I think that many of my friends today think that I came out of the womb on a tricycle. In fact, that’s far from the truth, and while I did spend a good chunk of my young adulthood on a bike, I didn’t get into cycling seriously until fairly recently. I gave mountain biking a try in 2005, in 2006 I got my own MTB and in 2007 I hit the road.
My friends introduced me to the Colavita club in 2007, and I’ve been riding and racing for Colavita ever since. I’ve met many great people in the Chicago club, with many of whom I still stay in touch and make sure to get a ride in whenever I’m in town (and it’s not snowing). That’s how I met Bill. I don’t think he was on the first ride I did with Colavita, but talks at the time were that he was out west doing something crazy, like climbing the Rockies on this road bike. At that time, to a novice biker (and even to some experienced ones) that seemed absolutely amazing and inspiring.
I think those are good words to go with, “amazing” and “inspiring.” I began riding in the Colavita B group and I quickly learned that Bill’s was a good wheel to follow. Always steady, never jerky, always made me feel safe. I think a lot can be said about a man by the way he rides his bike in a group. Is he selfish – taking unnecessarily hard accelerations up hills. Is he considerate – does he look before moving sideways or turning. Is he a team player – does he do his share of work in the group. What I can say is that before I ever had a meaningful conversation with Bill, on the bike, he was someone to be respected.
Meeting cyclists like Bill early in my road cycling life is what inspired me to continue with the sport. He was someone with years of experience, but who would never look down on you because of inexperience; he made me feel welcome in the group and I am by no means exaggerating when I say he inspired me to be a better cyclist. He was there when I did my first century.
As I started joining the Sunday group for coffee with regularity, I got to know Bill (and others) more as people off the bike, even though the coffee conversation would most often center around cycling-related things. I remember him as someone who always wanted to give back to the sport and to the club. Before each season, he would scout out new routes for us to ride and new roads to explore. This was actually another reason I like to follow Bill’s wheel – I knew I’d never get lost – he was better than any bike GPS I ever had. He’s the one the club has to thank for many of the diverse routes they ride today.
In 2009, the club leadership changes and Bill with others took the helm. The result? We more than doubled in size that year, and while I can’t give all credit for that to Bill, he certainly did more than his share to make it happen and to make everyone feel as welcome as he made me feel (probably without even knowing it or doing something in particular) when I first joined.
October 20ish, 2009 was our end of the season party and I was a few months away from moving to California. I remember Bill presenting me with a club award titled: “Best news for the individual, bad for the club.” That might be a paraphrase, but the idea is there. He helped run the A/V portion of the presentation and seemed to be in fine health at the time.
The next time I saw Bill, things were not so well. I came back in April 2010 for a friend’s wedding, and decided I’d get a ride in with the club on Sunday. I knew Bill had an extra bike that was about my size, so I got in touch with him and to no surprise, he was more than happy to lend it to me. The surprise was when I came to his house to pick up the bike. It was obvious that he was not well. I haven’t been truly shocked too many times in my life, that was definitely one of them. I didn’t ask any questions then, as I wouldn’t want any asked of me had I been in his place. But even then, when he was ill, he greeted me with a smile. I saw him again the next day after the ride – he joined us at Starbucks for the post-ride coffee. By then, I had learned that he’s been fighting cancer and that it was spreading. I was overwhelmed with sadness as I learned this, but I was always hopeful that he would be a success story who beat this horrible illness.
I don’t think I saw Bill after that day, though I did think about him a lot and asked for updates whenever I came across someone I thought knew what was going on. A few months ago Bill’s friends had a fundraiser for him – many showed up and quite a large sum of money was donated – this speaks volumes about the kind of human being he was. All of this time, I hoped and believed that all will be good. Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, right?
Yesterday morning I received an e-mail with an update on Bill’s health – it wasn’t good. He had apparently taken a turn for the worse. Later that day I found out he passed away. It’s hard for me to type this last paragraph, as my mind doesn’t quite wrap around that fact just yet. My thoughts are with his family and one thing I know for sure – he may no longer be with us, but each time I’ll pull up to a starting line at a race, I’ll be thinking of the indelible impact he had on my life.