Round 4

This past week was tough. The treatments I’m doing are leveling, or flattening, me out which in turn messes with my head. It’s hard to accept a physical state that I am not use to. I either overestimated my ability to keep strong or completely underestimated the impact of treatments on the body, either way how would you know what the impact can ever be? My vanity, or hubris, just assumed that I would sail through the five weeks while I kept up a normal life but if I was really listening to others who have gone through this fight I would have been more realistic with myself. Life isn’t quite normal but keeping up appearances, so to speak, is mentally stabilizing.

Lately my emotions have wider swings and the daily visits to the Tom Baker Cancer centre take their toll. One minute you are up and then the next you’re down. Every day I see new faces at the clinic of people facing huge challenges some of which may be insurmountable. I try harder each day to say hello to people and ask them how they are doing. The usual answer is “not too bad today.” When people ask me how I am doing its usually the same. I’m thankful that I have a body that can tolerate the chemotherapy for the most part and I have no pain. The upside of my current state is the belief that there is more “purpose” to be had in life. There is more love to give and more success to be achieved.

Having to admit that I can not be athletic for the time being is no longer an issue and at this point it’s coming down to measuring my efforts and keeping tabs on my stamina and immune system which is my current state of training. With two weeks to go I can see the end so its not really that long but the idle time in between days is my biggest challenge. Social time helps and I have to do my best to fill gaps in the day until my family comes home. The friends helping with rides to Calgary really help and we have good conversations. Talking and connecting with others is a great coping mechanism as is writing and sharing through social media. I’ve kept up with yoga through the week and its pretty funny, in an way, to find yoga to be my biggest physical challenge. I’m like a cat 5 yogi. Just staying flexible is a feat!

For the record I made it through week three with no changes in immunity markers which had dropped at the end of week two so perhaps all that lying on my ass helps.

If you’re reading this… thank you! If you have time for a walk, coffee or tea during the week ping me.

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Round 3

Last week I finished my second week of treatments and I had no idea how each day would progress. For the most part I found myself feeling better through the week but on a daily basis would be wiped by early evening which is to be expected. Like training, the body seems to adapt and regulate itself as we go forward.

In the first week I felt pretty beat up but that was not the case last week. I had mild discomfort in the evening with some low grade nausea but no reduction in appetite. We started a vegan diet over two weeks ago so I think that the change in nutrients has had a positive impact on my personal health and there has been no weight loss. The only noticeable sign of a toll on the body was some declining blood values relating to my immune system which is doing all the work right now.

Being in this situation has given me a lot of time to reflect, as it would, and while I wish I was not in this predicament it has given me a chance to really think about life and what truly matters. One word that comes to mind is grace. I see more beauty around me and I avoid being drawn to dark places. My family, my friends, my staff and my community have been incredibly supportive and I owe them everything I have to succeed in this.

I’m now at the half way point of my first round of treatments (pre-surgery) and I feel pretty good. I had the chance to get away and see some bike racing on the weekend at the Tour of Alberta and I got to meet up with Rob Britton who is a great athlete who has given me some extra inspiration through this process. A great way to describe Britton is “Grinta” which is what I am going to have be through this fight.


Me and Rally Pro Cycling Rider Rob Britton

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Round 2

Personally,  cancer is not a journey, it’s a fight. I am not a victim of cancer. I have cancer and cancer is an opponent that you must respect and prepare for. I have no desire to commune with cancer on a journey. No disrespect to those that have come before me and there are many, many more than we realize.

I have trained my body to compete and to take a beating but I had no idea what I was in for when I started week one of combined chemo and radiation therapy. I expected to do more, be stronger and maintain “somewhat” of a normal routine but that was not quite the case. My opponent is not just the cancer but  several other adversaries in the ring; the chemotherapy pills and my head. It sounds worse than it is but when you are use to being active and then one day you are not doing what you did last week you realize that this is bigger than you anticipated, but then how could you ever know what it might be like.

