i got dropped on the stairs, and then even more so trying to clip in after the stairs. My cleat picked up all the slush left on the concrete making it near impossible to clip in once i jumped back on my bike. After some work, i managed to get my foot in and then reconnect with the group in the first tight turn. Throughout the rest of the first lap I even managed to pass a handful of other riders through some of the technical turns and straightaways. Then on the stairs on the 2nd lap they all came rushing past me again. And so it went. At any rate, i was feeling good, was feeling like i was racing again (albeit mid-pack in the Men's C group), and then with three laps to go my rear derailleur snapped clean in half.

Of course this would have to happen at the point of the course furthest from the pit as well. So i picked up my bike and walked back to the pit, switched bikes, and finished out the race and still managed to not take last place. Here's a vid of the first lap, my derailleur snap, bike swap, and finishing out the race. You can see the stair run up in the first 30 seconds of the vid, and then watch as i struggle to clip in while everyone passes me.

Utah Cyclcocross, race no. 11 from matt bradley on Vimeo.

And so another year is over, another bike season has passed, another semester has ended (though i've still got a good lot of papers to finish grading), and time to take a little break, then start all over again. Usually after the end of CX season i'll take a week or two off the bike, and then start training again for the next year's road season, but since i haven't had much serious training in the last six months, i'm going to forego the break this year and jump right back in. Yes, training starts tomorrow. And now that i've reached my immediate goal, race CX by the end of the season, i've set a new goal: race at the paracycling nationals in Augusta, GA in June 2011.
I know i've got a lot of work to do to get my fitness back, and then learn how to get power out of my residual limb (not to mention lose those extra holiday pounds), but i'm excited about the opportunity and ready for the challenge.

In other great news for the upcoming season, T-dub signed with the professional women's team Peanut Butter & Company/Twenty12. This is awesome, not only because she's now a pro and will get a supply of some of the best gourmet peanut butter you've ever tried (the "Dark Chocolate Dreams" peanut butter is so good you can just eat it with a spoon straight out of the jar), but because she gets to race on a team with so many up and coming riders as well as seasoned pros like Kristen Armstrong who won the Olympic gold medal for the time trial in 2008. Looking forward to making the best of the upcoming year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

racing and grading and riding for righty

Yes, it's that time of year: the end of CX season and the crux of grading before the end of the semester. Every semester i try to figure out how to maintain the level of work that the students do, but decrease the amount of grading i have to do. So far, i've been unsuccessful, as the pile of papers to grade on my kitchen table can attest.

And this season i obviously haven't been able to race much of the series, but i have been able to race the last two races, and plan on the final race this coming weekend. My results haven't been that great, but i didn't finish last in either race, so at least the one-legged guy isn't bringing in the caboose (just close to it). My fitness is pretty lousy, and the lack of time i've been on the bike in the last two weeks on account of grading hasn't helped any. I'm still a bit sloppy on the dismounts, barriers, and especially clipping in, but i feel like i'm improving. My first race i had a great first lap, sloppy second lap (crashed twice and got my pedal stuck on the bottom of my new foot, wedged between the cleat and the side, rather than clipped into the cleap), and fair third lap. Overall, however, it was great to race again, especially to start racing on the same day as the Cross out Cancer event.

The "Crossbot" riding to cross out cancer!

Big props to Matt Ohran, Melissa Parry, and the O'Learys for organizing the "Cross out Cancer." At last report the event had raised in excess of $25,000 to help fight cancer. If you didn't get a chance to participate, but still want to donate, you can follow this link and make an online contribution. Thanks to Uncle Bob, D. "the brewmaster" C., and everyone else who came out to support.

T-dub even got her MTB out for a lap in the cold!

The artist got some pics of the race (above) and i tried to get some video, but it was a new video camera, so when i pushed the button at the start of the race to record, i actually just set the camera to take one time delayed photo, rather than start the video camera, so all i got was this photo of me trying to get my gloves on as everyone else was trying to get the hole shot around the first corner.

I did get some footage of the "cross out cancer" ride. I know, i know, "stand by me," is a little cliché, but short of including "we will survive," it feels the most appropriate to me right now. Some people say cancer makes them stronger, i dont' know about that, what i do know is this whole experience has brought me closer to the people i love, and others who i'm getting to know and love, and it's the incredible support from my family, friends, colleagues, students, and even strangers, that have made this whole thing bearable, so "stand by me" it is.

Cross out Cancer, UTCX from matt bradley on Vimeo.

I did figure out how to use the camera the next weekend at Ft. Buenaventura, so here's the unedited footage of about six minutes of the first lap. I think i forgot to charge the battery, and the cold doesn't help with battery life, so the camera went dead right before i missed a turn and went right through the course marker tape and lost about four places as i turned around and got back on course.

Utah Cyclocross, Ft Buenaventura from matt bradley on Vimeo.

The river bed section was the worst of this course for me; running is still not my forté and the mix of river rock and sand was no picnic. The barriers were also spaced in a way that made them kind of awkward, i was doing a funny half step between each one. Yesterday i went to Wheeler and practiced barriers for a while, and although my residual limb was getting pretty sore, i finally felt by the end of the time i was there i was starting to get better flow and rhythm. One more CX race next weekend to give it a go, then it's back to training for road.