Wednesday, November 16, 2011

7-Eleven isn't just about convienence

When you hear the word 7-Eleven what comes to your mind?  For many it's slurpies and big gulps.  For me it's one of the biggest shifts in U.S. cycling.  This past weekend I got the pleasure to work at the Saris Gala (largest fundraiser for the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation) and meet the 1986 7-Eleven team (including my hero Raul Alcala). 

Eric Heiden racing around the Madison capitol in 1982
What makes the 7-Eleven team so special?  It was the first American team to race in the Tour de France in 1986...'nuf said.  The team was pulled together by Jim Ochowicz in 1981 who had spent years managing the U.S. national speed-skating team.*  Jim accomplished an amazing feat by landing sponsorship with 7-Eleven and Schwinn.  The team actually consisted of not only bike racers but also well known speed skaters like Eric Heiden (who is from Madison, Wisconsin).

In 1982 Schwinn dropped out but a women's team was added.  Although I was only 7 years old I remember being so excited about this.  Seeing women race on a pro level meant so much to me since I was just entering the road racing world.  One of the women that signed on, Rebecca Twigg, helped shape my world and I wrote about her in a previous post.  Davis Phinney (now married to Connie Carpenter and the father of Taylor Phinney), Ron Kiefel and Alex Stieda also were recruited.  Shortly after this team was formed, they were featured in the movie American Flyers.

Andy Hampsten
In 1985 the team went from amateur standings to professional and with the addition of Chris Carmichael, Tom Schuler and Alexi Grewal they won an Olympic bronze.  That same year, the team was invited to the Giro d'Italia (one of the classic European races) and Andy Hampsten was signed on with a 30-day contract.  Hampsten and Kiefel both won stages that year in the Giro and became the first Americans to ever win a stage in a Grand Tour.

1986 proved to be the biggest year for the team.  They were invited to the Tour de France and performed extremely well as a team with the additions of Raul Alcala, Jeff Pierce and Bob Roll.  In the following decade, the 7-Eleven team went through several sponsorship changes yet continued to be a major force to reckon with in the racing world.  They finally disbanded in 1996 yet many of the racers continued to be successful on different teams.

Although the names of Lance Armstrong and Greg Lemond are thrown around frequently as the best U.S. racers, I can't help but think of all the other workhorses out there that completely changed the face of American racing.  These guys deserve so much more recognition than they will ever get!

*Speed skating and road racing went hand in hand for many years.  People didn't train inside very much during the winter back in the 80's.  They opted to speed skate for their cross training instead.

Me with Raul Alcala (one of my heroes).  Raul won the Mexican Time Trial championships last year...when he was 46 years old!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

This post is for my mom.  The woman that taught me how to take a really shitty situation and turn it into something positive and productive.  It's also for Bob Zim...thanks for putting me back together even when I feel like humpty dumpty.

Some of the strongest memories I have from my childhood are the ones where I marched in Take Back the Night rallies and took part in Bang On Pans For Peace.  You see my mom felt it was important to have her voice heard and this trait thankfully was passed on to me.  During a time where violence against women in the streets of Minneapolis was common and we all lived in fear of atomic war, my mom harnessed her personal anger and fear and spoke out to initiate change.  I, of course, was often standing by her side...watching and learning.

While I sit here, still licking my wounds from a hit and run incident while biking almost three weeks ago, I realize that if it were not for her teachings I could easily have become much more of a victim.  Yes, I still consider myself a "victim" since I was injured because of a reckless driver but I am choosing not to be "victimized".

Because of the nature of the incident, I was not able to collect the driver's license information.  That of course means he got away scott free.  There are, however, some good things that came out of all this.  First, I realized (if I hadn't known this already) how important cycling is to me...I rode to work two days after the crash.  Second, the bike community proved to be like an extended family and they came together to wish me well.  Third, changes will hopefully be made on the stretch of the road where I was hit thanks to the work of several city staff.  In the past few weeks I have had fantastic conversations with the DA's staff, police officers and aldermen.  My goal now is to prevent this from happening to another rider.

During all of this commotion, a rather serendipitous event occurred.  The UW research team of Maggie Grabow, Jonathon Patz and other colleagues released a study stating that by making 50% of short trips (2.5 miles or less) by bike, approximately 1,100 deaths per year would be prevented in the upper Midwest.  This, they say, is due to lowered health issues such as obesity and cardiac arrest as well as improving air quality saving  us roughly 7 billion dollars in health care costs annually.  Since I'm a numbers girl, this study speaks volumes.  I know that cycling has improved my life and health immensely but now this proves that it affects us all.

I spoke with Jonathan Patz just before this study was released.  He was aware of my incident and jokingly said that he may have to revise the study seeing that he felt I was harmed while cycling (of course my route to work is just over 3 miles so the study doesn't pertain to me).  As I stated before, I'm a numbers girl.  This was only the third serious crash I've had during the 31 years I've been road riding.  Not too bad.  Of course I would like that number to be lower and that's where my voice comes in and can hopefully make a difference.

I am determined to keep pushing the aldermen, mayor, governor and president to take the necessary steps in making the city, state, country more bike and pedestrian friendly.  I do this not only by talking with the leaders but by also volunteering with the bicycle federation and becoming a leader myself.  There is a saying by Victor Frankl "Suffering ceases to be suffering in some way at the moment it finds meaning" and I have found meaning.