Within a couple of days of taking my chemo pills and going for radiation I started to feel toxic, as if being held on the ropes and taking repeated body blows. There is no physical pain but there is this constant nagging fatigue that starts to wear you down; like being punched in the gut over and over again. You begin to ask yourself if you are sick, are you really sick? By Friday of the first week I felt somewhat use to the the constant trickle of poison in my body and was looking forward to the bell ringing and being able to head to the corner in between rounds. Each day of chemo treatment left me feeling like a fighter slumped over an opponent beating on you. You are strong enough to stand and take the hits but  you don’t have much in the tank for anything else. Thankfully all I am dealing with at this time is fatigue.

I kept up during the week with an almost daily yoga practice to keep the body moving and at the end of the week I got out to run. When I was running I started to recall all the faces of the people I met during the week at the Tom Baker Cancer Center and there are so many. All the sitting and driving tightens you up and yoga brings me back to a better place. People said to go for long walks but I want to run. I need to feel my heart beating strongly and to sweat. I want to know that I can have a day where I feel good and strong. The coming weeks will get harder, I will grow weaker but so will the cancer. I have responded well so far and I have changed my diet to help me get through the next four weeks of treatments. I was able to make a baseline assessment of where I am physically and mentally after the end of the week and I know that I have the stamina, enough that I wish I could share with the other souls that I sit next to waiting for treatment. My energy is high in the morning then tapers through the day so I can time the windows. I also have an amazing community of support in my corner helping me deal with being in the “ring.”

I will not be better tomorrow. I will not be better next week. I will not be better next month. I will get there though and I will raise my arm in victory when I come back out of my corner in the final round.

#Giveall


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F*CK Cancer

Every morning that I wake up I have to take a moment to set my head on straight and remind myself that life in the short term has taken a drastic turn and that my life is not quite the same as it was a month earlier.  I have cancer and the cancer that I have is treatable but it will take a very aggressive course of treatment and surgery to beat it.

On July 8th I set a personal record for an individual time trial at the Bicisport Suffer Like a Dog ITT. On July 9th I broke away in the Provincial Masters Road Race and took another silver medal for the weekend. On July 10th I went to the hospital for a scheduled colonoscopy and learned that I had a large colorectal tumour.

Lying on the table at the end of my colonoscopy it seemed that my life was forever changed and perhaps was not going to last much longer. The surgeon said that he will need to speak to Misty and I in private after recovery. The nurse held my hand and told me that she was sorry. The world seemed rather dark at that moment and you wonder what’s next. You are in shock and you are scared. We will all face our fate but we are just never sure when it will come. Lying on the hospital bed the only thing I could think about was my family and my friends. Within a few days the thought of hope was on the rise as the cancer had not spread but the tumour was classified as stage three with local metastasis to two regional lymph nodes.

For the past month I have had a lot of time to think about life, how we live and what is important to us. I have also asked myself if I have tried hard enough and have I succeeded? I have failed in many ways, I have given up at times in life but I have had my share of wins. I have learned to be a father. I have learned to be a better husband and I have learned to be part of a community and to contribute as much as I can.

We can be hard on ourselves and we can question our validity. I have spent a lifetime being overly critical and wondering if I have done enough but in the last month I have learned to stop doing that and I have grown stronger. I am angry at times and I am sad at times but each day gets a little easier. Each day I  grow closer to those around me and each day I try a little harder. In some ways I feel bad for what I am putting my loved ones through but I am sure that is normal.

I started this blog to express myself and to show a journey that I was on to find form. Form as an athlete, form as a family man, form as a community contributor. Today I feel that I have found form in many ways. The world around me has stepped up to help and to show support and I don’t think there is any great form of success than to feel the empathy and love from my family, my friends and my community.

I have shared my experience as my own therapy and it is very helpful for me to keep it top of mind and to talk about it with friends, family and my social media circles. When I don’t think about it and when I stop talking about it I find I get quite overwhelmed.

On August 21st I will start five weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Surgery will follow later in the winter.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your support.

#GIVEall

James

 

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You still have a couple of years left…

While one light begins to shine brighter the other begins to fade. I’ll come back to that later.

This past year my friend Jeff mentioned, off the cuff of course, “you still have a few more years left to improve.” He was referring to the ability to get better as a cyclist as we start to push the darker side of the 40’s. I took Jeff’s comment to heart heading into the off-season and for my planning.

