Last Wednesday we raced The Challenge. The first Challenge was raced in 1984, which makes this year the 28th consecutive running. It started as a challenge between a roadie and a mountain biker, but it has grown to be the definitive annual test to determine the pecking order and establish bragging rights in our mountain bike club. This year, however, The Challenge took on a whole new significance. This year, The Challenge was a fund-raiser for a little boy with a brain tumor.
Tony B is a fun-loving, happy guy who loves to ride a mountain bike and have a beer with his buddies after the ride. When he sent an email out to the group that his little boy, Brendan, a toddler, had a brain tumor, the members of the club started to put their heads together to come up with ideas and plans to help. Steve Blick, whose son Tyler is being treated for leukemia, came up with the first idea, which was to get an iPad for Brendan and his parents. Because they were spending so much time in the hospital, the iPad allowed them to play games with Brendan, research the myriad of new terms and concepts they were inundated with daily, and keep in touch through Apple’s Facetime. After pitching in to buy this simple tool, and seeing what an impact it had on Tony B and his wife, the club was already thinking about how to do more.
So we decided to dedicate this year’s running of The Challenge to Brendan. All the entry fees were collected for Brendan, and all the swag we generated for prizes were set aside for a fun ride and raffle planned for this Saturday. So when we lined up at the start line two days ago, we knew we were there for reasons more profound than just to race, but that didn’t mean we weren’t there to race hard, and it didn’t mean we weren’t there to race for glory!
As the seconds were ticking down for the ready-set-go call, I looked around the group to assess the competition. Tony the Tiger was looking like a contender, Eric “EPO” is fast, Mike Lee has a long resume of Elite level NORBA wins, Joe Lawwill is a pro Super D racer, Jeff Sanford is well respected on both a mountain bike and a cyclocross bike, Dave Wonderly is a living legend of cross country and downhill racing, and the list went on. I noticed with dread Eric “EC” Christiansen pull up the start line in the waning moments, and thought that he was probably the biggest threat. Before I could think too much more about it, however, we were off in a mass start.
The Challenge starts out on a paved road that is a slight uphill grade, and the group was quickly strung out in a pace line humming with knobby tires. EC worked his way up to the front, and I got on his wheel. We made a hard right turn and hit the base of the first climb, which is paved, but is very steep at about an 18 percent grade. I stayed with EC and took the lead from him right before we got on the dirt and started to climb a trail called Stair Steps. We both rode the first third of this steep, technical, rocky climb aptly named for all the step-up moves needed to stay on the pedals. Eventually it becomes faster and more energy efficient to shoulder the bike and hike up, so that is what we did until the last straight pitch, when we both jumped back on the bikes and rode the narrow shoulder next to a tire-swallowing rut. At the top of the trail, we got on to a fire road that climbs a long ridge with successive climbs that become increasingly steeper. EC and I took turns drafting each other and maintaining our gap on the rest of the field. When we got to the last climb, I knew it was time to make a move, so I stood up on the pedals and gave it all I had, and gained a 20-30 second lead before turning onto the traversing single-track that leads to the downhill.
The entire Blick family was watching the race from this point, and I was proud that I was wearing my “I Ride for Tyler Blick” Oakley kit. I looked down at Tyler’s beaming face as I heard his dad say, “Look, Ty, he’s got the Lego Storm Trooper on there, he’s riding for you!”
I pumped the turns through the single-track then got back on the fire road for just a short stretch before plummeting into “The Sweeper” that starts the downhill. Then I came skidding in to “The Waterfall” to the sound of cheering that got louder as I hit the rollers of “VW Rock”. There’s always a healthy crowd of spectators at this dangerous section that has imperiled the bones and joints of more than a few experienced descenders. After a short flat section where I was once again mashing the pedals, I came to “Ash Hill”. This steep, straight rock garden is mostly feared for its dusty patina over diamond hard dirt that defies traction. Two good sized boulders lie in series that can be rolled or wheelie-dropped, but either way you’re fish-tailing and skidding trying to regain traction before the next drop and turn comes at you. After surviving Ash Hill, I railed the turns through the “Sonic S” and dropped into “Tank Trap”. I must admit I tripoded this section to avoid crashing, but I got down it and after a few BMX style jumps and one little log drop, I was at the finish line first!
Now the real fun began as I got to watch the rest of the club barrel into the finish area, and we were all soon congratulating one another and exchanging stories of the “race within the race” as each rider talked about the thrill of passing another rider, the anguish of being passed, or the frustration of just not being able to reel a guy in.
After The Challenge, we had a party around the fire pit, cooked tacos, and drank beer, and Tony B gave an impassioned speech declaring his gratitude and noting that his son, while only a toddler, could feel the love being directed his way. The Challenge was great fun and a great way to help out a brother in need, but it’s not the end of it. We have a fun ride & raffle planned, and if that’s not enough, we’ll do more!
June 12th Amy and Tony Belello took their 14 month old son into the emergency room due to an accidental fall from a changing table earlier in the morning. A CT scan revealed a “peach sized mass” in the back of his brain/skull. He was rushed into emergency surgery at CHOC hospital in Orange, CA. to have it removed and tested. The test came back positive for a type of cancer referred to as Medulloblas toma, a Desmoplasti c style tumor. Neurosurgeons where confident that they had removed most of the tumor and additional fragments. Doctors informed Tony and Amy that he had two weeks to live if the tumor was not removed. Several MRI’s, a lumbar puncture and ultrasounds followed and showed a good result with no cancer developing elsewhere in his body.
Brendan has been at CHOC since July 1 and will remain there until December 2012 receiving chemotherapy. The chemotherapy is additional remedy to destroy any left-over cancer cells that may be remaining in his body that could quickly develop into the original fast growing tumor he had on his brain. Tony and Amy Belello also have a 3-year old daughter named Collette. The family is forced to be separated during the next 6 months while Brendan undergoes treatment. They also must continue to work full-time jobs in order to maintain medical insurance. Brendan will have one of his parents at his side 24/7 during this process.
Please feel free to check in on Brendan using this link:
Also if you want to share some good times, a beer and see first-hand all the people who are behind us come to Cismontane Brewery this Saturday night from 5-10pm where we are holding an amazing raffle:
All money from images purchased will be donated to the family!
Images By Hiromi Fujita
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