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Giving it all you've got!

bike-a-thon1It was a cold December night that I asked Bruce Hourigan, Strategies vice president of business development, to attend a special meeting with me in a small restaurant in Old Saybrook, Conn. I had been encouraging Bruce for some time to get a road bike and start riding with me. When he asked what the meeting was about, I just told him it was for some charity bike ride.

When we got to the meeting, people were asking Bruce what kind of bike he rides. He replied, "I don't have a bike." The meeting started and the presenter had a beautiful PowerPoint presentation on the ride and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund that we would be raising money for. Bruce was clearly being a good sport as he took in the experience. At the end of the presentation, I signed us both up for the August 29th 100-mile JDRF ride in Killington, Vt., complete with hills and thrills - and a commitment for each of us to raise $3,000. We both got some nice looking jerseys and we left. Bruce was still being a good sport as he tried to comprehend exactly what I signed him up for.

That night began an interesting journey for Bruce and I. Although I had done long rides like that before, I never did 100 miles in the challenging Vermont hills. And Bruce didn't even own a bike. (I took Bruce to the local bike shop where he planned not to spend more than $700 on a bike. But alas, he fell in love with a Trek Madone 5.2 and spent $3,500.)

We began training in earnest last April. Bruce got his speed up quickly and got stronger as the months went by. Having more time to ride, not to mention doing the 150-mile, two-day, MS Cape Cod Getaway last June, at 59 I was in the best shape of my life.

After months of training and anticipation, the big ride weekend arrived. At dinner the night before the ride, Bruce and I kept checking the weather radar maps on our iPhones. Our excitement for the ride gave way to anxiety as we watched three major weather systems converge on the ride route. As we tried to sleep, the sound of rain pelting the windows served as an ominous warning of the weather we'd be riding in.

Morning came and we made our way through the pouring rain to the starting line. Our spirits lifted a bit as we caught the enthusiasm and determination of our 350 fellow riders. At 8:00am we were off. The first 10 miles were all downhill and the roads were wet and slippery. And as we glided through those opening miles, we knew that 90 miles into the ride we'd be cranking our way back up those 10 miles to the starting line. Change "starting line" to "finish line." That knowledge played with our minds the entire ride.

Within 30 minutes, our protective gear proved inadequate to fend off the rain and road spray. We were soaked to the bone. Special shoe covers did more to hold the water in than keep it out. I felt water slushing in my riding gloves. The bikes in front threw rooster tails of water and road dirt in our faces. We peddled on.

The fifth rest stop was at the 45-mile mark in Warren, Vt. Bruce got there just before me and had a big smile on his face as he announced, "I'm the 100th rider to check in." The chill from our wet clothes began to take its toll. As we headed out on the next 14-mile leg, someone said we'd be doing some climbing. Little did we know the challenge that awaited us.

Shortly after crossing a picture-perfect covered bridge, I felt something familiar - a rear flat tire. (Why is it always the back tire?) I did a quick change and we were off again. About a quarter-mile further we started to climb a steep hill. And just as we approached the crest and the anticipation to rest our legs, another steep climb began. That continued for about 10 miles. The downhill was fast and gave our legs a rest, but the crosswinds speeding along at 38 mph were unexpected and dangerous. We're talking white-knuckle downhill riding.

With 40 miles to go, we were feeling the effects of the wet, cold and exhaustive climbing we had done after the halfway mark. 30 miles out, my rear tire went flat again - 100 feet from the next rest stop. Good thing I had an extra tube.

The final rest stop was in Pittsfield, Vt., 10 miles from the finish. As we rode in, a JDRF volunteer greeted us and said, "Let me park your bikes and fill your water bottles." The volunteers were great and most had a personal connection to diabetes. Looming ahead was that dreaded 10-mile climb to the finish.

We headed out and began the climb. One hill after another, legs burning and breathing like steam trains, we cranked our way to the finish. It took everything we had to keep going. With just five miles to go, we had to finish.

We turned onto Killington Road to the cheering of supporters. It started with a very steep but short climb that had our legs burning. When one supporter came up to encourage me, I said, "Don't cheer - push." I felt his hand on my back as he gave me a push for about 30 feet. It was wonderful and we laughed as I peddled over the crest. Just a few more hills to go.

The finish line was at a restaurant called the Wobbly Barn. It was finally in our sights. The pain and anguish of the ride disappeared as we turned into the parking lot and up to the finish line. They gave us medals, cheered us and thanked us. Our wives ran up cheering and applauding to hug us. Other members of the Greater New Haven Chapter team came up to hug, shake hands and just smile because only the riders knew what it really took to cross that finish line.

bike-odometerBruce and I finished the ride that was held in the worst conditions possible. Bruce, who will be 52 in November, lost over 30 pounds training for the ride. He was glowing. I'm 59 and never imagined that I would or even could complete a 100-mile ride in the Vermont hills. We truly gave it all we had and did it. We did it! And together, we raised $7,000 for Juvenile Diabetes.

I already told the other riders in our group to count me in for next year. Bruce shook his head in disbelief. He hasn't said anything yet, but I know he's hooked. A photo of his ride medal is now the desktop picture on his laptop.

Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.

Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO and author of No-Compromise Leadership


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