Bike racing is really hard. Actually, bike racing is really frigging hard, full stop. There is a chance that we will start having masters category races in Alberta but for now the old diesel engines have to line up with some highly tuned 4 cylinders. That said, I am approaching the season with a better tool kit. A few things have been missing in it for the last few years, namely a proper plan, investment in a dedicated coach, a nutrition map, and some lifestyle changes (code for less wine). I have noticed the crow feet around my eyes getting more pronounced and I will embrace the extra character on my face as I stare down my fellow competitors. I have targeted a few races as A races but most races will be riding support for the team as best I can. I dropped out of Cat 2 to ride with our juniors and this year I will go back to Cat 2 to ride for the team. There is some fun thrown in for good measure with some track racing and maybe I will go out in the fall and make a fool out of myself in some select cyclo-cross races. For some reason I tend to crash a lot when my bike leaves the tarmac and hits dirt and grass.

Having finally recovered from a hard crash in Mexico a few months ago we are now six weeks into the 2016 program plan and everything looks good so far. Cadence is improving, prescribed intervals are being completed as planned. Fatigue is more pronounced but that’s part of the process and the odd ice bath, massage and acupuncture helps.

As for that shining light.. well I am starting to plan for the day that our daughter takes up competitive sports. Cycling is selfish and takes a lot of time away from family and that’s time that can’t be recovered.

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Riding with my daughter in a little critters race last summer

Lets move!

JK

 

 

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1982 + Discovering Cycling

1982 was the year the cycling world opened its door to me or it was the year that I found it. I was in grade nine and had slowly been getting into cycling after competitive swimming came to an end and I was intrigued by bike racing. Growing up in St. Albert I got to see the annual Velo City road race fly past our door on Sir Winston Churchill Boulevard. The sound of the spinning cassettes was mesmerizing as the peleton would cruise past our condominium in Grandin Place. I had a bmx bike  which was quickly replaced with a nishiki road bike.

In 1982 my brother Keith and I starting riding together and we would ride longer distances from St. Albert to Edmonton to go see the Edmonton Drillers (soccer club) play (that was a good ride for a 13 year old at the time) and later that year in the Summer we did a bike Tour from Jasper to Blue River. Every day I rode I felt free and would explore roads around St. Albert which were mostly rural at the time. You needed to be quick in those days as local acreages were not fenced and dogs would chase you. The silca frame pumps came in handy to fend off local mutts and they were just the right length for whacking canines on the nose. Big Lake road was a particularly favourite route to ride.

Eventually I found my way to High Country Sports on 124 st in Edmonton. This was the original store that was in an old house and staffed with an eclectic group of mechanics and local frame builder Brad Proctor. At the time I think I was an annoyance for the owner Robert “Bob” Townsend  as I would just hang out in the store mesmerized at the displays, the smell of grease and kerosine, the frames and the constant stream of local riders and racers frequenting the store. Bob was a character. Generous, super tall, thin, bearded like a folk singer and he had an infectious smile. To Bob’s credit High Country was the folky western version of the LBS (local bike store) on the north side of the river and was the  rival to Velocity Sports that was run by the Zombar family in the Capilano area. Both stores supported grassroots cycling and were extremely important in supporting local clubs and racing. In Calgary the same would be said for Vitus sports and I.C.C. which were the main racing stores in YYC.

Each store was aligned with a club. High Country supported the Edmonton Road and Track Club and Velocity supported its namesake club. These were rival stores that really fueled the local scene. The world of cycling was different then as the LBS that was stocked with race bikes was a community hub and hang out. Cycling was a minority sport influenced mostly by working class European immigrants from the 60’s and 70’s. That Euro mystique created an aura around the sport which for me that was quite magical. Today we see a very different influence.

