The Road to Montauk
It was 6:45am on February 10, 2008 when I was standing in
the parking lot of the Suffolk County Police Headquarters in Yaphank wearing a
black facemask and metal-soled shoes.
As I was applying easy glide to the area around my eyes, the only visible
area of my face with the mask on, I used my other hand to pull down the front
of my mask so that I may sip a very unsatisfying cup of coffee. The wind blew and I had to duck down
beside a car to prevent the coffee from blowing out of the cup and onto my
clothing. While crouching beside
the car I spotted my CO2 canister that had fallen out of my pocket so I picked
it up and then noticed the smell of horse stables, which was weird.
I had joined The Team In Training, an endurance sports
program that offers coaching and training to all participants for triathlons,
half marathons, marathons, and 100-mile cycling events in exchange for a
commitment to fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The Suffolk Team In Training Coach is a
member of the Suffolk Police and our practices began in Yaphank.
The Team in Training originated in New York City in 1988
when a man named Bruce Cleland discovered that his two-year old daughter had
leukemia. He came up with the idea
to inspire some people to run the New York City Marathon for a reason more than
just personal accomplishment.
Bruce Cleland offered to provide coaching to participants who agreed to
attempt to raise money for the Leukemia Society of America, which was later
renamed The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Their goal was to raise $150,000 during that training season
and they exceeded their expectations tremendously. Thirty-seven people raised approximately $320,000 for
research on finding a cure for blood cancers.
Today there are 39,000 people being trained for an event for
the Team in Training. When I
received a postcard in the mail from them, I remembered that my friend Jannine
had been a participant one season for the Montauk Century Ride, a 100-mile
cycling event starting in Babylon and ending in Montauk. Her enthusiasm about the organization
and the event during that season was impressive, and then I glanced up at my
refrigerator. Held under a magnet
was a picture I had taken of my Aunt Margie in Martha’s Vineyard one
summer. She invited me to go
vacation there for a few days and one day we decided to ride bicycles into
town. That ride turned into
eighteen miles around the island and the picture of her was one that I took in
the middle of a beautiful bridge, of course, as she was riding a bicycle. My Aunt Margie passed away on Mother’s
Day in 2000 after a vigorous fight against cancer. It was at that moment that I decided to join The Team in
I spoke to Jannine about it before I went to an
informational meeting at the public library. She still had nothing but glowing reviews of her experience,
and pushed me in the direction of cycling.
I went to the meeting and a young, vivacious woman spoke
about all of the events she has completed and how people who have never done an
athletic thing in their life end up running marathons for The Team in
Training. She then revealed that
she had leukemia and was in remission, and that she had completed the Disney
Marathon earlier in the month.
I did not need much convincing to sign up since I was
looking forward to getting back into organized athletic teams, but her story
certainly alleviated any doubt that I might have had. I felt that it was an excellent opportunity to do what I
loved the most and succeeded at most of my life by participating in a sport,
and I liked the idea of making a major commitment to contribute to society
personally, physically, and financially.
I needed to raise $1,900 for the Montauk Century Ride in
four months as a TNT standard goal.
Once registered, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society sent you a password
for your fundraising website and a folder full of ideas of how to raise
money. Apparently writing letters
proved to be the most successful, so I wrote some letters and put the body of
the letter on my website.
Writing my letter encouraged me to immerse myself in the
topic of Leukemia and Lymphoma. As
you may or may not know, blood cancers are the second most fatal form of
cancer, second only to lung cancer.
Someone new is diagnosed with a blood cancer every five minutes. Every ten minutes, another child or
adult loses the fight. Leukemia is
the number one cause of cancer death for children and the survival rate is only
The Team in Training strives to fundraise for research for
blood cancers and has made some significant accomplishments in the past twenty
years. In 1987, there was $6.4
million dollars in research grants awarded with a cumulative total of $50
million dollars. This season the
cyclists for the Team in Training raised $7.5 million dollars for the Leukemia
and Lymphoma Society. As far as
therapeutic advances regarding Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, in 1987 the
five-year survival rate was less than 55%. As of 2007 with the use of the targeted drug Gleevac, the
five-year survival rate is 95% with high quality life. For Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, the five-year
survival rate in 1987 was 52% and as of 2007, the drug Rituxan has increased
five-year survival to 63%, with dramatic improvements in patients’ quality of
life. In 1987 the survival rate
for Myeloma was 12% and as of 2007 it has almost tripled because of drugs such
as Revlamid and Velcade.
Patient services are also supported through LLS. In 1987, a free national call center
for patients and caregivers was not available. In the year 2007, the Information Resource Center responded
to 74,325 inquiries. LLS also
provided financial assistance to 16,958 patients in 2007.
This all may seem like a blend of numbers and propaganda to
some after a while, but through my experience in this one season, I have seen
results without even trying. An
administrator I work with casually brought up the fundraising I was doing at
work one day as we sat at a conference on a lunch break. I had sent out an email to everyone in
the building but was unaware that she had taken any notice to it. She was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins
Lymphoma within the past five years after feeling fatigued for some time and
discovering lumps in three different areas of her body. After getting a second, third, and
finally fourth opinion on her condition, the last doctor diagnosed the blood
cancer. The thing that stood out
the most about her story was a phone call from a young, vibrant man named
Jason. She couldn’t remember his
last name at the moment, but she explained how he had called her on the phone
after learning of her diagnosis and had really saved her life. He was a survivor, and called to reach
out to her now that she was diagnosed with cancer. She was not specific regarding the details of the
conversation, but it was clear that the phone call from Jason had really saved
her in some way.
