Letter to a little kid

May 30, 2013 § 81 Comments

When you grow up you’re going to ask about your father. You’re going to ask how he died. You’re going to feel the wordless pain of going through life without your dad. You’re never going to have the guy who gave you half your blood, half your genes, and all of your heart standing next to you at those moments in life when you most desperately need a father. Little kid, you’ve lost half of the most important thing any kid can ever have before your life has even begun.

Your dad died racing his bike in a stupid weekend crit. And you want to know why, and no one’s been able to explain. How can anyone explain something as senseless and pointless as dying in a weekend bike race, chasing the glory of a candy bar prime and twenty-five bucks in prize money?

Why we race

Before I try to explain why he died, let me try to explain what he was doing when he died. Your dad, who had been racing his bike for years, was taking a risk, a big risk, a life or death risk, and he knew it. He even signed a piece of paper that said he knew the risk was so big it might kill him.

But here’s the thing, little kid: He knew it, but he didn’t really believe it. If he had known, or had any idea that getting killed in that bike race might actually happen to him and leave you behind without your dad, he would have never been in that race. He wanted you and your mom at that race not to watch him get hurt, but so you could watch him compete and maybe even win. You were only a couple of years old, but you were so excited by the race and seeing your dad in it that even after he crashed, each time the pack came around you pointed at the peloton and said “Daddy! Daddy!” It was so cute, before we found out that your dad had died. After that it was heartbreaking.

Your dad was well known and respected in his bicycling community. He raced his bike for the same reason we all race our bikes: To see how good we are compared to the other people that day, that time, that event, when we stick the safety pins into our numbers and mass at the start line. To see how much we can endure. To battle with our friends without fighting them. To put everything on the line.

Everything.

Why you were at that race, little kid

If we just looked at that bike race and at what you’ve lost, there’s no way it was worth it. No stupid hobby is worth dying for. No little kid deserves to lose his dad like that.

But it wasn’t just a stupid hobby, little kid. These people who were around him when he died, they were his friends. They were the people who helped him when he flatted on training rides, they were the people he helped when it was they who had a mechanical.

They were the people he laughed with. The people he suffered with. The people he sat down with at day’s end and shared a beer with.

Little kid, living in a community, whether you’re lucky enough to have a community of friends, a community of family, or both, is the only thing that makes life worth living. Without people around you to love, and to share the good, to help fend off the bad, and to laugh at the absurd, we’re not living. That loneliness of not having a community of friends can kill people, little kid, just as surely as a blow to the head killed your dad. It’s the loneliness that took the life of someone I loved, too.

But your dad, he lived. And when he entered the world of bike racing he entered the world of a bleeding, life or death intensity that those who haven’t done it can never understand. It’s a world of fear, of loathing, of pain, of exhilaration, of speed, of triumph, of defeat, and of unmitigated battle. It doesn’t make you better, or smarter, or even happier, but while you’re doing it you’re as completely, intensely, and thoroughly alive as anything else you’ll ever do, living so that your mind and body expand to fill the entirety of the time and space you occupy. You become, so briefly, the moment itself. When it’s done, you can only vaguely believe that it ever really happened.

That was your dad’s world, and the people he did it with were his people. What’s funniest, little kid, is that in our bike racing community, we’re friends even with people we’ve never even met. And I’ll try to explain that part, too.

Passing the torch

Your dad loved you more than you’ll ever know. How do I know? Because I’m a dad. Dads love their sons deeply and profoundly and wildly and also with the recognition that the little kid is going to be a man some day, and the man that the little kid becomes will outstrip the dad. It’s pride and love and expectation and respect and even a little chagrin, all mixed into one.

Your dad loved you so much that he wanted you to be part of his community. You would have grown up around bikes and bike racers and you would have learned some lessons, lessons like “The correct number bikes to own is n +1, where ‘n’ equals the current number of bikes you own.” Lessons like “Don’t sneak new bike purchases on the credit card. Discuss it with the wife first, then buy it.” Lessons like “Beer goes with bikes, but don’t overdo it.”

You would have learned other things, too, crucial ingredients that go into the recipe of making a little kid into a man.

“There is no ‘try.’”

“Give it everything you’ve got.”

“Overcome your fear.”

