Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Brazilian Biker Wins Hearts ...and a Buckle

2,256 miles driven through 6 states during 13 memorable days, with 289 miles of mountain biking, 2 Colorado 14,000' peaks, and 1 belt buckle.
These are merely the stats of a journey that cannot be quantified in terms of pure joy, inspiration, and countless smiles created across two continents. This journey began for Thiago Ribeiro in Brazil but concluded for me with a bond of friendship and shared purpose that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. Thanks to the Brachial Plexus Nerve Injury support group UBPN, Thiago reached out to me online five years ago to share his story about his brachial plexus injury (BPI) that was sustained at birth to his right arm, just like mine. That single message set into motion a series of events that changed both of our lives. We compared notes (all via FB messenger) about our childhood, the fact we both played drums and loved riding bikes, and that until adulthood neither of us ever talked about our injury. We always tried to hide our arm in public, keeping it in a pocket or behind our back so our difference and perceived deficiency compared to others wouldn't be exposed.
Fast forward to Saturday Aug. 11, 2018, Thiago Ribeiro exposed to the world what he's really made of, and crossed the finish line of the toughest single-day bike race in North America - the Leadville 100. Starting at an elevation of over 10,000' and climbing over 12,000' throughout the course winding through the Colorado Rockies, Thiago finished 298th out of 1,535 racers. Due to race rules he had to start at the back of the crowd but managed to pass and finish ahead of more than 80% of the tough abled-bodied competitors. Riding a wheelie across the finish line at an impressive time of 9 hours and 17 mins, Thiago was awarded the coveted Leadville 100 MTB belt buckle for simply finishing the race in under 12 hours.
I have both Thiago and "One-Arm Willie" Stewart to thank for helping me with my own bike handlebar modifications and for providing the motivation so that I was able to earn the same belt buckle myself three years ago. (See "Brake"-through Mountain Bike Modifications post & video).  Most importantly it was all thanks to the Challenged Athletes Foundation for providing Thiago a grant to travel from Brazil, an entry spot into the race, and amazing support along the way.
In keeping with the theme of this blog, while Thiago was climbing towards his summit, Denise and I carried the CAF banner to the summit of two of Colorado's 14,000' peaks: Mt. Sherman at 14,036' and Mt. Massive at 14,421' (the 3rd highest peak in the contiguous United States).
Thiago would have joined us but he had to attend a mandatory athlete pre-race meeting one of the days and for the second peak his legs, lungs and liver were in recovery mode after the race and post-race celebration party.
Thiago and his bike (and his shiny new belt buckle) are now all safely back home in Brazil, but he will remain in our thoughts and in our hearts until we meet again! Keep riding and making a difference my BPI Brother!