Reader, if you are in the midwest bike community, you may be very angry with me for writing this post. You may not understand my intentions and you may choose to stop reading this blog. I understand. This, however, is something I just felt the need to do. Please know I do not take this situation lightly. I ask you not to judge me for my decision to write this.
I rode today. I rode though the cold gray winter-like clouds, through the wind and through my confusion and sadness. I rode for an old friend of mine who is struggling deeply, one who has a mental illness. I rode for his family and for his victim. I rode for myself in hopes of making sense of a very bad situation. Today I learned that one of the most influential people in my life regarding cycling did something that will place him in jail for a very long time. First I was in disbelief, then I was angry, finally I was sad. I am not going to go into details regarding the crime. I don't need to. I'm sure many of you already know about it.
When I was fourteen, and a part of the Gopher Wheelmen junior team, I was the only girl in the group. Although I had two female coaches, I had to train and race with the boys. During the weekly training rides, I got pushed and shoved verbally and a little physically. It wasn't all that bad in hindsight but being one of the youngest on the team, and being the only girl, made me a bit sensitive (later it would make me tougher). I remember the first time I met Ezra, he was a bit younger than me and yet he could outride most of the guys much older than us both. He wasn't showy, he saw cycling as "fun" vs. work and he was unbelievably nice. For some reason he felt the need to protect me, and that he did. On group rides, even though he could school the rest of the team if he wanted to on sprints, he would hang next to me and we'd chat. He'd also shut the other guys up if they got a little too brash with me.
A season passed and we started "dating"--or whatever teens do at that age. Nothing physical happened between us other than holding hands, but we hung out all the time. We'd walk around the lakes, go on long rides or get our parents to drive us to movies or concerts. Honestly, looking back on it, we were just really good friends. We even spent a week together with my mom in a cabin near Ely, MN. I think we "got" each other.
It was around that time I started questioning cycling in my world. To be honest, I was sick of it. I had been training for years already and I was burnt out. It just wasn't fun anymore and I wanted out. I remember Ezra telling me I didn't have to race. He didn't even judge me for not wanting to ride. He may have been the only person I told this to at the time. You see Ez had this different outlook on riding and training. He floored our coaches, and everyone knew he had what it took to go all the way if he wanted to. He could have gone pro. Instead, he'd show up to training rides when he wanted to, he'd do a race here and there, and then he'd set the bike aside for awhile to skateboard instead. Training just wasn't what he did. He played. And if cycling wasn't fun at the moment, he wouldn't do it.
On my ride today, as I sifted through all the muck, and then finally put what he did recently aside, I realized that Ezra was a very important part of my life--even though we only really knew each other throughout high school. When I chose to give up road riding, he went to Kenwood Cyclery with me to get a mountain bike. I had never ridden one before, but as we rode home at dusk, down the railroad tracks, I thought I might just be able to like biking again. He helped me see cycling as something fun, not just work. If it weren't for him being in my life, I may not have had the emotional strength to stand up to the junior boys on my team and I may have given up on cycling all together--thinking that if I wasn't racing, what's the reason to bike?
After high school we went our own ways. I moved away from the cycling scene, opting to commute instead of race, and yet I kept hearing snippets about him from my friends. I'd hear that he was off everyone's radar and then he'd just show up to a cross race or mountain bike race and kill it, and then he'd disappear again for awhile. Later I'd read about him in the bikejerks blog and see his gold plated Peacock Groove 29er single speed. Never did I hear about him bragging or talking trash. He appeared to be the same person I knew back in the day. He also continued to work in the bike industry, getting into QBP and working with several of my friends. When I'd ask how he was doing, they only had the best of words. Everyone seemed to love him. I can only say it made me so happy to hear him continue his passion--a passion that first brought us together in the first place.
What Ezra did, many will never forgive him for. It's difficult, but after my ride today, I can say I hate what he did, but I don't hate him. My hope is that he gets the help he needs, pays his dues however the courts seem just, and finds solace. On that note, I also hope his family finds the peace they need and most importantly, I hope his victim heals to the point she can live a wonderful life.