“Don’t give up.”

“Help your friends.”

“Take big risks.”

“No regrets.”

And the biggest one of all: “Teach by example.”

That’s the biggest one of all, little kid, because through his community and his hobby your dad was setting you up to learn all those lessons. He was setting you up to learn about adversity, about good times, about doing your best, about taking big risks, and about friendship. So when you ask why your dad had to die doing a stupid weekend crit, there’s part of your answer. He loved you and knew no other way to teach than through example.

Whether you ride bikes or race them later doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know how much he loved you, and how much he wanted you to learn those life lessons that every man has to learn in order to make his way.

The wheels around you

After your dad died, it created an earthquake of shock in his bicycle riding community. People who knew him and people who didn’t immediately thought of you, little kid. We thought about you because some of us have little kids, too, little kids who clap and cheer in between soda pops on race day. But those of us without kids had you uppermost in our minds, too. We love you, too, little kid, even though we don’t know you.

We love you because what happened to your dad could have happened to any one of us, and we know it. We felt the awfulness this way — “That could have been me.” — and we, because we’re part of your dad’s community and therefore yours, want you to know that you’ll never be alone.

We can’t replace your dad, little kid, or even come close. But your dad’s life will be memorialized, and he’ll have left behind something for you that’s worth more than any insurance policy: A legacy and reputation in his community, a community of friends who won’t ever forget him, and a community of friends who will be there for you if grow up and decide to follow where he led.

Peace out for now, little kid. We’ve got your back.

§ 81 Responses to Letter to a little kid

  • The Dude With the Funny Helmet says:

    There but for the grace of Dog go I.

    I didn’t know the guy and he didn’t know me, and I didn’t plan to pin on a number and race a stupid industrial park crit next weekend, but with all proceeds of the race going to the family, I can’t imagine doing anything else next Sunday. I have a feeling that day is going to be a lot more than just a race, but instead a gathering of a community.

    • Admin says:

      Thanks, Robert.

    • brad bailey says:

      I raced 2 crits that day for Grupo Velo. I did not call my wife after my races (she worries about me racing while on a blood thinner) and she ended up calling and texting Chris looking for me. He calmed her down and said he would find me. Chris found me; joked about wives worrying about is and we both watched the race for a bit.

      when i heard of his death, i was afraid to tell my wife for fear she would never let me race again. it was a shock to her.

      we both just finished reading your article and with tears streaming down both our faces we hugged.

      Thank you for writing this for my wife (You helped explain to my wife why I started racing.), myself, our community and especially for Cono’s sons.

      You gave a gift to his sons that any father would want to pass on. A gift of love, purpose and community.

      You did good!

  • Brian in VA says:

    Wow. Well said, sir. And this line “living so that your mind and body expand to fill the entirety of the time and space you occupy” is one of the best I’ve ever read from you. And you’ve written a bunch of good ones prior to this.

    Thanks.

  • B K says:

    Mixed emotions about this one. Don’t know what to say really. Shattered my arm in a weekday crit six weeks ago. Could have just as easily been my skull. That is difficult enough to digest and explain to a wife and two little ones. I guess it is hard for us to let go of the social time, community, friend time, and running with the ‘pack’ though.

    • Admin says:

      In the beginning, we do it out of curiosity or desire. In the middle, we rationalize it. In the end, we just accept it as what we do, and a part of who we are.

  • New Girl says:

    Seth: Brilliant and beautiful ~

  • Dave Gonyer says:

    Peace

  • renagade69 says:

    Amen. A Sobering realization worthy of remembering every time we toe the line.

    • Admin says:

      There used to be an official who started every race more less like this: “You signed a waiver acknowledging that you might die doing this. It’s not a joke. You may die today. Please step away from the line if you’re not prepared to die racing your bicycle.”

      No one ever stepped away. But the races always started, it seemed, a bit slower than usual.

  • craig b. hummer says:

    thanks for so eloquently reminding us of our promises and priorities: to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to our extended two-wheel family

  • Blanca Villareal says:

    The cycling community has BOTH of his children’s backs. You are both in our prayers and hearts young men.

    • Admin says:

      I’m so sorry that I didn’t know about his elder son. A friend let me know after this went up. You are right. We’re there for his whole family.

