The Ride for Roswell: Battling the Appalachians

He called me Sunday night and I could hear the strain in his voice, a mix of pain and despair. Bob Gang had set out to ride about 400 miles from Maryland to Western New York and the second day wasn’t going so well. Day Two involved the Appalachian Mountains and he wasn’t quite prepared for the difficulty of the terrain.

See, Bob is a recreational cyclist. With a desire to participate in the annual event, The Ride for Roswell, he decided to do something big. He wanted to be part of the fundraiser for Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. but felt he wanted a challenge. Instead of just returning home to Western New York and ride one of the event courses, he would ride nearly 400 miles to the event from his current home in Maryland. In April, he began training with a hard-core cycling buddy and started fundraising. He had raised over $8,000. He had worked hard and was ready to tackle this multi-day journey. Through the process he learned a lot — about cycling and about his body.

But perhaps he didn’t really understand his own resolve until Sunday night, when he was sitting in a hotel room in the middle of Pennsylvania debating calling off the journey.

Bob called me because we spoke weeks earlier for a story I was writing for The Buffalo News. He shared the latest part of his trek: His body was wrecked from the terrain. He was in massive amounts of physical pain. And while he didn’t come out and say it, I could sense the emotional pain — questioning his training and feeling he would be letting down all of his donors by abandoning the ride.

New York State welcomes Bob Gang.

The athlete in me could empathize. I know what it’s like to work so hard for something and feel like everything is crashing down around you. I know what it feels like to be facing the possibility of failure — and failure in a very public way. I thanked him for calling me, told him that he had to do what was best for him. That was all anyone could ask. Meanwhile, the reporter in me was panicked about my story, but I didn’t let Bob know that. I hung up and spent the next 12 hours preparing for additional interviews, reworking the slant of the story and settling in for a long rewrite.

As I worked out my own reporting stress during a long swim on Monday morning, Bob was leaving me a voicemail. By the time we spoke, just before lunch, Bob informed me he was standing at the “Welcome to New York State” sign waiting for his wife, Janelle, to arrive to take a photo. I believe I actually did a fist pump in the office while speaking with him.

Turns out, after some ice and good night’s sleep, Bob was ready to try the road again. With more favorable terrain, and some nice downhill sections, he completed 50 miles in around three hours and was happy to report he would finish the ride. He thanked me for my encouraging words in our previous phone call. I was humbled. Because I didn’t think I offered much encouragement. I listened. I sympathized. I congratulated him for having the courage to try when so many others don’t even get to the start.

If Bob wasn’t an inspiration for attempting this journey, he certainly was one for continuing. When he was in all kinds of pain and contemplating calling off the adventure, he took a rest, tried again and found magical success. How many times do I encounter my own Appalachian Mountains? How many times do I question my preparation, my skill, my sanity? How often do I worry about letting other people down?

Sometimes we just need an ice bath, some sleep and a little bit of encouragement to give us our second wind. And amazing things can happen if we just take time to catch our breath and make the decision to keep moving forward.

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