Letters, Part 5: To My Teammates

June 23,2014

It was fall of 2011 and I was dressed like a rugby player at a bachelorette party and a little tipsy on cranberry and vodka if we must be honest, and I must.

I saw Patty and Stacie looking over at me. They had a little bit of a wild look in their eyes, but not one caused by cheap spirits diluted with juice.

“Hey, Ry,” Patty started, and I caught one last excited glance towards Stacie before the question left her lips. “Would you ever consider racing across America?”

A laugh escaped me and I cocked my head to the side like my Jack Russell did when she heard the word treat.

The ridiculous idea quickly consumed what brain cells hadn’t already been killed off by the Smirnoff, but I continued to shake my head in disbelief. There was no way… was there?

Fast-forward a few months later.  It’s March 8, 2012 and I’m in a local Mexican joint with Patty, Stacie and Anne-Marie. Patty had an iPad and was flipping excitedly through a PowerPoint she was getting ready to show the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, UPMC; a pitch to be our presenting sponsor in the Race Across America. She handed us purple rubber bracelets with Pulmonary Hypertension Association inscribed one side, Empowered by Hope on the other. The large and mostly empty stucco dining room filled with echoes of her enthusiasm and passion. Team PHenomenal Hope was born, and a two-year journey to the starting line began.

Today I’m sitting in a hotel room in Annapolis, a few blocks from a dock where a finish line banner for Race Across America stands, and I vaguely recall a moment of triumph that happened at that spot almost exactly 24 hours ago.

It’s true that we could never have crossed the finish line had it not been for the financial support of our sponsors and, as we quickly found out, the dedication and diligence of our crew. It’s true that we were inspired by the people we were racing for, and perpetually encouraged by our friends and family. But, at the end of the day, it came down to turning the pedals, and that you did in earnest entirely on your own.

You road well; airborne tail-lights and equipment on the fritz didn’t break you, storms and headwinds didn’t overtake you. When sleep didn’t come, you still rose on demand to fulfill the mileage dictated for your shift. You battled dry, desert heat, and thick, humid air, endless flats and eternal ascents. Success wasn’t imminent, it was earned. Crossing the finish line was the sum of myriad efforts and sacrifices during and preceding this race of our lives.

I would be lying if I said that I was without dark moments; sleep deprivation had me fighting imaginary battles ignited by my own self-consciousness and pride, and for that I am ashamed and regretful. But as I reflect back tonight, with a finisher medal in hand and fond memories bursting from even this foggy brain, I recognize the good that we accomplished, the people we inspired, the miles we conquered—a success that we have equal ownership of, a milestone and triumph few have had the privilege to attempt, let alone claim.

Thank you for allowing me the honor of calling myself your teammate, and congratulations to us all on this amazing victory.

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