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Ride Father

My father has always inspired me to work hard to make something of my life.  Probably the biggest motivator has been his absolute faith in my crazy plans.  In some cases he has been the one to give me that little push, or maybe just a dare, that gets me to take on a project.  I will always remember taking flying lessons from my father in the early 1980’s when I was 18 or so.  Both my parents were pilots, so throughout the 1970’s, as I grew up, we were always going places in small planes.  My Dad gained many advanced certifications in his career as a pilot and eventually became a flight instructor.  As a child, I never doubted my parents’ skills, but I did sometimes wonder about the reliability of some of the planes.  The steady sound of the engine was that reassurance that it was doing just fine.  A normal flight lesson that my Dad would give his typical students might include instruction on procedures for when the engine fails in which the instructor pulls back the throttle while leaving the engine running.  The plane would lose altitude gradually while the student navigates back toward the airport, with the assurance that if he misses the approach the throttle can be pushed back in to pull up and try it again.  For my lesson, however, my father wanted to make sure I could handle the stress of an actual engine failure.  Being the one flying the plane instead of just passenger was already stressful enough, so I was utterly shocked when my Dad suddenly shuts down the engine entirely instead of just pulling the throttle back.  The prop comes to a complete stop, and there is no sound but the rush of wind past the wings.  This was the exact thing I had grown up dreading to hear from the engine – NOTHING.  The plane was now purely a glider and not a very good one so we are losing altitude quickly.  I had a brief moment of panic as I start to fly back toward the airport rather than away from the airport in order to set up the approach.  My father points out my mistake and from that point I do it just right.  I land the plane with the engine shut down and roll it up to the gas pump with the remaining momentum.  Of course Dad was with me and I don’t know how I would have responded had it been just me and if it had been an actual emergency.  Dad has also been a great inspiration and a true partner in the re-establishment of the Alabama Wheelmen.  The project took form in December 2008 as he and I drove back to his house in Fort Payne from Chattanooga.  I had developed an interest in promoting some small races and found the club politics in the club to which I belonged at the time were making pursuing promoting my own events virtually impossible.  With my Dad’s help, I decided to bring the old Alabama Wheelmen back to life.  I had become a member in the 1980’s when I discovered that cycling, rather than flying, was my life’s passion.  (The engine anxiety thing probably had a bit to do with that.)  The “new” AW started in 2008 as a two-man team consisting of my Dad and I, with my Dad serving as president of the club for several years, based in Fort Payne.  And today as I write this, I’m proud that we currently have 34 members attached.  This growth has been the result of much hard work from many individuals.  This year, we transitioned the club into a nonprofit corporation with 501(c)3 status with the purpose of fostering national amateur sports competition, governed by a five-person board based in Huntsville.  The cycling scene in Huntsville is vibrant and the board gives AW a solid base to prosper for many years to come.  So that brings me to the theme of this post:  RIDE FATHER.  My dad is still quite the athlete, in spite of the fact that he is 82.  After we took a team to the team time trial national championships in Greenville, SC, back in April, I have been looking for the opportunity for the two of us to compete in a similar event.  That opportunity presented itself at the Tennessee state time trial championships on June 13 in Lascassas.  The promoter included a tandem division and with the gracious loan of a tandem from Mike Callahan, we entered and completed the 40 km course.  Our combined ages were 131 years.  We finished the course in just over 90 minutes, we were both pushed to our limits with the heat and the new experience of riding a tandem.  We were second-to-last to start, and all the other riders finished 30 minutes or so before we finally made it back, rolling back into the parking lot just as the awards were being presented.  (I later realized it felt like that day decades earlier when I rolled the plane down the runway without any engine power, we were both that tired.)  We were both proud to have finished, and for my Dad, it was a bucket-list type of accomplishment, no matter how slow our time.  (A good landing is one  you can walk away from.)  We were able to participate in the podium ceremony for the male/male tandem teams, where we received silver medals for our efforts.  Dad considered it an early father’s day gift and for me it was just another awesome day with my Dad stoking me onward as I steered toward the final approach.  God has blessed us richly through all the years of flying and cycling and we are both pleased to see that the traditions we have enjoyed so much are continuing with a new generation.  I know the time is coming all too soon when that engine sound I’ve heard my entire life will go silent again, and yet I know my Dad will be there, if only in my dreams, reminding me to keep calm and steer toward a safe landing.lascassas_podium_full

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Comments (1)

  1. Brian Sumners says:

    What a great post. Kudos James!

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