November 27, 2011 § 2 Comments
Will’s training and racing in early 2011 was focused on one goal: bring home gold from the UCI Track World Paracyling Championships in Montechiari, Italy. In four camps spanning two months and twenty-eight days his training regimen required two-a-days at the Home Depot Center Velodrome.
He arrived in Italy fit and competitively sharp, and found himself immediately taken by the rustic nature of this small Tuscan town, despite the overwhelming smell of cowshit that permeated the village. With only 23,000 inhabitants, Montichiari is home to Italy’s first indoor track that is open year-round for training and racing. Unknown to most of the world championship contenders, however, Montichiari is famed as the home of the humble peasant Pierini Gilli.
Pierina personally witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary on seven separate occasions in 1947. There are detailed historical records by the locals regarding the Virgin’s appearance, and even verbatim transcriptions of her words. For example, on December 8, the Mother of Jesus spake thus: “Through my coming to Montichiari, I whish to be known as the Rosa Mystica.It is my wish that every year, on the 8th of December, at noon, the hour of grace for the world be celebrated. Many divine and bodily graces will
be received through this devotion. Our Lord, my Divine Son Jesus, will send His overflowing mercy if good people will pray continuously for their sinful brothers. One should very soon notify the Holy Father of the Church, Pope Pius XII, that it is my wish that the hour of grace for the world be made known and spread throughout the world. If anyone is unable to visit his church, yet will pray at noon at home, he will also receive graces through me. Whoever prays on these tiles and weeps tears of penance, will find a secure heavenly ladder and receive protection and grace through my motherly heart. Soon one will recognize the greatness of this Hour of Grace. I have already prepared a flood of graces for all the children who listen to my words and keep them in their hearts. Good bye.”
As a side note, Montichiari is located in the heart of the Chianti wine growing region.
Will and the clock
The 3 km pursuit was Will’s first event, and he had never gone under four minutes in this test of aerobic fitness and ability to suffer. He was seeded against a Russian and consumed with the encouragement of a fellow trackie, who had texted him the night before to “Nuke the Commie Bastard.” Never mind that Russia is no longer communist; trackies aren’t known for their grasp of history or current events. The clock started and Will came out fast and never looked back. He caught and passed his opponent with two laps to go, holding on to take 7th place in 3:54, a personal best of nine seconds in competition, and a new American record.
The following day Will raced the kilometer, also finishing seventh and besting his previous PR. With these full gas efforts he was unable to unclip from the bike, let alone walk to due to uncontrolled shaking in his lower body. His coach caught him as he came off the track, and wheeled him down to the pit area where the staff unclipped him from the bicycle.
The next day led off with the team sprint, the event in which Will felt he had the best chance for a medal. The US had taken 4th in 2010 and the team was even stronger in 2011. All were hungry to stand on the podium. By the third day of competition everyone was getting fatigued, except teammate Vince, who had ridden a 1:08 kilo the night before to win a silver medal.
Will’s position was start, get out of the gate cleanly and drill it for 250 meters, then get out of the way. He was prepared for this event, as he had been training with his Olympic coach for an entire year. Will railed the warm up, and then waited nervously in that familiar spot, locked in a gate with sprint bars on and a clock counting down from 10.
He hit the start and tore out of the gate, depositing his teammates a lap later at over 30 mph, as they took up the baton and raced for a 4th place qualifying time, which put them in the bronze medal round later that evening. In the finals everything went perfectly until the Czech team had a mechanical, causing the gun not to go off until he was in the middle of turn one.
With only minutes between starts his legs were shaking as he remounted, his coach reminding him that he could repeat excellence. With a slightly missed start he clobbered the gear, giving all and hoping it was enough. In the end they missed the medal by seven-tenths of a second. The big consolation, however, was getting to enjoy the Italian Piedmont through a fog of great local wine, enjoyed over the next four days with his dad, brother, and a teammate.
Next stop…World Championships 2012
In October, Will dominated nationals by winning a gold medal in the kilo. After this event he was third overall, and with the top five automatically qualifying for worlds in February 2012, he’s setting the stage to win a rainbow jersey. The upcoming edition will be held on home turf here at the Home Depot Velodrome in Carson. Details here, see you there!
October 3, 2011 § 2 Comments
I will never forget that moonlit night in Venezia. We sat across from one another, the candlelight illuminating every curve of her strikingly beautiful face. The thick tresses of dark hair cascaded down onto her shoulders, and her unspeakably lovely eyes gazed deeply, infinitely, into mine. Our hands touched, every nerve in our bodies electrified by the anticipation of what was to come.