  • Mark Scott "METALMTN" says:

    What a great letter to a child who will most definitely appreciate reading it one day. As a father myself (and a bike racer, if that means anything) I was devastated to hear of his passing. I had raced the day before at the Barry Wolfe GP with my wife and family watching. It could have been me or one of my close friends.

    When we make the decision to race bikes, we chose to be part of something larger then just bike racing and training……. We chose to be part of a brotherhood, a community, a family who looks after one another on and off the road or dirt. I hope his kids, wife and family know they have thousands of new family members among them. GOD SPEED CONO!

  • ibikekern says:

    Reblogged this on ibikekern and commented:
    In a time if loss, Seth’s words express the feelings inside. RIP CONO.

  • KH's Little Bro says:

    One of your best blogs yet, Seth – bravo. For as long as my brother has been racing, I’ve never thought about this happening, yet it could happen any day. Condolences to his family and friends.

    • Admin says:

      Thanks, Leonard. It’s there for everyone, whether you’re racing or whether you’re pedaling with me on the Donut rolling out of Riviera Village. Make sure our accident insurance is paid up, and that we’re aware of the risk. Hope to ride with you again soon, bud.

  • Jim Carrigan (Denver, CO) says:

    Well done, Sir. I don’t even know the details of the story, but my Dad died skiing (his passion / his community) when I was 9, and I’m a bike racer and the father of two young boys.

  • Mo'Nilla says:

    I was tooling down the path late yesterday afternoon- decompressing with some tunes- and out of the blue I start thinking about this guy that I don’t even know. And then I’m thinking about his wife and kids- people I don’t even know. And then I start thinking about my wife and kid, and all that entails- then comes this huge rush of thoughts and images- past, present, future. It was like some kind of giant stream-of-consciousness maelstrom in my brain- and I am not someone usually prone to much introspection. Suddenly my eyes just started watering for no apparent reason. Fuck. I could barely see the path. Had to pull over. What the fuck was that all about? Must have gotten some sand in my eyes. Yeah. That must have been it. Sand in my eyes.

    • Admin says:

      I think everyone was hit by it, Marv. Could have been any one of us. Thanks for the fellowship and homemade brew the other day. We gotta live while we’re alive, or something like that.

  • David Wehrly says:

    Seth, the value you bring to the cycling community through your presence and your written word is immense. This tribute is an incredibly loving post and fantastic piece of writing, that is deeply touching. May God bless you and little kid and his family.

  • Michelle Landes says:

    Wow Seth beautiful blog hope his kids keep it in their hearts!❤

  • roger worthington says:

    Thanks Seth. Very touching. Few people would try to make sense of this horrific death. As usual you have stepped up and matched the challenge. It’s hard to explain this to anyone, let alone a grieving child. I guess the only thing Im wondering is whether we’ve really got the backs of all the children of racers out there. I mean, don’t we need to address the precise circumstances of how this happened? Was the course safe? Could it have been safer? Was the deceased experienced and skilled enough to race with the elites? Should he have been allowed to? Does the cycling governing body, or the promoter, have any responsibility? Yes, we all know there are risks — deadly dangerous risks. But signing a waiver should never excuse anyone from using reasonable care to prevent or at least take reasonable efforts to limit foreseeable dangers. I just think that needs to be addressed.
    I have seen too many good people get seriously hurt or killed but nothing really changes because, as the arguments go: 1) he knew the risks and signed away his rights, and 2) he died doing what he loved. Let it be said here and now that if I ever crash for whatever reason and have my skull bashed in, or lungs crushed, or spine snapped, please dont let anyone stand up at my funeral and tell everyone that “Roger died doing what he loved.” There’s nothing remotely ecstatic, blissful or joyous about that.
    I hope that your thoughtful and sincere story motivates the community to replace comforting nostrums with a commitment to act righteously.

    • Admin says:

      Yep. Well said, and agreed. I’m not sure what the next step is, but it needs to come from the riders. Brent Garrigus made many of the same points. We’re the ones who are risk, so we’re the ones who need to affirmatively work with the promoters to address what you’ve pointed out.

      Thanks for posting.

