Dearly departed

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I’m back at my desk after a relaxing 3-day weekend in Key West catching up on industry news. I spent Monday watching Nicky Hayden’s memorial service, which was livestreamed on Facebook and viewed by over a million people from St. Stephen Cathedral Church in Owensboro, Kentucky.

My tears started falling once the priest started his Homily talking about Nicky as a world champion, a hero and a winner, sure, but he was also as a giver, a listener, determined, driven, goal-oriented, loyal, funny, witty, grounded – everything anyone wants to be.

The priest said, first and foremost, he wanted to concentrate on Nicky as a gift from God.

“As we often say about a gift, we are called to do many things with the gifts that God gives us … three things – We are to take care of the gift that God gives us. Secondly, we are to share the gift that God gives us, and third, the unthinkable, we have to give back to God the gift that He gave us, because in the end, everything belongs to God.”

Father Tony thanked the family for willingly sharing their precious gift – Nicky – with so many people: “The world is a better place for you sharing the gift of Nicky with so many people.”

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Memorial Day will always have a different meaning for me now. Along with the short list of those I know personally who served in the armed forces, I will always remember Nicky on this day especially; if I ever happen to forget about him, I will never forget the words he shared with me many years ago in his Ask Nicky advice column that shaped my life, “transformed my inner self” and will always remain in my heart:

“…motivation shouldn’t be something you have to find. You’ve got to have it inside.” – Nicky Hayden

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I will remain grateful for the gift of Nicky’s life, as will his millions of faces across the world. RIP, Kentucky Kid. “Let’s get it,” as Nicky would say. ✌

Donations for local children, here.

Lost

I was super stoked to write about my weekend at Tampa MX and winning my first-ever motocross race until I heard the news that Nicky Hayden passed away and, this time, after multiple reputable international sources confirmed, it wasn’t fake news. I cried in my cubicle, sitting there in complete shock. I wondered, selfishly, why the ones we love the most are taken away from us too soon. The motorcycle community is small, sure, and my heroes are everybody’s heroes, I guess. Maybe only the good die young, like Billy Joel said, or God needs them. But I don’t believe any of that. Motorcycle racing is dangerous, sure. But so is bicycling, apparently. Nothing is safe. Nothing makes sense.

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The Finnerty bros, Nicky and I at Mid-Ohio in 2000

I was a young racer (see above) when I met Nicky and Roger Lee at Mid-Ohio in 2000. At the time, he was the dreamy “Kentucky Kid” my dad told me about. We watched him and his brothers every year when they came down to race flat track at Daytona. I stood in line by myself to have my picture taken with him and get his autograph – he was my Prince Charming. A few years later, I submitted a question to the Ask Nicky column in my favorite motorcycle publication, Racer X Illustrated, and they printed it along with his answer! I dreamed of showing it to him one day …

Hearing the news Monday, I walked around looking for a tissue. When asked why I was crying, I told my colleagues about Nicky, who they’d never heard of. It’s hard to believe someone who inspired me “to have it inside” (see above) and motivated me so much was unbeknownst to them. I returned to my desk, reading all of the social posts from my other heroes – his brother, Roger Lee, Ricky Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath. We’re all at a loss for words. The only thing I can do is change my racing number to 69 – sorry, Mom. – in his memory and keep on racing for him.

They ain’t seen the blood sweat and tears it took to live their dreams
When everything’s on the line
Ain’t just another field, just another farm
No, it’s the ground we grew up on
They think it’s a middle of nowhere place where we take it slow
Aw but they don’t know – Jason Aldean

Building time

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Sunday marked the third week in a row at Croom Motorcycle Area trying to get back up to speed. I managed a solid 18.98 miles before a few minor mistakes – washing out in a corner, casing a whoop and hitting false neutral – had me riding back to the truck before a massive crash hurt my arm again.

I spent a lot of time by myself while being injured off the bike – “not killing time, building time” – so it only feels natural coming back to speed by myself, too. I used to loathe riding by myself, but not anymore. Florida is actually the only place I’ve ridden where it’s relatively safe to ride alone, since 90 percent of the terrain lacks any real challenge; there’s more knee-deep sand whoops and flat pine rows covered in pine needles than anywhere on Earth. Plus, I have no problem meeting my usually high standards by myself but, when I have to wait on anyone OR play catch up, I lose focus and don’t ride my best.

Solo, it’s just me getting back into the swing of things, sticking to the basics of body positioning, throttle and clutch control, moving as fast as I can while minimizing mistakes.

How I know I’m getting stronger is my body is gradually less sore this Monday than I was last week, and I rode more yesterday than I have in months. I’ve been training, too, at spin class during the week where I’m burning more calories than I’ve ever burned running or riding, and it’s made a noticeable difference and provided peace of mind in my body’s capacity to respond. I know I have a long way to go before I can compete for podiums the way I once did, but there’s still nothing like seat time to return to true form.

