Scott Mercier: New Year reflections on a love-hate relationship with a bike
Special to The Aspen Times
2020! A New Year and a new decade. My, how the time flies! A new year, much less a new decade, provides a great opportunity to take some time to reflect. Any reflecting I do always brings me back to the bike.
My relationship with the bike goes back four decades. When I shattered my knee cap and tore the patella tendon in a skateboarding accident at 11 years of age, the doctor suggested riding a bike for my recovery. My stepdad paid me $200 for my summer job if I rode my bike from Telluride to Ophir. When I graduated from high school in 1986, my biological dad and I rode 2,100 miles from Telluride to Jamestown, Virginia. That was the first time I really got to know him.
In 1990, following my graduation from the University of California, my stepdad suggested I race bikes for a summer. He thought it would be a great way for my brother Blake, who was 15, and I to spend some meaningful time together before I went off into the real world. We’d bang nails in the morning, and then train in the afternoon. In a weird but wonderful twist of fate, my real world from then on revolved around the bike. Just two years later I was lined up in Barcelona representing the United States in the Olympic Games.
In 1996, the Saturn Cycling Team was the first professional team from the U.S. to compete in post-apartheid South Africa. It was on this trip that I met my wife, Mandie. We met because of a tragedy where her youngest brother was killed in a cycling accident. Her father sponsored a local South African team to honor his son, and Mandie and I met at one of the races.
I have a love-hate relationship with the bike. In 1997, my last year as a professional, while racing on the infamous U.S. Postal team, I made a decision that would become, in many ways, a defining moment in my life. I faced a Faustian bargain where I was forced to choose between my soul and my career. I chose my soul and walked away from the sport. It was fitting that my last race involved a horrific crash where I face-planted on a chip-seal road at 30 miles an hour. How I didn’t paralyze myself I’ll never know.
For a while, I could barely look at the bike. I’d occasionally go for a ride, but I rode in anger and didn’t have much joy. Eventually though, I renewed my romance with the bike. It was riding with Tom Suplizio amidst the soaring canyons of the Colorado Monument that did the trick. I fell in love again and have never looked back.
As I reflect on my time on the bike, I’m overwhelmed with an enormous sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the places it’s taken me and the people I’ve met. The bike has given me way more than it has taken. It represents more than a race, mode of transportation, exercise, suffering, exhilaration or social outlet; to me, it represents life itself.
Twenty-twenty. It almost sounds weird to say. Yet here we are. In one of the most magical places on Earth; not a phony contrived magic, but a real and powerful magic that emanates from the spirit of the mountains. I don’t know what this decade will bring, but I know that I’ll face much of it on a bike.
Happy New Year and good riding!
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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