“Ouch! Will JJ make it?” Was my wife’s question when I texted her the road sign of “The Hill That Would Not End.”
JJ’s success has always been my primary concern. As the sole hand cyclist, he had to work harder than anyone else. When you bike, you are using the large muscles that reside in your legs. The arm/shoulder muscles for hand cycling are no way as powerful or resilient as the ones in your legs.
Bike4Chai is a charity ride, but when you have lost a leg to cancer, the ride becomes symbolic of your triumph over the disease. JJ had put his trust in my coaching regiment, so simply put, if JJ failed, I had failed.
During the ride, my focus was to remind all the Knight Riders to hydrate properly. The 12 plus members of the Knight Riders anchor to JJ during the ride, but that does not mean that everyone is within an earshot of each other. Quite the contrary, the team can stretch out for over a mile. That means that I will ride up and down the line checking in on each member of the Knight Riders that I can see from JJ’s location.
When I met Yossi Rotberg in 2018, his cerebral palsy limited his riding to a few hours with us and then it was into the support vehicle. After two years of indoor cycling through the winter, Yossi had become so strong a cyclist that I barely saw him on this year’s ride. I knew that Tuli and Scott were escorting Yossi, but I still worried. I was also Yossi’s coach and I had to WhatsApp the three of them to guide them.
In addition to consuming liquids, I am a big fan of Base Electrolyte Salt. This granular mixture of sodium, magnesium and potassium saved my legs when they cramped during the marathon last year at Ironman Lake Placid. It can take 15-20 minutes to absorb Gatorade through the stomach. I like Base Electrolyte Salt because it is absorbed almost instantaneously through the tongue. I could remind them to drink, but there was no way for me to administer some Base Electrolyte Salt to them.
The air temp was in the 70s but the humidity was over 80%. That meant that riders were sweating out their electrolytes faster than they realized. Electrolytes are minerals like sodium and potassium. Low sodium in the blood is called hyponatremia and if an athlete’s sodium levels drop muscle, heart, nerve and brain function may be affected. Forget the fatigue hyponatremia can cause, we are riding on 10 inches of rubber. Falling off your bike because you became light-headed can result in broken bones or worse. All I could do is ask them to consume salty snacks…and hope.
In addition to reminding the team to hydrate, I also offered suntan lotion. JJ is a redhead and only has two shades: pale and burnt. So, I make sure to remind him to apply lotion every two hours.
Some riders carry a spare tire in their back pocket or a banana for potassium.
Me? I have a canister of suntan lotion.
For the hour-plus ride up “The Hill That Would Not End,” my mantra was: Drink, Base Electrolyte Salt, suntan lotion.
At 6:04 p.m. I texted my wife a picture of a warning sign that we were now about to go down a steep hill with the line “Made it.” It had taken us 70 minutes to climb a 3.5-mile hill. Our goal
had been to finish before sunset and now we only had 2 hours to cover 40 miles. For the next two hours we made good progress as the sun sank ever lower in the sky, but with 10 miles left, we stopped.
We wanted to take a break for afternoon prayers, for hydration refills and to break out the party favors. Because we ride through the night, we have a bag in our support vehicle of the little flashing lights children wear at bar/bat mitzvah parties. That is right, 15 grown men adorned themself with light-up bracelets and tiaras like a group of 12-year girls. I describe us as a Christmas tree on wheels. With eight miles left I started to worry that I might not finish the ride. I was pedaling, but my gears were not responding. My first thought was, “The batteries that power my shifters are dying. I’m going to have to get in the support van and leave my athletes.”
As a team, we had overcome dehydration, hills and communication issues. Now a mechanical issue threatened to end my ride before we reached the finish line.
What to do?
David Roher is a USAT certified marathon and triathlon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and a veteran special education teacher. He can be reached at: [email protected]