Author’s Note: This incident happened a few months ago, but I feel that it’s still relevant and worth sharing. Like the rest of my posts, this one was crafted according to detailed notes. Please enjoy.
This is madness. I’m at least half blind and it feels like there’s a fork in my hamstrings. This is not good. Fridays are generally welcomed by the average American. It’s the end of the work week, an open door to the weekend, and usually a casual, relaxed weekday. Fridays in Dana Land are met each week with a strange mix of anticipation and dread – and this one was no exception. The end of Team USA’s work week is graced by three different workouts, and I had just finished my last set of the day’s third session: lactic 500-meter repeats; it put the aaaaack in lactic. Pain was radiating up from my legs, through my ass and abs and out across my shoulders. My left eye was involuntarily clenched shut and my arms were seizing in spirals of acidic agony. I slumped over my bike as I rolled around the track apron. I would have thrown up, but my stomach was empty; the last meal I had eaten was at 10 a.m. and it was now 3:30 p.m. I could die right now. I could flop down and pass out and that would be fine. Dear God, just make the pain stop. Why do I do this?
He was there when my vision cleared: a man in white painter’s pants and a white t-shirt standing at the top of the bleachers, smiling and waving. I glanced and waved back with my still-tingling arm. What the hell?
Ben is a barrel-chested man of medium height in his late fifties to early sixties – no one is quite sure of his age. His shining hazel eyes are encircled by a round, leather-tanned face that nearly always wears a smile; his long salt-n-pepper hair hangs past his shoulders in unkempt strings. He likes to dress in white. And he loves track cycling, as well as the athletes that race and train for it.
On this particular day Ben had been in the stands watching our team work out. We had all seen him around the track from time to time, but none of us really knew much about him. Today he would have seen every painful pedal stroke, had he not slipped out for a few moments. He arrived back at the track with two platters of Subway sandwiches – along with ten Bank of America envelopes, each with a twenty-dollar bill inside; one for every rider at training.
We ate and were merry for the fact that someone cared enough to do this for us. I looked down at the envelope in my hand. Twenty bucks. I’m going to go to Sprouts and buy as many mangoes as I can. Or maybe I’ll save it for when I need it. Something.
It didn't really matter after such a hellish workout. The mere gesture was cool by itself. Who would do this for a bunch of rag-tag American cyclists?
I saw Ben as I made my way to the door after the post-training festivities. I smiled and gave him a real wave, along with a handshake and a formal introduction.
“That was so wonderful, what you did for us today. Really, we can’t thank you enough,” I said.
“It was my pleasure. You guys train so hard, it’s beautiful to watch. So inspiring,” he replied. “We should help you any way possible. And I have the means. It’s just right.”
“Well, it was awesome. It means so much to us as athletes to know that people care about us. I dunno, maybe sometimes we forget.” People like this made training worth every ounce of lactic acid. I looked straight at him and grinned. “I’m going to call you Saint Ben. Because you are!”
Ben laughed and shook his Wild Man of Borneo locks. “Okay.”
Yeah, I know why I do this.