Warriors Never Die ~ Tim LaFollette and a tribute to the Often Awesome Army

26 08 2011

July 4th, 1939, Lou Gehrig’s famous speech gave a definition of hope to a diagnosis that was haunting.  70 years later, Tim LaFollette memorizes it and delivers it to a crowded baseball stadium and reminds us that we still need a cure.

I remember, earlier this year, with all the hubba-do about Columbus’s ‘red-white-and boom’, I could think of little else other than the fact that this speech was burned into my memory; not its word for word echo, but the fact that Gehrig’s hope rang out and we still needed to remember and to hear it.  I was biking and had the sudden realization that I was more conscious of this lack of a cure, than I was of the fireworks that were bursting in air.  I even thought, if we turned all the power of the organization, volunteers, employees, money, and enthusiasm shared by the public for this exploding moment in time, towards fighting ALS (and this energy was shared across the nation) we might have a cure in our hands today.  Instead, I and so many others like me, we are mourning those we’ve lost to this disease.  The last time I shared a fire works display with my mom, I was 13….

So this brings me to the Iron Horse Challenge, named in memory of Lou Gehrig (who was nicknamed the Iron Horse – a nickname as well for a train) and as it so happens, it resonates well with the route that the IHC was drafted on; the converted Rails to Trails that is an Ohio legacy.

I want to honor and celebrate Tim’s life this year, by dedicating this years Iron Horse Challenge to him.  More than that, I want to find a way to dub the Dayton/Fairborn IHC ride/course with something that will recall him and the Often Awesome army in the years to follow.  I also feel like I want to name the route to Cincinnati in Jon Blais’s name, after the ALS warrior poet, the ‘blazeman’, the Iron Man and triathlete, who helped redefine what a person with ALS can do and what power such actions have on creating awareness and inspiring us all to do more and be better people.

Today I received some exciting news that brought my excitement and energy around.  I received an unexpected exchange of text messages from a man I’ve mentioned before : Mike Lacey.  Now it should be mentioned that Mike and I met randomly last year, towards the beginning of my journey to bike 1000 miles for charity, on a


It was a down and dirty, pack your own water, lets-get-it-on, ride put on by the cycling jazz genie: Aaron Tsuro (of local Nudezine fame).  On the ride Mike and managed to talk and he encouraged me to join his posse on the MS 150 (from the previous post that sat on the doorway of this blog for over a year).

So Mike sends me a text and it goes like this:

Mike: Hey shawn…if people want to ride is a donation of 20-25 bucks good?  Iron Horse

me:  Oh yeah!

Mike: How many people can you handle buddy? (really, I was so excited by this..well you’ll see…)

me: I’m down 4 whatever u can recruit & I just need 2 know how many to work out logistics 4

Mike:  The ride down is on a trail so its not too hard?

me: It starts the first 20 on road & has about 20 on trail & 24 more on easy smooth back roads

Mike: Okay

Mike: Okay what seed do you all ride? (I felt fortunate that I’ve seen a few ride groups who have used this term so I wasn’t totally lost)

me:  mixed I tell everyone no less than 15mph

Mike:  Okay cool.  I will see what I can do.

me: ur awesome thanks!

So Mike rides with Team Speranza (which ironically means ‘team hope’ in Italian – I’m told – and it was about 6 months before I learned what it translated to and have been smitten by the team ever since).  Now if you’ve only been getting updates from the blog and have missed out on the later half of last years 1000 miles, you would have not heard of my riding with team speranza on a breast cancer ride at the end of the year (I will detail that later), and also started my year with them on an autism ride.  They recently posted photos from their efforts on Pelatonia this year and to be honest I don’t know how many riders they have on the team.  I know they are proudly supported by the Cyclist Connection and they swear allegiance to the owner for being their chief sponsor and master mechanic, but I’ve been on a few events, seen a couple of reoccurring faces, but I’ve never really discovered how many riders roll with them.  It’s a good group and frankly Mike is not only awesome by nature, he is also hilarious (anybody who starts humming the theme song from ‘smoky and the bandit’ on a charity ride gets my vote every time).

I get the notion in my head that Mike’s working on recruiting some of Team Speranza and I’m already so revved up by this that I start making calls.

My Friend S. is not a social media, public take my picture kind of guy.  He’s a good friend and he met my mom and has come out and supported the rides and walks in years past.  He is also the ‘guy with the truck’ and knowing this, I’ve taken many steps to never abuse this, and treat each offer with gratitude.  Knowing that I might need extra wheels and a truck to get some bikes back, I find the kindest way of asking that I can to see if he can lend his support.

My roommate Max Ink is a graphic novelist, who writes a series called ‘Blink’ that centers in Columbus OH and follows an amazing cast of characters as they draw focus on what it is to live and celebrate life in the face of change, society, and adversity.  Max has also supported my rides…matter of fact he was one of original IHC riders, the very first year that I did it,  just to see if it could be done.  Max had never biked that far in his life, had recently given up his car for cycling, and was riding a heavy, thick-tired ‘road’ bike that made his journey so much harder than anyone else’s.  I was so touched he came out, kept up with Ed and I (his bike making the only squeeks), and even honored me and the ride by saying what an experience it was.  He also is working on a future project that will involve his characters discovering one of their friends at an ALS walk and it will be an issue dedicated to those that fight ALS and will promote the Iron Horse Challenge and the Walks to Defeat ALS!  Max overheard me talking to Steve (and though he can’t do the ride to Dayton due to a comics show the day before), he volunteered to offer ride support and help get the riders back!

So the energy I’ve been running on is the jittery hope of having a record number of IHC riders and knowing that I have at least 3 support crew and vehicles to make this a great and comfortable event!

Ideas of how to paint the route are already swimming in my head.

Yet excitement was not only due to the potential riders and volunteers, its was also from the fact that I might be able to make this years IHC tribute to Tim LaFollette, a big event and bring the word of his amazing fight, his powerful love, his open, sneering-sarcastic defiance, and his amazing Often Awesome army to the Ohio awareness.  The hope, is of course, that the energy that he seeded will grow in new and powerful ways.

To jump on this potential, I had decided weeks ago that I wanted to do part of the IHC in Tim’s honor…not having any idea…(heads bows)….what would happen…it was something that I wanted to share WITH him…I regret so much that I can’t….

So today with the energy, hope, and with the desire to make the IHC vibrant and special for the riders this year..I worked up a couple of logo revamps for 2011

often awesome tributeoften awesome proto final flatIHC 2011 simple flat

I posted this on facebook and I am hoping to get some feedback about the designs.  I want the Often Awesome army to approve of it and I admit I am really missing photoshop CS3 and have to relearn photoshop 6 all over again…but I’m somewhat happy about how these turned out.  The sparrow is a symbol of the Often Awesome and you will see it in the future episodes of the series as I post them over the next 30 days.

Progress?  The potential of riders and the commitment of volunteers, the rebirth of my blog, and of my artistic tinkering…sure.  This is the energy that it takes to fight a war.  Its born of hope and its forged in action.




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