My Father worked for a trucking company as a manager to the dispatch team and kept watch on all the trucks out on the road. If there was a problem he'd get the call. Beeper, cellphone, late night calls, "NO NO, YOU will make the weight, just slide the rear axles of the trailer aft to distribute weight!" I remember him saying. We'd pull off the road at the nearest pay phone when his beeper would alarm and his voice would carry because he was such a loud talker.
He also had his CDL license. This was a huge advantage because growing up money was tight, and trying to race a bicycle is not a cheap sport to be in. My old man would pick me up from high-school in a Semi-Truck, and we would drive all night. New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, were all far away destinations we drive to on the company's dime just to race bicycles. He would drive and I'd sleep in the sleeper cabin until morning. He'd wake me up sometimes not having slept at all to get pancakes at any diner we found. It was our tradition and what I found to be the best fuel to race on. We'd go to the race, he'd help me get ready, help out marshaling, officiating, or anything else he could do, and watch me race.
We then would load up, sleep for a few hours, pick up a return load somewhere and head home, usually dropping me off at school on Monday morning in the Big Rig and he'd head back to work...
End of October 2013, I was in off season, the time of year when there is no racing and no training. My old man had always been overweight, but was lately elated he was losing weight without doing too much other than watching what he was eating, yet in all of this, he'd been experiencing abdomen pain. A call. "Hi Mouse", this is what he called me. "Mighty Mouse", "Mouse Power". "Michael Mouse!". "The doctor I've been seeing suggested I get some tests. I'm going to beat it.". Beat what dad? "I have cancer...pancreatic" Anyone who's received that call won't forget it. I knew we had less than a year.
Fast forward 7 months. May 2014. We were running out of time. Racing a bicycle takes a lot of time. Professionally it requires a lot of travel. I was there to spend time with him.
In June of 2014, at the young age 61, Pancreatic Cancer took my Father; 6 months almost exactly from the time he was diagnosed.
I remember him stating, before he was ever sick, if he was ever in a nursing home in a vegetative state to pull the plug. Here he was in a nursing home, with multiple strokes having completely incapacitated him of all movement and speech. We needed every part of the nursing home and the automatic bed to raise and lower him so we could carry him to the bathroom, a very difficult task.
The last form of sustenance that was effectively keeping him alive was his IV, a device my dad hated. He hated needles, and even in his 98 % paralyzed state would wince. I had insisted he remain on the IV because he was so dehydrated. He also is Factor V positive, which is a genetic variation that causes his body to form blood clots more quickly. I also inherited this factor which nearly killed me back in 2006 with my own Pulmonary Embolism. This factor was beneficial long ago when we fought Lions, Tigers, and Bears and I imagine giving birth in remote areas…
That amount of fluid the IV was administering was keeping him alive. I will never forget the nurse pulling me aside and telling me this, and me instantly realizing she was right, followed by immediately understanding what I had to do. I will also never forget looking him in the eyes telling him I was going to pull the IV and what that meant. In his eyes I saw something, I'm not sure what, I like to think it was "Thank You", but I know there was fear in there too.
The room was quiet, nobody was around and I pulled it.
I stopped the drip, removed the needle, and stopped the meek bleeding. I knew it was going to be days now, but I also understood what those days were going to be like. Just from my own athletic career I knew what dehydration was, and I also was well aware of how dangerous dehydration was for guys like us who clot.
The three weeks that it took my father to go from having had a stroke but still able to smile, pick his tomatoes, and cut the grass, to the man before me, was an extraordinary change.
I learned more about my father in the 1.5 months before he died than I had in the 15 years prior because I’d been racing. I travelled the world racing. I missed holidays, family gatherings, weddings, parties, graduations, birthdays, funerals…there was always another race to attend, a plane to catch, and a schedule to keep.
My father died alone in his hospital bed 4 days before my brother was due to get married. His goal had been to make it to the wedding ceremony, the first wedding ceremony of his 3 boys. He would have been there in the state he was in. My brothers and I would have made that happen.
My brothers and I were privileged to be there for every single part of his journey leading up to his passing. The experience we had during this time was some of the most ****ed up things I'd ever seen and some of the most beautiful. I wouldn't hesitate to be there again if I had to, it was a privilege being there for him.
He is a large reason I began racing bicycles. He raced in his late teens back in the 60’s and had his cycling
Three months later, following my Dad’s death…I retired from the sport and life that I knew…
TO BE CONTINUED…