Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My first real ride...

I was never the cool and athletic kid in school. Rather pudgy, as a matter of fact. No hand-eye coordination (I blame my mom for that!). No real ability to play team sports. Something of a tragedy for a growing pre- and early teen desperate for acceptance by his peers (and for the interest of the other sex!).

Then my father introduced me to cycling.

It all started on a glorious spring afternoon in Rome. I believe I was 12. With my dad we went out, purchased an Atala SL frame (the original Atala, made by Rizzato in Padova - the picture above is from ebay, but that is what my frame looked like), set it up with Gipiemme components (great stuff, cheaper than Campagnolo, but really the only option if you were not willing to pay top Lira for Super Record - what was Shimano? the Japanese make components? no way!). We then went digging in some cabinets and my father produced two pairs of wool cycling shorts. Deerskin padding included. Apparently unused for the better part of the last quarter century (any idea how 25 year old deerskin padding feels?). We donned them, along with equally old wool jerseys (I still remember my mother, who was very concerned by all this, making me wear a flannel checkered shirt to protect me from the wind - it's an Italian mothers' thing - you wouldn't understand) and immediately set off. Powerful Pete on his Atala. My father on his specialissima made to measure about 25-odd years beforehand. Yes, it was a beautiful afternoon.

Random thoughts, yes?

The first ride was 32 kilometers. Once I began to gain confidence in the (for me) twitchy steering on a racing bike, I was transformed, a catharthis. I cannot begin to describe the emotions. I was free. I was moving what felt like immense distances at breathtaking speeds (ok, they weren't, but it sure felt like it). I was no longer the last guy left standing when teams were picked for a football (soccer to you Americans!) game. From that moment, somewhere around kilometer 18 or so, I knew. This was my sport, my pastime, the activity that would help define me. No matter what I did, where I ended up, how successful or popular I would become, cycling would be a part of my life. It is my little secret. It is a very important part of what makes Powerful Pete.

And to this day, through all the vagaries of life, riding is still a part of me. Sometimes I barely ride for a month or two. But I always crane my neck when I see another rider on the road. It is my dirty little secret. And I always start riding 'seriously' again. Grazie papa'. This is truly a lifelong gift. I only hope that I can pass on the passion to my own children... but that is the sweetest of challenges.

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