Why I am thankful

I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season. But for one thing I am particularly thankful.

I run on the world’s greatest road course. It’s exactly 5K in a big looping circle beginning at my front door. Orange markers appear on the sidewalk at precise quarter-mile intervals. The road is flat, no camber, and there’s a huge shoulder and a very wide car lane. There is much shade, and a gradual hill that lasts almost a half mile and steepens sharply at the end. It is simply a spectacular place to run.

But that is not why I am thankful.

My proximity to this course is no accident. When Mo and I packed up and moved south a couple years ago (across town from Scottsdale), I knew this was where I wanted to live. It all began many years ago during one of my two years as a crappy road cyclist. My pal Polito and I formed the 10 a.m. Cycling Society. Our goal: Crushing the other guy. Our daily course took us into this neighborhood. In a flat land, such a glorious hill is a rarity, so we rode a long way to get to it. The climb was the perfect place for a mid-ride sprint; a fire hydrant at the top was the finish line, our little Tour de France.

We would hit the hill that I now climb daily at about the 30-mile point of our ride. My strategy was always the same. I would push as hard as I could for miles before that hill, trying to break Polito’s spirit. If I could just get him off my wheel I could pull away enough to retain my lead up to the hydrant. Every day brought the same result: Polito sprinting by with a few meters to go, arms thrust high into the air. Humility was not something in the Polito playbook; for the 30 miles home he would remind at every stoplight who the day’s winner was. Still, wow. It was so much fun. I loved Polito. And I loved those rides.

But that’s not why I am thankful.

One day Polito was riding the course alone when he lost a pedal and went down headfirst. He never wore a helmet because it would muss his spikey hair. I suppose that’s a good enough reason. But the impact with the pavement turned his brain to mush. He was air-evaced to Barrow Neurological Center where he spent a lengthy time as a John Doe (Note to Christmas shoppers: Buy your Road ID’s!) For a couple days they didn’t know if he would live. For a couple months they didn’t know how much brain would be left.

But, as sometimes happens with annoying friends, he made it. We went through a few hilarious months after they shaved half his head and he refused to shave the other half because it would make him look goofy. Oh. He recovered fully and became the world’s biggest helmet advocate.

He was with me a year later when I took the exact same spill at the exact same spot and my life was saved because of a Giro helmet that split in two so that my head didn’t have to. All the way home, he made me recite the alphabet backward, which I can’t do anyhow. Through it all, we kept riding. And he kept winning. But that was OK with me. And all these years later, we’re both living happily ever after.

But that is not why I am thankful.

Now I run every day on the same course we used to ride. I run up to the spot where he crashed. I pause and imagine what he looked like, lying in the road dying. I think about just how close I came to losing him.

Then I stomp on the imaginary Polito and sprint to the top of the hill. I dance past the fire hydrant, arms stretched over my head in triumph. I wag my bottom at Imaginary Polito behind me in a little victory dance. I win! Day after day after glorious day, I win at last.

And that is why I am thankful.

oh, yeah, and for my wonderful bride and the cat and family and peace on earth good will to men whatever.

About gary

no sock monkeys were harmed in the making of this blog.
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