Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tragedy on the Leadville 100 - Mick's Story: Compassionate Competition

My friend Mick
Seems like I only ever hear about people being dumb and mean to each other.  It makes me tired.  Makes me sad.
That’s why I love to hear stories of people being brave.  Those stories chase out all the mean, dumb people from my head, like a dog scatters geese.  While the assholes are loud, the kind among us far outnumber them.
This is my friend Mick's story.  It’s a story about kindness.  He told it to me because I asked him to.  I think it's a story worth telling.
But before the story, a foreword is necessary.  My heart breaks for the family of the racer who died.  I didn't know him.  And, although he's at the center of this story, I can't tell his story and I wouldn't attempt to anyway. 
Nor is this the story of what went wrong at the Leadville.  I'll leave that to others.
This is Mick’s story, as close as I can tell it.
Mick and I met on a vacation.  He was one of the seven of us who went on the hut-to-hut bike trip from Telluride to Moab.  He almost didn’t make it, because his VW van broke down several times along the way (of course it did, it’s a VW van).

I didn’t know Mick before the trip started.  But I got to know him over the course of the trip.  I could tell right away that we would get along.  He was quick to laugh, and pulled his weight.  He let others speak first and was slow to answer, slow to judge.

I could also tell that he had a lot of outdoors experience.  This experience made him one of the leaders on our journey, but he fell back to being just one of the guys when it was time to relax.  When I crashed on our trip, he was the first to respond, check my pupils, and make sure I was okay.
Mick and Andy try to fix my bike
I liked Mick so much that I even came to forgive him for his taste for hard cider.  (Sure, blame the gluten).  His dietary restrictions made for some interesting meals at the huts – like fried spam and cheese for breakfast.
Along our trip, Mick told me that he was training for the Leadville 100.  The Leadville is a pretty famous mountain bike race.  It’s 100 miles, at elevation, in the Colorado Rockies.  This year, some 1,900 racers signed up. 
Mick’s previous attempt had been marred by nutrition issues.  Starting around mile 25 or so, Mick started cramping and couldn’t recover.  When he reached the 74-mile cutoff at 8 hours and 48 minutes, he was disqualified, because the cutoff was 8:45.  His race was over.
This year, he vowed to do better.  And he did.  He was in better shape, but trained less.  He knew more about the race.  And he had changed up his diet, so cramps weren’t an issue.
Mick did webinars and training rides with Rebecca Rusch and Elden “Fat Cyclist” Nelson.  One thing he learned from them: the race is an eating competition – the amount of calories required to finish means that you are doing your best cookie-monster imitation while riding.
Photo from here.
Mick found that after 6 hours, he couldn’t handle solid foods anymore, and switched to gels.
Mick wanted to finish in a good time.  At the Leadville, if you finish in under 12 hours, you get the coveted “belt buckle.”  Mick had trained hard and was on his way. 
This year, when the 74-mile cutoff came, Mick easily made it at the 7:10 mark.  After the cutoff checkpoint is a gnarly climb, known as “Powerline.”  At mile 80 or so, riders uhit this 3.4 mile section of trail that has an average grade of 7.3%.  The fastest finishers will take 30 minutes on this climb.  It’s a beast.
Mick conquered Poweline and was on-track for a finish time of 11 hours 30 minutes or maybe 11:45.  This meant he would make the 12-hour cutoff for winning a coveted Silver Buckle from the Leadville race.
As Mick crested the Powerline climb, he was feeling good.  His adrenaline was surging for the upcoming downhill segment, and he was busy re-calibrating his brain and senses from climbing mode to fast downhill mode.
Then he saw it – a rider down.  Four other racers circled the downed rider, and were beginning to perform CPR. 
Mick thought he recognized the rider.  They had started in the same corral and were running at pretty similar speeds, so Mick had seen him on the trail several times.  Mick was in disbelief that this same rider would now be in a life-threatening situation.
Stopping now would surely mean that Mick would lose his shot at a silver buckle and a sub-12 hour finish.  But the thought of continuing the race never crossed his mind. 
Mick had done search and rescue for years in Alamosa Valley.  In his time there, he had been called out to fatal accidents with climbers, an airplane crash, and had even been on a rescue helicopter that crashed. 
So, when Mick saw the rider on the ground, his training kicked in and Mick jumped off the bike without a second thought.  Mick said that everyone who rode by was willing to help, but eventually, some were waived on, as no more people were needed.  “It was just a matter of timing for me.”
The downed rider couldn’t maintain a pulse - advanced medics were needed.  But no cellular service existed at the spot where She fell.  So, Mick rode down the trail, while another rider rode up, searching for a signal.  Ultimately, Mick found a spot with a weak signal, and made seven calls to 911 before he got a good connection. While he was riding back to the scene, he heard ambulance sirens – not sure whether his call or the other rider’s went through.
While waiting for the EMS, the riders took turns performing CPR.  They had all ridden 80+ grueling miles, and were exhausted, so chest compressions shifts were brief – not more than a minute or two each for the eight to twelve people who had stopped to help.  Others took turns taking notes.  His eyes opened occasionally, but his heart still wouldn’t beat on its own.  Soon, race officials arrived with radios and signaled to the EMS.  Riders carried out CPR for 40 minutes to an hour. 
EMS arrived with oxygen and an EKG – no shock was called for.  The medics continued chest compressions.  As they wheeled him away, he seemed to be breathing and even squeezed an EMT’s fingers.  He was still alive. 
The riders watched him roll away on the ambulance.  They were drained, but still thought he would make it.  He passed away unbeknownst to them. 
Mick rolled away from the scene at 11 hours and 7 minutes, according to his Garmin.  In all, he had stopped for about an hour with the emergency.  No chance of finishing the last 20 or so miles in under an hour.  He finished the race at 12:36.  No buckle, but a finish.
Mick is understated about his decision to stop and help.  He thinks others would have done the same.  Would you?  If you were on pace to finish the race that beat you last year and win a buckle?  If you saw that others had stopped already? 
Mick calls it “compassionate competition.”  His philosophy is that “we’re all in this together” and recognition of this fact should be more predominant in society.  It’s surely true in remote mountain bike races, where there is a camaraderie among the racers.  But what if you saw a man crumpled in the bus stop, would you check?

Anyway, Mick is my hero.  I think Leadville ought to award him, and everyone else who stopped, with a special buckle.  Maybe a heart of gold.  The race organizers did award him  silver buckle, a sweatshirt, and an entry into next year's race though.  Well done. 
I always close this blog with an exhortation to “be brave.”  The notion of being brave, for me, is a challenge to persist in doing what is right, even in the face of adversity.  Do good, especially when it is scary or uncomfortable.
Be brave, be like Mick.


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  2. Mick doing struggle a lot here. No doubt, he is a brave man too. I think he loves mountain biking. Actually, I love it too but haven't courage to do like Mick. Good luck Mick and keep going.
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