This conversation was just a shred of the glimpses of
people’s lives and humanity that I experienced during a season with the
cyclists. Everyone came from a
different place with a different story or connection to someone who had
suffered and was there every Sunday morning at Yaphank Police Headquarters at
8am to train in the freezing cold in February.
So then there is the training. We were to meet at Police Headquarters at 8am with our
bikes, water bottles, and layered clothing for the wind and cold in February
every Sunday morning. Jannine
insisted that I use her bike for the ride, and exclaimed that it had been
sitting in the basement since she had rode the Montauk Century Ride a few years
ago. It was a Specialized road
bike, and despite the small pile of brick rubble that sat on the bicycle seat
in the basement, it was still a great bike. She was pregnant and due in June so her participation was
not going to happen. However, I’d
like to mention that she and some other friends from the year she rode are
riding The Montauk Century Ride 2009.
I took the bike to Babylon Bike Shop where Jannine bought it
and they tuned it up for the first practice ride in February. However, the weather was heavy rain and
wind for the first ride and the Team in Training went along with their training
alternative and arranged a spin class for Sunday morning. Fitness Incentive in Babylon village
allows Team in Training members to participate in spin class there for free
when the weather does not hold out.
So that Sunday I went to spin at 11am with the rest of the team. However, we would not always be so
The following Sunday we met in Yaphank and I had bundled up
in all sorts of athletic clothing with a winter jacket outside shell. I remember laughing on the kitchen
floor when Jannine showed me the facemask.
I ended up wearing that facemask every Sunday until the end
I had always been athletic, so our first ride of fifteen
miles seemed feasible. Within the
first mile someone crashed into a guardrail in front of me and it took some
maneuvering to avoid. We went
north on Yaphank Avenue and then took a right on Main Street. While trying to stay in the shoulder,
you had to also avoid rough road, potholes, sand, gravel, grates, and tree
branches. There happened to be
some protruding tree branches with a car approaching from the rear at the same
time. So your choice was either to
get hit by the car or whipped in the face by tree branches. A guy in front of me tried to seek an
alternative and ended up in a smash up in the guardrail. He was o.k., but it looked like it
definitely hurt. Bike safety is no
joke; especially with people who aren’t as athletic, coordinated, or careful.
My worst memory was not being able to feel my hands and just
trying to pedal harder to warm up my body. I shoved one gloved hand underneath my winter jacket for
thirty seconds at a time and alternated some mornings. Our coach, George, was notorious for
secretly tacking on miles to the original training schedule so after a forty
mile ride, some of the riders who purchased digital clocks to keep track of the
mileage would inform us that we actually did forty seven miles.
Despite the frigid temperatures and the deceit, I began to
look forward to the rides. I would
lay my clothing out the night before, fill my water bottles, and place my newly
purchased electrolytes of choice into the pockets of my jacket and bento box (a
small attachable compartment on the frame of the bicycle). GU is actually the brand of choice
these days along with the flavor expresso love. I also like CLIF gels
and their little gummy squares that I desperately needed on the rolling hills
of Montauk. Power Bar products
just do not taste very good to me and are unfortunately the most common found
in stores. There are also
Sharkies, a gummy shark electrolyte product that aren’t too bad either.
Before each practice we had a miracle moment or inspiration
to ride for that day. After our
first spin class at Fitness Incentive, our fearless leader Elizabeth Harman,
coordinator for LLS Team Long Island, delivered a short speech about a little
girl, Katie McBride, who had just been placed in intensive care because of
complications from her blood cancer.
Elizabeth sobbed first, and then was able to muster out the latest
information on our patient hero.
Elizabeth is a survivor of a blood cancer like many other participants
and staff members.
The following Sunday we heard that Katie’s condition was not
improving and the first mile of our ride we rode as a “silent mile.” A few days later, Katie had gone to
I never asked other people why they chose to join the team
because I felt like it may be too personal. However, I found that many asked me and I revealed that my
aunt had succumbed to cancer, a student in my ninth grade class is in
remission, and a childhood friend is also in remission as of March 2007. There was a team member that I spoke to
often on the practice rides and he would often refer to his wife who was
obviously suffering from cancer.
“You drinking Figi water?
My wife likes that too- she said it is the easiest on her stomach after
It was difficult to get everyone’s name right because we
were so bundled up all of the time including helmets and sunglasses but when
your on the road for fifty miles, you end up talking about all kinds of
things. We even passed a bison
farm out East one day along with Llamas, wild turkey, and some exotic
birds. Who knew!
The most common question people asked me at some point in
the conversation was, “You doing Tahoe?”
In June of every season, the Team in Training participants who raise
$4,200 dollars are flown to Lake Tahoe, Nevada to ride America’s Most Beautiful
Bike Ride, a 100- mile ride around Lake Tahoe. I did not plan on riding that one, but everyone on the
Suffolk team kept encouraging me to do it. It was known as a harder, hilly ride and one of Jannine’s
friends did it a few years ago.
When I ran into him, I said, “Hey, you did Tahoe, right?” He replied, “No, Tahoe did me.” It
was a thought for the moment, but I did not really consider it until the end.
Fast forward to the Montauk Century Ride. I blinked and it was May 18th,
6:30am and I was standing in the Babylon Train Station Parking lot wearing
spandex bicycling pants with a padded butt, cycling shoes with clips on the
soles, a Team in Training Long Island jersey, a helmet (never would have
thought that in a million years), and cycling shades. What I was about to experience in the next hundred miles was
life changing, and what I experienced in the miles underneath the facemask were
even more moving, even if the circulation in my hands was not.