When Geoff was paralyzed in 1995, the first major decision he made was to sell his ‘86 Chevy Blazer and buy a downhill mountain bike. This was his “re-entry” sport as an adaptive athlete, where gravity quickly became his best friend again and where the world didn’t seem quite so limited in a seated position. Many years later, on one of our first dates, he brought the downhiller so we could hike up the Flume Gorge trail together using what we came to affectionately call the “girlfriend harness.” He pushed, and I pulled using a basic hiking harness and tether. When we got to the top, he suggested I hop on the back, stand on the rear wheelbase and crouch, holding onto his backrest, warning, “Be sure to stay low so we don’t flip over.” I remember thinking how fast does he think we need to get home? Not normally a thrillseeker, suddenly, we were zipping down the trail at speeds that wavered between terrifying and awesome. I tried NOT to think about the carnage should we have flipped over, or the startled looks people gave when he calmly called, “On your left.”
Here we are now more than a decade past those early dating scenes, Geoff still loves to cycle the main streets and back roads of New Hampshire, dabbling into Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts from time to time. His first love, downhilling, requires a LOT of movement of many parts– literally many parts. But he has put in place an event for three wheelchair downhillers, himself included, and the excitement is palpable. “Honey, on Sunday, we need to head over to Killington for a race.”
“A race?” I question. I question this in the same way I question the risk versus the reward of an adventure. This year we canceled my middle and high school girls overnight hike on Mt. Washington given a three-day forecast of 90-100% thunderstorms. Being up on that rock pile during a thunderstorm is an unnecessary risk. In my mind, so is downhill mountain biking as a paraplegic who also hurls his body down ski slopes for six months out of the year. The regular cycling he does daily doesn’t concern me like the challenges associated in the woods over roots and rocks and water bars. Of course, I worry about the long-term damage done to his elbows and shoulders, but he is an active guy who loves riding his bicycle. So, I sigh and tell him, “Well doesn’t that sound like a lot of fun,” and deep down I know it will be– at least for him on the inside!
So he works on the three downhiller bikes today and tonight– a seasoned mechanic– making sure they are safe, padded where they need to be, reinforced, tires pumped up, and ready to fly through the woods, transporting its rider to another time and dimension. The people he is bringing with him are really good sports about having an optimistic outlook on Geoff’s adaptive endeavors. Mikayla Briere and Mike Wade may also have some concerns about the day, but they trust Geoff’s knowledge of spokes and turning a wrench here and there. So today, a total of about 6 hours was spent preparing the bikes for a ride that will last anywhere between 9 and 12 minutes most likely. But those minutes moving downhill at what feels like warp speed, barely able to take in the dappled sunlight in the trees, are worth the hours turning wrenches with various friends and family members turned pit crew.
Tonight, I was cleaning up after dinner and heard a pounding like a hammer on metal. When I came to the front door, our daughter was holding up the downhiller in her little yellow tank top, blond ponytail curled around her face. She swatted mosquitos with one hand while asking her dad questions about what he was fixing. Our eight year old legitimately learned to turn a wrench tonight, and it may have brought a tear to my eye– not because I love bike maintenance, but maybe now I won’t have to help anymore. They will watch their dad next weekend, and I will watch my husband compete and complete this downhill event. They will cheer, and I will remind myself that this sense of adventure– this ability to problem solve and facilitate sporting experiences for others and alongside friends– this ability to share a love of nature with our children; these are all the reasons I fell in love with him in the first place.
And then I will take deep breaths and pray. This is not so much about the race, but the effort and progress required to get there, and we will.
Heather Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 8 and 7. Please check out her novel True North, website http://www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, @heatherkrill1 on Twitter, and, most recently added in the New Year, her Youtube channel “Writing from the Front.”