Dear Mr. And Mrs. Morgenstern,
Earlier in the year Randy asked me
if I would coach her and a few of her teammates in a bike race.
It was a race well suited
for Randy. She would try to win.
It would be her race. But one of the wonderful things about bike racing that
many people don’t realize is that it is a team sport and to win a race
means to win a race as a team.
I had met Nancy before and I’d
had a few short conversations with her, but I had little sense
of what kind of bike racer she was. Randy and Laurie,
the third team member, were both fast to the line at the end of the race; they
were the sprinters. They would try to save their energy for the last few kilometers.
That left a lot to Nancy. Nancy would have to take the role of “domestique.” This
job requires that the rider be sure to keep any woman from foiling the sprinter’s
chances. The other teams would try to do this by cycling ahead of the rest
and trying to win the race by seconds or minutes, before the sprinters got
to the finish. This strategy is controlled by what we call “chasing,” or
following all of the riders who try to “breakaway” and not allowing
them to open up much time between themselves and the sprinters. Since Nancy
was the only domestique, she had her work cut out for her. I worried that she
would not be able to follow the efforts of the many other teams in the race.
Randy and Laurie had confidence in her.
The race was around Grant’s
Tomb on the West Side of Manhattan. It was multiple laps and
twenty miles long. It would be fast. I was perched atop a
small hill, a good place to see the riders, as they would be going a little
slower and I could holler encouragement and advice to them. The first few laps
were comforting. Nancy and her Axis teammates sat comfortably in the middle
of the group. But then the race picked up speed. Nancy’s job was about
to begin. From where I stood, the racers would appear from behind the hill,
head first, and then body, then bike, as they scurried up the steep hill (they
weren’t moving as slowly as I expected).
Then the breakaways came. First the
head, then the body, then the bike of a very strong girl from
Massachusetts . . . then
an unfamiliar racer . . . then
Nancy. She was controlling the race for her teammates. Next lap the breakaway
had been caught up by the rest. Next lap, another breakaway. This time no Nancy. “Move
up! Control it, Nancy!” I yelled.
Next lap there she was, calm, controlling
the race and looking relaxed. Then another breakaway came. This
time two familiar
riders of reputable ability.
No Nancy. Another lap . . . no Nancy. One second, two, three, then first her
helmet, her face, her arms, her pumping legs, her bicycle . . . it was her.
With two breakaway riders ahead, Nancy came over the hill by herself ahead
of the rest, chasing, controlling the race, giving it everything she had to
help her team. Nancy had done her job. She had raced beyond all expectations.
I couldn’t stop thinking, “What a great teammate, what a great
athlete, what a great person.”
I don’t know if you are sporting
people, but I come from a family of athletes. I’ve played
a lot of sports. Cycling is a sport that you need to commit an
awful lot to. You need to be passionate. Nancy’s life is
a passionate one. It would have to be to see what I saw her do that day.