"Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been'."
John Greenleaf Whittier
Back in 1995, I was team manager and mechanic for the professional Outland VPP mountain bike racing team. This is where Virtual Pivot Point technology originated -- the same technology used to this day by Santa Cruz Bicycles and Intense Cycles. I had four riders to care for; Kathy, Jimi, Jeremy and Lynn.
From a fan’s viewpoint, these professional riders lived an enviable life; paid to travel around the world and race in a sponsor’s kit, having someone wash their bike while they signed autographs. Actually, that’s not the reality. A professional’s livelihood is largely at the mercy of Fate; health, race results, accidents and capricious sponsors are just a few factors that can elevate or annihilate a career in the saddle. Additionally, the nobility of athletic competition is subordinate to commercial interests at the Pro level. Whereas they shoot lame racehorses, cyclists get an e-mail demanding the bike be returned in September. It’s a small but no less cruel mercy.
Juxtaposed with this pragmatic results-driven existence is the relationship between rider and support crew; the mechanic who works till 2am and is ready for the 6.30 start; the soigneur who wraps arms and heart around a rider to help them make it through. Knowing that a good result can equal a contract for the following year -- another year for the rider to do something they love – they cherish, nurture and elevate that rider in a way that a mother would understand. And so it was for me with Kathy, Jimi, Jeremy and Lynn back in ‘95.
Looking back, it was a good season for the team. Jeremy would take First Place, Pro Men in the Reebok Eliminator at Mammoth. Kathy would take gold in Womens Veteran Downhill at World’s that year; Jimi would ride a five inch rear suspension machine to podium finishes in the Pro Mens Cross-country – a thing never before achieved.
Lynn’s story was to end differently.
At eighteen years of age, she had come from South Africa to California to chase her dream of being a professional cyclist. Signed on to ride NORBA Downhill and Cross-country, her results had been middling. Not owing to a lack of fire or skill, but due to impatience. Patience is supposed to be a virtue, but not when you are eighteen. Amped up and ready to get it on, Lynn had taken a couple nasty crashes early in the season. Mid way through the season, we travelled to the event at Mt Snow, Vermont where the team was to receive the delayed shipment of Dainese armored suits. Leo, our contact for Dainese was scheduled to meet me at the trailer at 8am to hand off the suits, but Lynn requested if she could take a trial run, without waiting for her suit, to check out the bumps. Knowing she would do it anyway, I told her to make sure it was a slow run. We checked shock and tire pressure; off she went. Leo turned up ten minutes later with suits, coffee and jokes.
It was about an hour later that the race organizer came over, with a grim expression; Lynn had crashed on the course. She’d been taken off to hospital in Bennington. What had happened? How badly was she hurt, I asked. Not sure about the injuries, he replied; but bad enough that she could not walk. A fellow rider saw her tumble when taking a line through the grass at the course edge in order to pass a slower rider. So much for taking a slow run. I ran to the team truck and headed to Bennington.
The doctor on duty told me that she was fine, but under heavy sedation. It appeared that she had collided with something that had scooped out a piece of her tibia, or shinbone. “As clean as if you had used a melon ball scooper”, he told me. I went in to see her. Her leg was elevated and bandaged, but she was lucid. I sat down and held her hand. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can stand much more of this”, I attempted to joke, but there was nothing, no way we could ignore that the brass ring was slipping from her grasp, probably for good. The tears flowed.
She recovered sufficiently to ride the last quarter of the season, but it was over. The team dissolved at the end of the year, as they always do, and we went our separate ways to other teams or futures. Eight thousand suns have risen and fallen since then, but there are days even now, when my mind wanders back to that hospital room.