Eventually,  and after many annoying visits and overstaying my welcome well past an expiry date, Bob realized that he wasn’t getting rid of me. Looking back this was like being the student  patiently waiting for the potential mentor to welcome him into the fold after proving himself worthy of the attention. Not even the comments from the High Country wheelbuilder (crazy looking guy with a long beard and a name long lost to me) mentioning how annoying I was would make me leave. I was infatuated with the bike shop. One day Bob presented me a potential deal and offered to sell (super cheap) a bike frame that had no decalling and was of eastern european origins, along with a mix of parts and some tubular wheels. The price was next to nothing and my father agreed to pay for it. In some ways Bob was pretty smart because I learned quickly that by bringing family members to the store that High Country would get new customers and I would get good deals. Next, Bob asked me if I would like to race and then put me in touch with my first cycling coach and sadly one of my last until recently.

Robert Gilchrist was my first coach, he was very good and led by example. 940902_10153954397725530_1579794663002616980_n.jpg

Robert is pictured on the far right.

Robert was a strong rider, racer and no slouch. These were formative years and his coaching went beyond program setting. Robert’s Cycling 101 made you ride hard stuff on your road bike. Mountain bikes didn’t exist at the time and we would ride our road bikes down stuff that you probably wouldn’t do today. Robert’s idea of skill training was to ride your bike on rail road tracks, down staircases (the ones beside the High Level Bridge) in the Edmonton River Valley, on railroad rails (to see how long you could hold a straight line) and gravel roads. We would practice crashing in the Kinsmen soccer park (we would fall off the bike) and there was lots of bumping. All this came in handy and for the most part I managed to make it through most races without crashing. The greatest skill I learned which came in handy a few years later was bunny hopping. Robert taught us to bunny hop over riders and I remember executing this on a descent in the Gatineau park when a dozen riders crashed on the descent and I managed to get my bike up and over Peter Turbanerisch (sic)! Robert also taught us to love (hate) riding in foul weather which really nurtured the romance of the sport. Robert was quick to share old copies of Velo news with images of European pros caked in mud riding the Spring Classics. We rode a lot in the winter and in the rain and we rode really long long rides. I also remember Robert’s nutritional suggestion for ride snacks which was toast with jam and goat cheese or cream cheese.

On of the the best parts of Robert’s coaching was having us (juniors at the time) riding with seniors which accelerated our growth and skills. Along with Robert there was John Bryan, Brian Kenny, Brian Jolly, Paul Kozak, Peter Toth and many others who were also surrogate coaches, mentors and eventual competitors and who were all hard men on the road. Over the following years and as I grew I began to challenge my senior riders in local club races and quickly excelled mostly due to their help and willingness to ride with me and put up with me. As I got better my attitude, unfortunately, did not necessarily improve on the same track and my ego would quickly get the better of me on more than one occasion. I had results but I also burned some bridges which in a small world as it was then was not the best path.

Thirty years forward I am now entering my sixth season of racing after a long hiatus from the old days and I have gone back to working with a coach as well as coaching and volunteering as much as possible. My time racing a bike now exceeds my youth racing and I continually reflect on the efforts that were given to me as a young rider and at that time there was no cost to it. I sometimes took those efforts for granted then and I would say that I am trying to pay it back or “pay it forward.” I think deep down in all of us it is the natural progression as we mature to give back which is very rewarding.

Cycling was grassroots back in the day. Local shops were more involved and helped you as much as possible, clubs relied on the spirit of volunteerism and not so much on money to fuel the system. Attendance at races and club races along with club rosters was significant at that time. Cycling was mostly driven by the community. Not that I am saying it isn’t today but we are at a crossroads with parents more willing to pay for programming rather than being involved in the programs and professional events groups taking over more of the calendar.

I am thankful to have found form in the sport again and to be able to return some of what what was given.

Let’s move!

JK

 

 

 

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Cycling off the grid: Bici Bucerias part 1

Cyclists are inherently selfish or at least we can be perceived that way. Masters racers (blasters) are even more so with a fear that if we stop training or take a beach vacation we will loose everything (fitness) and the next season will be that much harder to hold the wheels of riders young enough to be our children. So what do you do if you want to go on a beach vacation and have the best of both worlds? That world being family fun, riding and sightseeing, go to Bucerias Mexico and try to convince your wife to ride on cobble stone roads, eat street food and ride local transit.

