Yesterday, I turned 23. Meh. I don't usually make a big deal out of birthdays, and yesterday was no exception. I spent 3 hours bent over in the garden, satiating the congenital disorder my mother passed on many years ago: the unending compulsion to pull every weed within reach. Our crops in the garden are getting huge, and the jungle needed to be cleared for better access to the produce (and so they could get more water and sun). When I laid down to sleep last night, I saw weeds on the inside of my eyelids. Seriously, it's an illness. I woke up today with very tight hamstrings and tender fingertips, but the 4 bucketloads of weeds I removed made it worth it.
Anyways, while I was out there, I thought about the various events that have transpired since last August.
At the beginning of the month, I was in Chicago for the Tour of Elk Grove, wrapping up my summer of bike-racing travels across the country, when I got a call from my dad saying that he had lung cancer. For a guy with zero risk factors (non-smoker), Stage IV cancer was a shock, and an eye-opener.
I started my last semester of school at the end of the month, already looking for a way to become a bike racer after graduation.
I was chugging along through school, actually taking a class I was truly eager to learn about for once. I was also traveling all over for racing every weekend. Local stuff, Univest in Philly, Collegiate mountain bike nationals at Lake Tahoe. I had a blast explaining to all of my senior design project group members that we could only meet during the week (if they wanted me there...).
My dad spent a lot of time in hospitals those months, as his pneumonia caused by the tumors would not go away, and they couldn't treat the tumors with the pneumonia there. It was hard to watch him suffer, and indescribably painful to hear him hack and cough and wheeze all day, every day.
My dad turned 51 years old, and we had the momentous and emotional conversation where he encouraged me to chase my dreams.
I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M (WHOOP!) and got the heck out of there. I had decided not to slide into the ready job for me at Texas Instruments, making much more money than I could spend in a year. Nope, I decided I was gonna be a bike racer bum and live the life. I had signed with an amateur team in Walla Walla, Washington and would be moving there in early 2011 sometime.
My dad started chemo, and just a few days after Christmas, his hair started falling out in clumps (aided, however, by his fingers--a move preceded by, "Hey, watch this!"). The Haga men shaved their heads that night. I don't want to ever do that again.
I stayed at home with my parents while Shane moved back to school, and I began training for what would hopefully be a successful year of racing.
My intended team folded with sponsorship issues, and I scrambled for a plan B just a week before my planned move to Washington. I re-found Team Rio Grande, and there was one spot left for me. A week later, I was living in Fort Collins, Colorado without much money, no job, and rent and food to pay for.
I made my debut on the national racing scene, taking the best young riders jersey in the San Dimas Hill Climb Prologue. Just a taste of successes to come....
My dad was accepted into a promising clinical trial.
I found myself on the final (extended) podium at the Joe Martin Stage Race as top amateur, just a week after a top-10 in my first NRC time trial.
My dad was declared officially free of disease.
Leader for 3 days of the Mount Hood Cycling Classic, with 2 dominant time trials. Top Amateur at Nature Valley Grand Prix. Top-10 at the Elite National Time Trial Championships with a less than stellar ride.
Another top-10 NRC time trial, and the Colorado State Road Race Champion in my last race as an amateur.
I signed with Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth for the remainder of 2011 to see how I'd fare in the pro ranks. My first race with them, I finished 3rd overall at the Tour of Elk Grove (the same race I was at when I learned of my dad's cancer a year ago).
Since I made the commitment to chase this dream, I've frequently prayed that if this is what I'm supposed to be doing, if this is what God wants me to do, then He'll need to open doors for me and make it work. Well, in the last 12 months I've been on 4 teams (ummm....wow). I've raced in 13 states. I've made the climb from a local amateur team in Texas to an established and respected professional team, and all I've done is race my bike one day at a time. I can't wait for the next 12 months!