  • Wankomodo says:

    First of all, You have an absolutely amazing talent for the written word. It runs the gamut from ripping me a new one about stop lights on group rides, detailed accounts of port-a-potty usage, to very touching pieces like this. Most people would not to know what to say to a grieving child in a situation like this, what you put forth is so eloquent, so touching.

    This really hit home for me. My biggest fear in life is leaving my daughter without her father. Whenever I am racing, the thought of not being able to pick up and hug my daughter because daddy’s in a wheelchair runs through my mind. This worry always takes the fun out of racing for me. I have been trying to get over this mental block, but this extremely unfortunate incident will make it so much more difficult in that it validates this fear. Now the thoughts of Cono’s wife and child going through life without him will run through my mind as well.

    Funny part is these thoughts never run through my head when I’m out riding (solo or group but not racing). Odd since riding on the road with cars (or NPR wankers) is clearly more dangerous than an office park crit.

    I really enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    • Admin says:

      Thanks, WM. Racing’s different, right? It’s cage fighting with friends. If the internal messaging system is telling you not to do it, then, do what wise people have done for millenia: Follow your instinct.

  • Silvis Aburto says:

    This is beautiful!!! I don’t think anyone could have written this little boy a letter better than you have. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I am positive someday this little boy will read this and understand your message!

    Our family has also been really touched by what happened at this race on Monday. My husband is a fellow racer and I also have a 2 year old son who sits at the races and shouts “Go daddy, Go daddy”! I just can’t imagine being this wife or my son being the “little kid” :”( this is just all so heartbreaking!

    At this time, I think the only appropriate thing is to say God bless the entire Southern California cyling community. Our thoughts and prayers are with this family and especially with this “little kid”!!!

  • Stephanie Avnet Yates says:

    What a raw and powerful essay about fatherhood, and cycling, and friendship. Written by a guy I’ve never met, about a guy I didn’t really know — but who hasn’t been out of my thoughts for a moment since Monday. Written for a little boy who, along with his mom and big brother, will shed a tear every Memorial Day for the rest of his life. I will never be less frightened when those I love climb in the saddle, but perhaps I can look on with a little better understanding, thanks to you.

  • Rob says:

    Tragic. When and where did this happen? Was there an article or story anywhere about this guy? Thanks for the piece.

  • Todd Schoenbaum says:

    Thanks for that Seth. It’s nice to see someone spell out what so many of us are feeling and thinking, though not as eloquently. All the best to his family.

  • chris675d says:

    Great article, hopefully his kids get to read it. I didn’t know him in person but I had seen many of his cycling related posts on facebook since a lot of my friends knew him. He was a great person.

  • Lauren says:

    This is a beautiful response to such a heartbreaking tragedy. My dad races bikes (with you actually! he’s dandy andy) and I was crying before I was even done with the first paragraph. I can’t imagine living without my father and even though I am a girl I still learned all those lessons you so accurately illustrate–because of my father. Thank you so much for making me see why he races.

    • Admin says:

      Your dad is such a wonderful guy, and one day I’ll forgive him for always crushing me when I go down to San Diego to ride. You know, I thought about the gender-specific nature of what I was saying as I wrote it, and left it that way because Chris’s small child is a boy. If she were a girl the lessons would have been the same. So glad you dropped me a note!

  • David Kramer says:

    Seth, beautiful and fitting memorial. For proof that we have each other’s back – proceeds from the June 9 Costa Mesa crit go to the Christopher Conteras family. http://socalcycling.com/RaceAnn/2013/cbrjune.pdf . Thank you Chris Lotts. Do you know of any other fund setup to directly donate to the family?

  • Jeff Beeson says:

    There is one lesson we all learn early in our cycling years – there are two kinds of riders, those who have gone down and those who are about to go down. Most of us have had our share of accidents and near misses. I know that I am on borrowed time and have learned to appreciate each and every day as precious. Family and friends take on new meanings when we face into tragedy. The true nature of a person is exposed during these times and you find out who you can really count on in when you need a helping hand. A community also has a personality and its’ true nature surfaces during difficult times. Examples include Boston, Moore Oklahoma, policemen, firefighters, war-fighters, and yes, cyclists. It always renews my faith in humanity when I see a community pull together even for someone they never met. Like it or not Seth you are one of the voices of our community and you have once again given words to the feeling of the heart of our community. Thank you.

