Photo by Kristen Buckler, events manager of the Young Survival Coalition. Me with my Aunt Ann and cousins Ethan and Elizabeth who made me this very awesome "social media" sign! Love you guys!
When I woke up on day 3 I told myself TODAY IS THE DAY. Today is the day I’ve been waiting for. The day I’ll cross the finish line and complete Tour de Pink.
Day 3 was rough. There were two SAG stops, and I kept telling myself to only think about getting to the first one, then to the second one. Between the first and second stops my thighs really started to feel like bricks. Each stop was about 20 miles apart, and let me tell you, they were a long and hilly 20 miles. Because of a lot of hills and lights I was riding by myself a few miles out of SAG stop 2 and I really, more than ever, need another rider with me. Thank goodness Barb and Deanne met up with me just a few miles away. As we approached stop 2 I began to feel increasingly nauseous. I also couldn’t feel my legs. They were moving, but felt numb. I felt like a robot; just moving but not really realizing it.
I started to cry, was having trouble catching my breath, and kept asking Deanne how much further until the SAG stop. She assured me it was just around the corner, and kept me focused by asking me questions. One of the questions she asked me was how long I had been training for Tour de Pink. I told her seven months, and that I had put everything I had into this ride.
We finally got to the last stop of the day. I jumped off my bike and started crying. Sean was there and was asking me if I was OK. I felt like I was going to toss my cookies. One of the support guys brought me over to sit on a chair and told me, as I’m sobbing (my other “moment”) that if I’m sick, I can take a SAG vehicle to just outside the finish line and ride from there. He told me not to be too “proud” and that my health matters more than anything.
People swarmed over me: handing me ice, taking off my helmet and glasses, handing me food and water. I was overwhelmed and so humbled by all the support. Barb and Deanne told me to take my time, and they wouldn’t leave without me. I never doubted I was going to finish. We were only 12 miles away from the finish line, though I knew those next 12 miles might be the hardest because we’d have to navigate through D.C. without arrows on the street signs, and with many stop lights, stop signs, traffic and pedestrians. And traffic circles. Omigoodness, the traffic circles. I think there were three that day.
I took a small break, went to the bathroom, told everyone I was OK and I was doing this, and hopped back on the bike with Barb, Deanne and Jennifer, who played a song for me on her iPhone. I tried not to think about the D.C. riding; it made me nervous. I stayed focused and told myself “today is that day” I’ve been working towards and waiting for and riding to. TODAY IS THE DAY I WILL FINISH. TODAY IS THE DAY. TODAY IS THE DAY. WINE. CHOCOLATE CAKE. TODAY IS THE DAY.
Those last few miles were ROUGH. Some of the veteran riders had told me that morning what to look out for while riding in D.C. and thank goodness they did, because it was REALLY helpful. Some of the tips included to look out for people opening car doors in the street, and also to downshift before stop lights since many of the lights were on hills. When you stop going uphill and have to clip out, it can be hard to clip back in and climb up before the light changes. So THANK YOU, LAUREN for those tips! I downshifted at every light and made it across the hilly intersections.
D.C. riding was SLOW. We were stopping all the time for stop signs and red and yellow lights. Stopping for people crossing, slowing, stopping, rolling. (That’s the order when you’re riding with a group and approach a yellow light. First you tell out that you’re slowing. And then if you’re stopping you yell that out. And once you start moving again, or when you approach a red light that turns green before you stop, you yell out “rolling” so everyone knows you’re going. This also applies at stop signs or ANY time you slow. You have to alert the riders of your every move to avoid a crash into the person in front of you.)
Deanne and I lost Barb and Jennifer somewhere in D.C. so it was just the two of us riding together past the White House and other landmarks. I really had to pee and was hot and tired. I kept hoping and praying we’d be there soon but with all the stopping (and missing a turn once), it was very slow. Finally we met up with another group of riders and some marshals who kept us in a tight group all the way to the end. Finally I saw two pink arrows pointing towards the finish line. As we turned the corner, guess who we saw?! Barb! She could have crossed the finish line 20 minutes earlier, but SHE WAITED FOR US! She told Deanne and myself she couldn’t cross without us! I started to cry a little bit and at that moment KNEW yet another special part of Tour de Pink. Barb became my family over the weekend and she waited for us to cross together. We turned another corner, people were cheering on the side of the street, and I saw my family and friends, front and center, with signs. I crossed over through the pink balloon tunnel, unclipped, cried and hugged Sean. I HAD MADE IT. All of a sudden it didn’t matter that I had to pee or that my mouth was dry or that not too long before I was queasy and couldn’t feel my legs.
It was a whirlwind after that. I hugged all of my finish line cheerleaders (Sean, mom, brother Drew, Anna, Grandma Martha, Jordanna, Rachel, Lauri, Dan, Deanna, Mike, Sarah, Aunt Ann, Uncle Mike, Ethan, Elizabeth and Gigi – Gigi came all the way from State College to see me cross!)
Gigi handed me flowers donated by Trader Joe’s and chocolate cupcakes (my chocolate cake!), and I found a chocolate lab dog wearing pink wings just like mine, and got my picture taken with him while the owner poured me a cup of champagne. My cousins Ethan and Elizabeth, and my brother Drew and his girlfriend Anna made me signs. I hugged all of my fellow riders. There were lots more pictures and hugs and tears.
It would take me forever to type out every single rider or person on the ride who touched me with their stories and encouragement, strength and inspiration. There were so many I couldn’t BEGIN name them all. Ishiuan and her husband Adam, Jamie and Kevin Nickerson, Denice, Barb, Deanne, Jennifer, Erica, Kristen, Evan, Lauren. I became friends and family with 200 riders. They became my support. I am honored to have ridden with them and for them.