“The best ability is availability.”

 

 

 

Say grace

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I’ve always struggled playing stick and ball sports, running and dribbling or kicking a ball at the same time. I’ve bonked my head too many times to count, crashing into trees that never moved, and I’ve broken more bones than most people. What I lack in grace I must make up for in clumsiness. But I’ve never used it as an excuse; I still ride as hard and as fast as I can every time I throw my leg over my motorcycle. Bruised legs and scraped arms are to be expected (sorry, Mom!). All joking aside, my clumsiness Sunday caused me to catch an unexpected tree vine between my goggles and my helmet, which ripped me off my bike (by an unseen-at-the-time force) and left me with a bloody scratch across my face, which was fun walking into work on Monday. I counted a number of jaws dropping as I explained “what happened now” with a laugh.

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If a vine catches you in the forest and no one is around to see if your nose is still attached, take a selfie.

“You need a new sport,” someone said.

Another, “You’re hurt again?”

Most: “What happened to your face?”

I explained what getting coat-hangered off the bike meant – another freak accident – and how I ended up face-first in a palmetto bush. “The vine usually goes across your neck,” I explained. “It seriously tried to rip my nose off.”

Everyone’s shock made me thankful for another chance to turn a negative to a positive. I couldn’t let this get me down. Not now. I only caught the vine because I was riding the edge of the trail, trying to ride smart and avoid the deep whoops. Somehow, walking around with a smile on my wonderfully-scratched face, I had to have mercy on myself.

“See ya, Crash.” – my co-worker

Work in progress

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Solo Saturday at Croom

I had the forest to myself on Saturday to celebrate Earth Day and my second time on the bike since February. I took myself out for a ride, watching my watch, and wanted to see how far I could go before my arm started hurting (and got really sketchy.)

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Answer: about 6 miles. My heart rate averaged 157 and maxed out at 170. My speed averaged at 16.2 and maxed out at 26 mph. Overall, I rode over 14 miles and burned 468 calories before deciding to load up after scaring myself to squeals almost crashing a few times. The week before, my first ride back, I rode 11 miles at an average heart rate of 125, maxed out at 157 and burned 296 calories, so here’s to progress.

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Come Monday, I always get a kick out of reading the mainstream media’s take on the sport that’s so near and dear to my heart, and I can always tell, from how the story reads to the word choice, the reporter doesn’t ride dirt bikes or even follow the sport. This article from the Salt Lake Tribune refers to Saturday’s Monster Energy Supercross event, first, as “Motocross” in the headline, then calls it the “American Motorcyclist Association series” and fails to mention the words Monster Energy Supercross at all. Moreover, “Ryan Dungey from Cortez, Co., and Eli Tomac of Clermont, Fla.,” when, actually, Dungey lives in Florida (he’s from Minnesota) and Tomac lives in Colorado. All of these facts are easily googleable.

“The riders in the 450SX Class raced on 450cc four-stroke motorcycles over a course that includes jumps and obstacles. Another category at the event for younger competitors was on 250cc four-stroke bikes.”

I imagine it would be like me covering golf or fishing or some other obscure sport in which there are certain expressions and vocabulary words unknown to the general public. On the flip side, I loved reading this Transworld Q&A with MotoGP’s Marc Marquez on “motocross, his passion and our specialty.”

Resurrectee

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Ten weeks to the hour since I broke my arm, turns out life goes on after all. I made my comeback Sunday without much fuss with my goal to ride at least 10 miles before loading up. Oh, how I’d missed just driving for a while and having the chance to clear my thoughts and get them together again (and repeat.) It dawned on me that I would be making my return to riding on Easter, so I turned on the Christian rock station for the 90-mile drive to Brooksville. I might have even shed a few tears as I realized I was experiencing my own resurrection in starting over with my riding and training.

Pulling into the park, I sped by the normal parking spot and headed toward the back so as not to be seen or pressured to ride over my head. I wanted to prove my triumph over injury to myself before my official revivification and took the opportunity to come alive again and experience the joy that riding brings me, which nothing, no evil, can destroy.

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Gearing up

The goal of human life is not death but resurrection – Karl Barth

To be free

It’s been nine weeks (and counting) since I rode my dirt bike (not counting the lap I took around the storage unit last week making sure my girl was still alive and kickin’ – she started on the second kick.)

I spent my Sunday fun day at Tampa MX shooting photos for Round 1 of the Top Gun Dealer Cup. It was nice to dust off my camera in support of the hundreds who showed up to the first-ever No Race Fee series, which was all made possible through partnering with local Tampa Bay dealers. I’m hoping to race the next one on May 21.

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Trackside with Stella Jean Bowyer