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Bucerias is a small Mexican town just north of Puerto Vallarta that is a mix of small hotels, VRBO rentals, expats, small markets, min-supers, friendly locals, safe streets, awesome restaurants and quiet beaches. Bucerias is also a great hub for road cycling which you would never think on first site. The area is a great launching pad to ride in to the back country on quiet roads, with scenic vistas, long climbs, colonial towns, inexpensive (cheap) food and, most importantly, safe places to ride. The locals show a lot of respect for cyclists and perhaps it speaks to a culture that relies on bikes for transportation, a stark contrast to riding around Calgary.

 

One of the more epic rides that we did was up to San Sebastian a 16th century Spanish silver mining town. What made the ride awesome was the climbing which is the only way to get there. Starting out just east of Puerto Vallarta you climb for roughly 36 km deep in to the Sierra mountains. The climbs have no rhythm as the mountains are a series of foothills that fold over top of each other and get increasingly higher. Just as you think you might be cresting the summit you descend a bit and start over again. The climb starts with palm trees at sea level and finishes with pine trees at roughly 14oo meters above sea level.

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Riding with Joel up the climb to Estancia
What makes the climb up to San Sebastian challenging is the last 3 km. We rolled in to the town of Estancia and then turned upwards once again to find a wall of cobbles. It’s hard enough to finish the ride but now you have to stop, let some air out of the tires to roll over the cobbles and then lock in with white knuckles to finish the ride safely. The last thing you want to do is crash on this road surface and I was nursing wounds suffered the previous day when I hit a tope and careened down a cobble stone street in San Juan. Strava adds some additional incentive as there is a KOM (King of the Mountain) and if you take one of the KOMs there is a Jersey that can be won from the local tour operator Bici Bucerias who was our host for the week. In reality, the best way to roll over cobbles is in a big gear, hands loose on the hoods or tops of the bars and find the high point on the lane.IMG_2807

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding the last section to San Sebastian know as “The Wall”
We were fortunate on the ride with the weather which was perfect. As you ascend the temperature tends to drop and there was a 10 degree difference from bottom to top. Another aspect that made the ride awesome was that it was a supported ride. We had a driver who provided hand ups when needed but there were no sticky bidons.

The reward for climbing was a visit to a historic colonial town far removed from resorts and beaches and devoid  of tourists.IMG_2796

Side street in San Sebastian

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Lunch was served at a local ranch restaurant that had house made tequila (selling for 100 pesos per bottle) and shredded beef on soft tacos (beef was from the ranch).

Other rides were equally epic but sans climbing. One of my favorite rides was to Fortuna de Vallejo which is an 80 km out and back that skirts alongside the Sierra mountains and weaves through farming and ranch lands dotted by tiny farm towns. At one point on the ride you have to fjord over a small river but it is not too deep. IMG_2840

Each ride we were on had three guides of varying riding ability. If you want to ride fast tempo there is a guide for that. If you want to chill and enjoy the sites then there is a guide for that too. You would be hard pressed to drop your guide but I did do my best, like most master blasters, to push the pace.

IMG_2844Lunch with local guide Peter (left) and ex Blackberry exec Derrick who was the key man in the Spidertech sponsorship deal with Steve Bauer’s team.

The ride to Vallejo took us through a larger town called San Juan which we rode to on a number of occasions. If you find yourself there keep an eye out for the infamous JK tope. It turns out that this particular bump eats roadies on a regular basis.

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The last thing you want to hit going 35 km / hour is this thing. (note: I was not looking down)

If you want to combine riding, eating, beach going, site seeing then Bucerias is a great destination and very affordable. I would recommend leaving your bike at home and grabbing a rental  from Joel’s outfit at Bici Bucerias which has a selection of Specialized bikes with 25 mm tires which are perfect for the roads.

 

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The accommodations are far superior to staying in a hotel and we had a small villa that was shared with like minded riders and friends from Alberta.

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The Casa Victoria pool was a welcome relief after each ride and kept the family entertained each morning.

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When you’re not riding there are lots of towns close to Bucerias to explore but that’s another post for another day.

 

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