I had just completed work on a comedy script for Paolo Panelli, and it had met with rave reviews among Rome’s sharpest television critics. She gazed at me even more deeply as the notes from a sweet-voiced tenor’s barcarole drifted in through the open window. “My Seth,” she softly said. “Behind the smile and the laughter I know there is…” she paused, as she tried desperately to get a grip, “…a serious side to you. Oh, so serious.”
I watched her intently as the crooning from the gondolier mixed gently with the braying of two copulating donkeys, which in turn mixed with the oaths from a drunken sailor who had upset a trashcan in the alley and was now covered in fish heads and old tomatoes.
“Ah, my dearest Svetlana Olstowski-Nazlkanker,” I whispered back. “I don’t have a serious bone in my entire body. The closest I ever came to having a serious bone was, in fact, having a serious tooth, but the dentist yanked it when I was twelve and replaced it with this.”
I pointed to the stained, yellowed, and plainly mismatched front tooth that, upon meeting people for the first time, commands their stare as they wonder, “Why doesn’t he fix that fucking thing? We can make bionic fucking legs for chrissake, hasn’t he ever heard of a new crown?”
Svetlana, crestfallen, looked away, the mood forever broken as the drunken sailor began banging on the door below. “Luigi, you cocksucker! I’m going to cut your balls off with my bare teeth!”
Luigi, who apparently lived somewhere else, was unfazed. Luca, however, who lived behind the door that the sailor was pounding on, took umbrage at being called a “cocksucker” and came out swinging. Svetlana Olstowski-Nazlkanker and I watched them pound one another into pulp. I will cherish that moment forever.
Though lacking a serious side, I do occasionally have a serious thought.
But by the time the serious thought has swum its way to the edge of the pool, it is so exhausted from fighting through the sludge of inanity and silliness that it drowns before it can hoist itself up the ladder and onto firm ground. Sometimes, however, the thought is so robust, valid, and full of vim that it actually makes it to the other side without drowning. I had one of those thoughts a week ago on Friday. It begins, however, with an observation: someone you know well has a disability.
My buddy Banker Bob signed us up for the annual BORP charity ride in Sonoma County last week. In contrast to its awkward acronym, the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program does something beautiful. That something includes year-round sports and recreation programs for people with amputations, paraplegia, quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, head injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, strokes, sensory and visual impairments. Part of BORP’s annual program includes a fundraising bike ride. Participants include a breathtaking variety of riders. Many complete the 25-mile loop on adaptive vehicles.
It’s harder than it looks. And it looks plenty fucking hard.
What astounded me most was the post-ride. As the Trentadue Winery laid out an extraordinary buffet for participants, a scene unfolded unlike any I’ve been a part of, as we mingled with participants who were using all manner of wheelchairs and assistive devices. The realization crept up, and then overwhelmed me. Our society is filled with people who are capable of getting out and enjoying the two-wheeled experience, but who don’t ever get the chance to do it. I started making the mental tick-list of what takes for even the average Schmo to cycle–bike, kit, shoes, helmet–and then saw how much more daunting it must be if you require specialized equipment or instruction.
Fast-forward to the elite national track championships held this past week at the Home Depot Velodrome in Carson. We were treated to some unbelievable performances, not least of which was watching Mike Blatchford uncork a 41.9 mph sprint in his semifinal heat. Somewhere along the way local racer Will Chesebro also pulled on the stars and stripes. And then we got to see Joseph Berenyi pull off a come-from-behind win in the individual pursuit, no small feat when you consider that he did it with one arm. The roar of the audience as he began to surge with three laps to go, and his gutsy, take-no-prisoners ride was as exciting as anything I’ve ever seen. If sport has a gift to give, it was delivered to me that night with a bow on top.
Tell me again about that hard group ride you did.
It became clear that with regard to the BORP fundraising ride and the track races, the people doing the giving weren’t just the ones who paid the entry fee. The people showing us what it really means to overcome obstacles on their way to the pinnacle of excellence were dispensing with some charity as well, and perhaps the people most in need were those like me who really didn’t have a clue about how other people get on with their daily lives, lives in which things like going for a quick bike ride can be pretty complex.
So there it is, panting and out of breath, recovering as best it can with its legs dangling in the pool, the serious thought that has proven pretty resilient amidst the other mental clutter: sometimes when you set out to be charitable, what you find is that the real charity recipient is you.