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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.

Keith Ryan


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Acknowledgments Introduction Testimonies Photo Gallery 1 Reflections from Nancy's Mother