RAZ’S NOTE: During this week of Thanks, I offer an excerpt from my ebook A Bucket List for Thank Yous. It’s a compilation of Thank You letters I wrote to the people who have been major forces in my life, helping to guide me to become who I am today. I wrote the book for others who might have trouble finding the words to say Thank You. Just send that special person a copy and they’ll understand your message.
To Linda Brenneman:
Life as a writer means an endless search for the ultimate truth — a point in time that you connect with someone’s essence at a pivotal moment creating a perfect alignment. It’s almost an out-of-body experience that slows time as if two souls have melded into one.
My taste of the ultimate truth will forever shape my journalistic style and remain embedded in my memory, and for that, Linda Brenneman, I thank you.
Much like the sense of love at first sight, I believe certain souls connect immediately. Ours did on an otherwise typical day after an average race in the most unlikely of manners.
Not long after being tasked with the challenge to become an expert in bicycle racing on short notice, I ventured out to a local race at Laguna Niguel’s Ziggurat, expecting to start from scratch, at the bottom and then work my way up.
Instead you flashed across the finish line first, and didn’t flinch when I had no idea whatsoever you were one of the top women cyclists in the U.S. You didn’t hesitate to indulge me with your time and insight, even though, like everyone else, you were itching to move on with your day.
When I convinced my editors to let me travel to Altoona, Pennsylvania for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Cycling Trials to follow your quest, you graciously opened your life up to me with complete trust in me.
Again, I can only believe you did so because of the unspoken connection that took place that very first day.
What transpired in Altoona allowed me to have my finger on the pulse of a true athlete’s battle to make a dream come true. You shared the struggles, both on and off the bike, allowing me insight few writers ever experience.
The biggest obstacle in this bizarre give-and-take between a reporter and athlete is having the athlete understand the importance of it. You understood and accepted that although I could, on one hand, be one of your closest confidants, on the other hand, I had primary responsibilities that preceded that. Any source will accept those conditions only if they believe in their heart that the journalist will, without failure, be honest, objective and fair at the end of the day. You never seemed to doubt me.
When you came painstakingly close to winning the first race, but were nipped at the line, you endured the press conference and the many questions from reporters who had pegged you as the favorite to win. You answered each of their questions of “What happened” and “Why did the favorite fail.”
When the session ended, you simply sat there devastated and looked at me. Our eyes met and, in that brief moment, it felt as though you had just given me the most in-depth interview of my life.
I felt your frustration, shock and pain deep inside, taken immediately to a moment in my life when my first childhood dreams of athletic glory were whisked away from my reality forever — finishing dead last in a sophomore cross country race.
Of course, that’s tens of years and thousands of miles short of missing a National Championship by inches. Yet, in that place where all athletes live and breathe, it’s still just a heartbeat away.
The rest of the trials didn’t go any better for you. When the final race finished, and you once again came within inches of winning, only to lose, you bestowed upon me a memory of a lifetime.
As you stepped off the third step of the podium, knowing full well I needed to get a comment or two, you grabbed your bike and walked to me. Without a word, you slipped your bronze medal off your neck and stuffed it inside my pocket before disappearing down the street.
If two unlikely souls were ever connected, that was it. You needed time to gather yourself. But before you rolled away, you made certain I understood it all.
In my lifetime as a journalist, very few athletes have walked away in moments like that and returned. You did. As we sat on the curb while the stage, fences and banners were torn down, you poured out your heart and soul to me taking me on the ultimate trip for a writer.
In many ways, your Thank You serves as thanks to all the athletes who have opened their lives to me.
When it comes to the cyclists — far too many to name — who shared their passion, triumphs and defeats with me, I’m forever in your debt for helping shape the person a I am today.
I wouldn’t be the father, husband, friend or writer I am without your influence and inspiration.
Time to ride.