Thrive in Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation
June 8, 2017
Episode One: Welcome to Dreaming of Cooperstown
November 10, 2017

The Story That Matters

The Story That Matters

On Saturday August 26th, 2017 while participating in my fifth Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Ride-to-Cure cycling event I made an important discovery.

On this day, I rode 106-miles, a personal best, through Loveland, CO to help JDRF in their mission to accelerate life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat Type One diabetes (T1D) and its complications. JDRF is the leading global organization funding T1D research.

Each time I return from a JDRF ride I am inspired and full of hope. JDRF rides are much more than tests of cycling endurance. The three day events include workshops, breakout sessions, and other opportunities to connect or, for many, reconnect with hundreds of people united by a shared passion to effect positive change. These events are powerful examples of what the human spirit can accomplish when a community of solution minded individuals work together toward a single purpose: curing T1D.

JDRF’s Loveland ride was a success: 451 riders raised approximately $1,900,000 in donations; $1,900,000 that will transform lives in dramatic ways; $1,900,000 that will provide countless individuals with a future many never thought possible; $1,900,000 to fund better treatments and move us closer to a cure.

Upon returning from Loveland I spent time reflecting on the experience and how my reasons for riding have evolved since my first JDRF ride in 2014.

My first JDRF ride was 72-miles around Lake Tahoe. I arrived in Lake Tahoe with a singular goal: to teach my son, Ryan, the importance of setting and achieving goals. I was not a cyclist so the idea of riding 72-miles around Lake Tahoe was lofty. I believed that if I could set and achieve this lofty goal that I would teach Ryan the importance of focus, determination, resilience and other traits that hold practical applications to all of life’s worthy pursuits. I believed these lessons could become valuable tools to assist Ryan with the onerous task of managing his T1D.

So, three years later, how have my reasons for riding evolved? First and foremost, I still ride for Ryan. I will always ride for Ryan. But I also ride for the T1D community.

I ride for the parents of the newly diagnosed child because I understand their feelings of helplessness. I ride for their child who has suddenly been asked to grow up too soon. A child, confused and scared as he now imagines a future that yesterday held only promises for life’s best gifts. I ride for the countless people: doctors, researchers, my JDRF family, and other advocates who have dedicated their lives to finding a cure lest they think their efforts are in vain or go unnoticed. And, I ride for the grieving families for whom a cure did not come soon enough.

Loveland had 451 riders which means there were 451 stories worth sharing. Here is Mike Bender’s story:

Mike Bender is 80-years old. Loveland was Mike’s 16th JDRF ride event. He was accompanied by his wife, Arohanui, who completed her 15th ride. Mike and Arohanui ride for their son, Matthew, who was diagnosed twelve years ago at the age of seventeen.

Approximately 10-hours after the starter sent riders on their way Mike became the 451st and final rider to cross the finish line. Mike was greeted with a chorus of cheers and encouragement from an entourage of family, friends, fellow riders, and coaches. It is fair to say that quite a fuss was made over Mike and his performance. In fact, Mike was awarded the Promise Jersey, a coveted symbol in the JDRF ride community that recognizes commitment and determination and celebrates an individual’s promise to continue riding until there is a cure.

It would be easy to conclude that Mike’s age is the reason so many were moved and inspired by his ride. After all riding 100-miles in altitude while climbing approximately 4,000 feet with temperatures exceeding ninety degrees is a challenge at any age. At 80-years old it is herculean. But Mike’s age is only a small part of his ride story.

Mike is an American hero who served his country proudly. Mike is from the first class of the US Air Force Academy and received his commission into the Air Force in 1959. During the Viet Nam War he was flying B-52’s on 24 hour Airborne Alert Missions based out of Oscoda, MI. He resigned from the USAF after his 6 year commitment to be closer to the combat area, and he joined a civilian operation, Continental Air Services, (an operation similar to Air America) based in Vientiane, Laos to fly supplies to the Laotian Hill Tribesmen.

Mike is an old school, tough as nails sort of gentleman who would never let age stand in his way. In fact, Mike’s life philosophy is, “You’re never too old to know better!” To know Mike is to know that determination and resilience are in his DNA.

This is why those closest to Mike were not surprised when he crossed the finish line in Loveland just three short months after he was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. After having the tumor removed, Mike was told by his doctors that he would never be able to ride his bike again. Mike replied, “I’m gonna be your poster child for recovery from this brain cancer”. After much discussion, Mike and his doctors agreed to a compromise: Mike could ride on a tandem bike. Without hesitation Mike’s friend and fellow JDRF cyclist, Dick Roettker, stepped in and proclaimed, “Mike is riding with me!” Together, they accomplished what three months earlier was deemed impossible.

We connect through story. Stories can inspire, unite, and create movements. Our stories, yours and mine, are affirmations of who we are and our best stories reveal our lives have meaning.

Yes, Loveland had 451 riders, which means 451 stories of overcoming obstacles and taking action. Indeed, each JDRF ride event – at its core – is a collection of stories. When we share our stories, I believe, we empower others to share theirs.

There is another story that was told in Loveland. It is a familiar story as it never changes and it shows up to each and every JDRF ride. It is the story of the donors. The change makers. The action takers. The heroes that open their hearts and wallets to give when it would be easier to turn their backs and proclaim this isn’t my battle. And, in the end, when we finally have our cure, this will be the most important story of all. The story that matters. It is the story of how the impossible becomes possible.

My reasons for riding have evolved. On Saturday August 26th, 2017, in Loveland, CO, I discovered I ride for the stories.