Amid a sea of cyclists, I spot rider No. 819.
He’s standing beside a half-dozen orange-and-white water coolers. Hundreds of cyclists jockey for position refilling their water bottles. Brightly colored cycling kits compete for attention. White paper number tags populate the backs of riders’ colorful shirts.
I walk over to No. 819 and introduce myself.
“Mind if I ask?” I said, looking him directly in the eyes.
He smiles and extends his hand. His eyes are warm, his handshake friendly.
“No, I’m not a veteran but it still hurt like hell.”
I first noticed rider No. 819 up ahead pushing across the flat roads surrounding the bay. His gait was different but consistent.
Trucks and cars pushed past us along the two-lane highway, their wind wake pushing each of us briefly to the right and then sucking to the left. Naturally, we all watch out for each other.
As I drew closer, I noticed his left leg — or the leg not there. Below his knee was an engineering marvel dressed in a sock and tennis shoe. High-tech parts driven by a powerful human heart.
We exchanged names, spoke about the ride and his story.
“I lost it about 10 years ago in a motorcycle accident.”
He is relaxed and comfortable in his own skin. He is confidence balanced with humility — impossible not to like. Likable is a fitting word.
Five years ago, he got on a bicycle.
Never really rode before, he said.
We talk about the ride and the distance ahead of us. One hundred miles — or century — is a cyclist’s equivalent to a runner’s marathon of 26.2 miles. Everyone has an individual story, a reason and motivation. Spending a day of sunlight unnaturally positioned over an inch of inflated rubber is enough to make others question your judgment.
No. 819, while one of thousands of riders, is one in a million. His newfound journey is one of grit, commitment and self-accomplishment. He’s not dressed to impress, but rather to reflect his laid back and confident composure. In a sea of brightly colored riders, he’s dressed in comfortable commuter cycling shorts and top. His outward appearance is as comfortable and approachable as his personality.
He tells me his name, inviting me to find him on Facebook afterward. The ride is his third century of the year. His commitment to the intricate web of reasoning behind his riding is deep and personal.
We shake hands, we part, and he places a white ear bud into his ear.
I can only imagine his journey — the one before the bike. The pain, the mental challenges and the unknown he faced after his accident. But here he is — solid, confident and composed.
Walking back into the sea of brightly colored cyclists, I realize rider No. 819 changed my outlook on my day, my life, my future. He reminded me life is what we make of it — that is embracing life one pedal stroke at a time.