  • Robert says:

    Chris was an AMAZING, larger than “life” person. And I’m happy to say that he is/was/still is a very good friend of mine. I never thought that this would happen to someone I knew, let alone someone as experienced as he. I personally was devastated when I heard the news, I was going to attend the race on Memorial Day but opted to train on the velodrome instead. I miss my dear friend, and I feel for his family even more. My condolences to Akio and Cado and the Cono family. Thank you for the letter BTW.

  • Tom Morgan says:

    What a wonderful memorial, to a life lived well and to all those who have lost someone they love, doing something they love. It is one thing to know something, but it is something else altogether to express it with such grace and eloquence.

  • darell says:

    Still crying. Can’t even see clearly to type. I don’t race. I didn’t know Cono. But I do ride, and I do have a kid – and really, there’s no more important, universal message than what you just shared.

    Time to go kiss my daughter goodnight before another moment passes.

  • Al Lakes says:

    Community and a little boy.

    On the Bullet Train Memorial Ride yesterday morning, I thought about the community around Chris. The people who showed up were male, female, young, middle-aged, white, black, brown. It was the type of community we see as the ideal of our Nation but don’t always experience in practice. A man with this diversity of friendship surely lived a life worth celebrating.

    Then, walking out of the restaurant where we honored Chris’s memory, I saw his little boy. I grew up without a father, I was that little boy. As you write, Seth, we must all be fathers to this little boy.

  • […] And this, more than anything else, is why it matters (Cycling in the South Bay) […]

  • Eric R says:

    Seth, thank-you for this kind and elegant tribute. I am still in tears.

    In an attempt for me to try and understand and rationalize this tragedy I thought about the more famous riders who have died like Fabio Casartelli and more recently Wouter Weylandt. I felt sad about these deaths and donated to their families as I will to Christopher Conteras’ family. This brought me to this page about cycling deaths.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_professional_cyclists_who_died_during_a_race

    We all know that cycling is dangerous and this article linked from the article above talks about this.
    http://www.forbes.com/2006/11/15/sports-injuries-fitness-forbeslife_cz_cs_1114dangersports.html

    This death is really is hard to take because I too was out there racing around the same course. This incident also reminds me of those killed by motorists such as Jorge Alvarado and others which are just as tragic. I think we as a community have some work to do to make cycling and racing safer. Looking after each other is very important.

    • Admin says:

      Wow, thanks, buddy. What a grim list. I think Christopher was the 29th or 30th cyclist killed in LA this year.

  • zacallyn says:

    Reblogged this on Zac Griffin-IbikeKERN and commented:
    Great article on a very tragic reality of Bike Racing

  • Thank you Seth. I knew Chris from the old days when we were just two guys in the So Cal pack. Sometime in the 1980′s, waivers we signed pre-race went from “you acknowledge this pastime is dangerous” to “you give the USCF permission to come to your house at night and disembowel you”. We still raced our bicycles. I hope the little one understands.

    • Admin says:

      I’m not sure any of us will ever really understand. But one commenter noted that, understand or not, there are concrete steps we can and should take to make the races safer. It’s one thing to feel grief for Chris’s family, and another thing entirely to start working as riders, together with promoters, to make sure the risk of this type of incident is absolutely minimized. Thanks, Dave.

    • Miranda says:

      So many of you are leaving regards to Chris’s young son Cadence including his Grandmother… Lets not forget his oldest son Nick…

  • Jevons Shum says:

    Child. We love you. We are here for you. Remember what doesn’t break you will only make you stronger. You will a have difficult path ahead of you, but life must go on.

    The long journey we call life will never be easy without a father,but know this: ” We’ve got your back”

    Remember to love your mother because whatever pain you will endure she endured 10 folds.

    Admin: Thank you. V

  • KH says:

    That was beautiful.

  • Lynn Hamon says:

    Thank for this so very sad poem for my grandson Cadence, Christophers Mother .

  • Miranda says:

    I’m wondering if this is about my nephew or is it in general..?? My nephew is Chris C. I guess you know him as Cono… In any case this is a beautiful piece, even if it kept me in tears the whole time… Thank you..!!

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