I expected to laugh. I did. I expected to cry. I did. I expected to become a different person. I did. I expected my life to change. It did.
I can’t picture my life never having had done Tour de Pink. Tour de Pink, those three days, those 200+ miles, those riders, are A PART OF MY LIFE NOW.
I can’t imagine life without Pink Flash and my clip-in shoes and pedals. (There was once a time I rode without my feet connected to the bike?!)
I can’t imagine my life having never done this ride. Having never challenged myself in this way.
I can’t believe I rode, with the clips, through D.C. traffic. I can’t believe one of those days I almost rode a century. I can’t believe just seven months ago I hadn’t ridden at all.
Cycling. It still makes me nervous. It still makes me scared. It’s still hard. But I can’t imagine my life without it now. It has become a part of me, just like my survivorship.
There is Marjie before Tour de Pink and Marjie after Tour de Pink.
I got my chocolate cake and I got my hugs. And I got more.
I entered a new world. A world of cycling. A world of Tour de Pink, which REALLY IS a rolling community. Like its mission, it really is about riding, supporting and inspiring.
I didn’t just prove myself by doing this ride. I grew, as a person, as an athlete. I became something more than myself, something bigger than my training and fundraising.
I decided I wanted to do something and so I did it. “She believed she could so she did.” I always said it would be the hardest thing I would ever do. And it was. It still is. It’s THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE. But I also said it would be the best.
Thank you to my family and friends for supporting me through my training and fundraising. Thank you for believing I could do it. Thank you to the Young Survival Coalition for providing me with the tools to be successful. Liv/Giant for the bike. Shimano for the shoes and pedals. And my fellow riders and their support systems: THANK YOU. It was you who pushed me to push myself. I rode with you and for you, and I rode for myself BECAUASE of you.
Thank you to the YSC staff and volunteers. The professional cyclists in bright pink vests who rode with me. The Liv/Giant staff who helped with our bikes along the way. Every single person who made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The people who gave us massages. The chiropractors. The hotels that hosted us. Everyone throughout the journey supported us in so many ways. They made sure we were safe, healthy and happy.
And Sean: the best husband in the world. Who drove his car, mile by mile, throughout the entire weekend, to cheer me on as I rode past, supported me at the SAG stops, who prepared my bike each morning, who carried my luggage. Who knew I could do anything I wanted to do.
Who believed I could. He believed he could not just because he’s my husband and he loves me, but because in his heart he knew I wanted to, so I would.
I believed I could.
So I did.
And my life will never be the same because of it. It will never be the same.
I still can’t tell you what I was thinking in February when I signed up. But somehow, some way, a big part of me knew why. I knew why before I knew why.
After breast cancer I don’t sit and wait for the perfect moment to do things. There are no perfect moments. I could have waited to do Tour de Pink until I was a better, more experienced cyclist. Or I raised more money. Or I was more prepared.
The best time to do something is now.
Ishiuan got permission from her doctors to stop her chemotherapy for a month to do Tour de Pink another year. She told me she would keep riding in Tour de Pink as long as she could ride.
She didn’t wait until her treatments ended to do Tour de Pink. She did it now.
I saw her ahead of me crawling up some of the steepest hills. I thought to myself, “I can’t possibly to do this hill,” and then I’d see her. I’d see her riding up the hill. She’s doing the hill. I’M DOING THIS HILL.
I didn’t wait to have my wedding until I got my other breast. I didn’t wait to go to Paris and Italy on our honeymoon until my surgeries were over.
There are no perfect times to do things. You have to do them now.
Jennifer, a fellow survivor, told me on day 2, as we had just climbed a huge hill during the last stretch of the 90 miles, told me she was riding 100 miles that day, even though the route was only 90, because “I don’t dip my toes in 90 miles.”
So don’t wait. Do it now. And when you do it, don’t just dip your toe in; go ALL in. Jump in and make a splash.
Whether you ride 1 mile or 700 miles, the best you can do, the biggest splash you can make, is YOUR splash, nobody else’s.
Sometimes you have to let whatever’s guiding you, whether you can explain it or not, to just guide you. No questions, no explanations.
The last day as we departed from Frederick, MD, Sue game me those pink fairy wings you see in my pictures.
People kept telling me throughout the day, especially when I needed it most, that my wings were helping me go faster. It was quite a sight coasting along the road with other riders, survivors, wearing wings. We must have looked amazing.
And at one point I saw my shadow on the side of the road. I saw myself, on my bike, with those wings on my back.
I couldn’t believe it was me. I was like, “What am I doing?”
I felt, all at once, like a breast cancer survivor, like a warrior, like a cyclist, like a new version of myself. The wings reminded me I’m a survivor. But they also reminded me that I’m flying. I’m FLYING.
Here I am, literally connected to my bike, with pink wings on my back, and I just rode 90 miles the day before and 65 the day before that. And here I am, doing everything in my power and using every last ounce of energy, to make it to those pink balloons at the finish line. When did I become this person?!
Here I am, actually living one of the quotes that helped inspire me before Tour de Pink: “Until you spread your wings you’ll have no idea how far you can fly.”
I have no idea how long I’ll be on Cloud 9. I feel through the roof. So much energy, so much excitement, so much relief. People keep asking me if I’m doing Tour de Pink next year. People keep telling me it’s only a matter of time until the “next thing,” my next big challenge, my next big endeavor.
For now I’m letting myself soak in this bliss, this beauty. This accomplishment.
And my life will never be the same because of it. It will never be the same.