FoCo Fondo: a Study in Perseverance and Spreading the Stoke

“To be a cyclist is to be a student of pain. At cycling’s core lies pain. If you never confront pain, you’re missing the essence of the sport.”
– Scott Martin, Paralympic champion, Marine Corp veteran

The moment Kate crossed the line at the conclusion of the 53-mile FoCo Fondo ‘Dare You’ route, her beautiful, emotional release was one that resonated deeply with the crew, and was so familiar to all of us. Anyone who has ever dared to go deep has personally experienced something like this on the bike. It hits differently, and at different times for everyone. Sometimes, it’s letting go of relationship pain, giving self-doubt the middle finger, getting past grief of losing someone, losing part of yourself, or perhaps loosening the grip on who you used to be, and seeing a clearer glimpse of a new path you’re creating for yourself. It’s cathartic and cleansing. Starla and I often joke that the bike is the best place to have a cry.

Earlier that day, my riding buddy Afsana and I bumped into Kate at about mile 20 as she crested the hill to the rest stop where we were downing Cokes and Jojé bars. We all checked in and chatted briefly, and at that point, Kate was in good spirits, but also flirting with bailing on the 53, and just finishing the 32 mile course. As she spoke about where her head was, I could see her battling herself, weighing the current discomfort and self doubt against her own self-imposed future guilt of not completing her goal. We’ve all been there, and I recognized it immediately from so many of my own experiences in similar situations. With a little talking things through, she committed to what she’d started, and Afsana and I were off, back on our own shorter course for the day.

Kate crests the hill to the rest stop

Welcome to Stokeville

A funny thing happens when you decide to dig in, no matter the pain and struggle. After Kate’s emotional finish, we noticed she wasn’t alone. She told us that she’d made a friend out on course. She introduced us, and the woman said she’d actually decided to quit. Done. It was her first gravel cycling event, and she had actually quit her ride, downloaded the Lyft app, and was getting ready to call a Lyft to come get her and take her back to the start. Kate rolled up while she was hailing her ride, chatted her up, told her it was the longest distance she’d ever attempted. They decided they were going to finish it together, and damnit, they did. Every last mile. Every last smile.

Oh, what twelve months can do

After one of the scariest, worst times of our life (and let me tell you, we’ve had a few with my kidney transplant and double bypass), FoCo Fondo was Starla’s first event back after battling for her life earlier this year. A year ago, she won the FoCo Fondo long course, and stepped to the line in 2022 with the well-earned #1 plate. We were both emotional wrecks all morning. Just to see her lining up at the start of a cycling event after not knowing if she’d ever be able to ride a bike again was too much to hold in. We both cried on and off right up to the very point when the race started. A few months back in March, when she was lying in a hospital bed at Cedars Sinai in LA for nine days, we were both too terrified to think of much beyond getting her able to walk again, able to use her hands again, and finding the first steps in an unknown road to what we hoped would be recovery. To be at FoCo was in itself hard to internalize, and we both felt it.

Starla’s #1 bike and enviable quad

Here’s the thing though. Starla’s plan was to not race. It was a test to see how she felt. In fact, at the start line of the 102 mile “Double Dog Dare You” route, Starla’s old Hagens-Berman Supermint teammate and buddy, Jess Cerra, lined up with her. Together, they decided they weren’t bringing hydration packs and were just going to enjoy it – you know, stop at the rest stops, mingle with the volunteers. Ride bikes and chill.

Here’s the other thing though. You can’t put two race horses into an event and believe them when they say they aren’t going to race. Starla has a nice little writeup about what happened over on Instagram, but the spoiler is that they went 1-2, with Jess protecting Starla all day, and slinging her across the finish line to victory. Ride or die.

When these two crossed the line, I involuntarily ran over to them while they were embracing, grabbed both of them in a giant hug, and with ugly tears pouring down my face told Jess thanks for chaperoning my girl through her first event back. We’ll never be able to fully articulate what the first half of 2022 was like, but hopefully this start to the second half of the year is a sign of things to come for a while. Thanks again Jess. You’re solid gold.

FoCo was also my first event in twelve years. I ride often, but my days of endurance events are gone, and I’ve had to redefine (if not accept) what my new normal is. Our good pal Afsana was in Colorado, she’d never done a proper event since her arrival in the US from Afghanistan, and it just sounded great to ride the Fondo with her, and show her one of the many beautiful places to ride here on the Front Range. Plus, FoCo Fondo does it better than just about anyone – within the “sanctioned” confines of the event, Afsana and I had a skid contest, we shot a BB gun at targets (her first time ever holding a gun; welcome to America?!), we said hello to alpacas and baby goats, ate ridiculously good local tacos and ice cream sandwiches, and basically laughed all day (except when we were crying). It was a rad day out, every way you slice it.

Here’s to the next one! We’ll be at The Rad, Leadville 100, and maybe some others!

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