Fifty-three miles into a 70-mile training ride, my lungs begin screaming as I attempt to extend my shallow breaths. I’m a third of the way up a hill that’s kicking my butt, and in familiar fashion, I begin cursing the chemotherapy that ransacked my lungs and left me with 80% of baseline function. An older cyclist passes me on my left, and as I drop my head in disappointment, I catch sight of Steven’s socks sitting just below my calves. Immediately, I feel a fire ignite an intense power in my legs, distracting me from my protesting lungs and propelling my front wheel even with the back tire of this older man. We begin to crest of the hill and I narrowly edge him out before nearly collapsing in exhaustion as I struggle to catch my breath. Once again, he blows past me, and this time for good. I force a big exhale and let my head hang to reflect on my short-lived victory and stare, once again, at Steven’s artfully designed Warrior Weev socks.
In the same week that tumors throughout this fourteen-year old’s body robbed the use of his legs, Steven and his family collaborated on this retro style design to raise money for Sunshine Kids Foundation, an organization providing group activities to kids with cancer. Here I am complaining about having reduced lung function while this young adult shows the world his determination to find every possible ounce of positivity amidst the rapid progression of an aggressive brain cancer. I give my head a strong shake and decide that I need to wear Steven’s socks when I ride my first Pan Mass Challenge in less than two weeks.
There’s a small problem: I had also spent significant time developing my own pair of socks. A bead of sweat and sunscreen makes its way into my eye and as I rub my eye, a thought pops into my head that forces a cheeky smile: mismatching socks.
Come 5:30 am Saturday, 8/4, I’ll depart Sturbridge with Steven’s Warrior Weev sitting just below my left calf, and RG1, my own athletic compression sock, mirroring it on the right. Bringing my concentration back to elongating my breath, I make myself a promise for the upcoming PMC: When thousands of riders overtake me, and my lungs begin to protest, I’ll look at our socks and smile. I’ll smile knowing that a few hundred miles away there’s a young man wearing the same socks, and if he can find joy, I sure as hell can too.