Racing for a reason

Judy Esposito, a breast cancer survivor from Crested Butte, Colorado and Jill Murphy Long.
As I packed my bike for the Lance Armstrong 2005 Ride for the Roses in Austin, Texas, I felt the trepidation I have felt with other century rides, but this time for a different reason. I wasn't questioning my ability to cycle the designated mileage at a respectable speed, but I was nervous about the arena I was to enter -- the cancer community.

While I have cycled many miles for other causes, usually those receiving the benefits of the fundraising do not show up at the event. This was my first time to Austin, my first time to ride alone and my first time to cycle with the individuals who I raised money for. As with most firsts, I didn't know what to expect.

The Friday night before the ride was my first encounter with the community. I met my roommate, Judy Esposito, a breast cancer survivor from Crested Butte, Colorado who was diagnosed in early 2005. This amazing woman declared her resolution to ride her 35-pound mountain bike 70 miles into the strong head winds, up and down the rollers of east Texas. It kept her going while enduring chemo treatments.

I shared many tips and hints on cycling with Judy. But less than 36 hours until the challenge, she felt apprehension. However, based on what she already survived; I pointed out this bike ride might be a lot easier. I saw Judy smiling after the race. She did it.

Since I was invited on behalf of the Lance Armstrong Foundation to autograph my book, Permission to Play, I had the opportunity to meet many survivors. They came in wheelchairs to get a covert autograph from Linda Armstrong as she signed her book, No Mountain High Enough: Raising Lance, Raising Me. They asked George Hinicapie to sign Tour de France baseball caps. They came on crutches to catch a glimpse of Lance Armstrong and to hear his inspirational words. They came on tandems in order to ride the 100 miles with some help. They came missing an arm, missing their hair, missing a leg -- still determined to cycle the course and show the world the other side of life after surviving cancer.

Race day

On Sunday, the day of the ride, I stood at daybreak with 6,500 cyclists listening to Lance Armstrong read the mission statement of his foundation. As I looked around me, I saw many yellow cards pinned to the back of jerseys that read: "Colon Cancer Survivor 2 Years," "Breast Cancer Survivor 4 Years," "Prostate Cancer Survivor 1 Year," and "Cancer Free (30 Days)."

My jersey was also covered in cards: "In Memory of Sherry, my mother-in-law," "In Honor of Uncle Richard," "In Honor of Janet Kelly," "In Honor of Robbie Hudson, my business associates," and "In Honor of Lance Armstrong, who illustrates through his daily living that after cancer -- life can be filled with hope and possibilities."

I rode in awe of what the human spirit can accomplish. Cancer survivors pedaled the undulating roads, some of it easy, some of it hard and all of it uncannily similar to their battle with cancer. Some dismounted and walked their bikes up hills that stretched on too long, but they were out there fighting. Mile after mile I was moved by their pure determination -- some pedaled slowly; others picked up speed and rode beside me for a mile or five. My ride was probably made easier because of these people.

On the long road, there was one sight that will always stay with me. A woman with short, gray hair sat alone in her pick-up truck along the route with a handmade sign anchored to its roof. She beeped the horn and pointed to her words: "Thank You! From A Cancer Survivor!" She must have sat there for hours.

The finish line, still an elusive dot on the faraway horizon, taunted those tired, but not defeated. Would they make it? The last miles of any ride are expected to be tough -- usually up hill and into the wind. The 2005 Ride for the Roses did not disappoint. The last turn back into the Travis County Expo Center took riders up a small grade and directly into a gale force wind, which I am convinced the seven-time Tour de France champion set up in order to let us experience training in a wind tunnel.

As I watched cyclists struggle up the hill and then cross under the finish banner and celebrate their accomplishments, I thought about how these survivors and those still fighting this horrible disease are just like you and me. They could be you or me. Cancer isn't selective. It can strike anyone. They are like you and me with similar dreams, hopes and wishes for the future: to be healthy, to watch another sunrise, to live a full and happy life.

This week, I encourage you to go outside -- cycle, run or walk for yourself or for someone else in need. Your motivation and courage can be provided. After signing up for a cause-related event, try a few of these motivational tips from my second book, Permission to Play, Taking Time to Renew Your Smile to keep you playing, happy, healthy and helping someone else:

  • Shop. Go shopping for a new toy or tool and then watch the level of your excitement accelerate.
  • Play first. By allowing the option to reorganize the day and priorities, you can bribe yourself to do what you have to do in order to do what you want to do -- or vice versa.
  • Book it. Schedule with others or book your time with an objective in mind to make getting out the door much easier.
  • Keep a play journal. Pick up any blank book to record the miles, minutes or just your fun times spent outdoors playing. The best part of this charm is that bragging is permitted.
  • Positive thoughts. Tell yourself that you are good -- whatever you are attempting. The more often you say these positive words, the more you will believe them. It makes it easier to get you on your way to becoming the athlete you know you are.

After more than 35 years of riding my bike for fun, races and causes, I still use these "bribes, tricks and charms" to help me play frequently. Why? They work. See you on the road, bike trail and single track.

Jill Murphy Long is the author of Permission to Play, Taking Time to Renew Your Smile ($14.95, Sourcebooks, 2003). Her inspirational book encourages big kids to find numerous ways to include active play in their days and is available at:, major bookstores and fine independents. The author continues to donate a portion of her royalties from the books sales to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Thank you for your support.

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