It IS About the Bike

By Bob Santarelli

Twenty years ago my average week consisted of training 400 to 500 miles, racing at least twice (sometimes in one day) somewhere in the United States, eating tons of food, sleeping on stranger’s floors and drinking an occasional beer or ten.

What a life … the life of a top level bike racer, the life of a “bike bum”.  Sometimes I had to place in the top three of a race in order to make enough money to pay that month’s rent or to buy groceries, mainly ramen noodles and frozen pizzas.

One race in particular I won two cases of Power Bars in a prime, a prize given to the winner of a particular lap. That was breakfast for almost a month.  My Dad, rest his soul, once told me I looked like I’d just been released from a German concentration camp because I was so thin and lean…

I took it as a great compliment. They weren’t hard times by any means, it was my choice, my passion, my world, and I shared it with a great group of guys.  We trained together in Colorado during the winter and Florida in the spring.  We raced together nearly every weekend, sometimes as teammates, sometimes as rivals … but before and after we were the best of friends.

I gave up the sport for several years, sixteen to be exact, to get a “real job”, get married, have kids, then eventually start my own business. 

Well, about a year and a half ago I took a devastating blow to my life as I knew it.  I was awakened in the middle of the night and confronted by the words, “I want a divorce”.  No abuse, no addiction, no cheating … just not happy anymore. She said that I should have seen it coming, I didn’t.  She said she didn’t think I’d take it as hard as I did, I took real hard.

In a matter of no time I went from a fulltime husband and dad to a single dad half the time.  My kids are my world, both boys, and each is their own version of me.  To not see them everyday was torture to me and the woman I loved was responsible for it.  Those words that night were like an echo in the mountains that started an avalanche that was my life for the next year.  When my boys weren’t with me I struggled, I cried a lot and couldn’t shake the anger and confusion.  Then my business began to fail, I began to fail and I made some bad decisions. 

I had started riding my bike again, mainly to keep my sanity.  Then something remarkable happened.  My old world came back to me.  That great group of guys, the guys I pedaled my ass off with twenty years ago, started coming out of the woodwork.  I think we all share one of the voices in our heads and that voice said, “Santarelli is having a rough time”.  Edwardsville, Kenosha, Denver and right here in Springfield, they came to my rescue.  They didn’t want to see me down.

One in particular gave me work, gives me valuable advice and gives me a lot of shit; just like old times … we talk almost everyday.  I approached another after a race last summer (in which we both placed in the top 10), I started crying and told him I wasn’t doing so well.  This is a guy who takes a lot of grief from the local cycling community, but I know him differently.  He hugged me and said, “Bobby, let’s ride together again … just like old times … me and you”, and we do. 

As bike racers, runners, multi-sport athletes, whatever, we all share a common bond in our little worlds.  Lance Armstrong was wrong with the title of his first book “It’s Not About the Bike”, it is about the bike.  It doesn’t matter if your marriage failed or your business went under.  It matters that you have friends, good ones that share a common passion and a common happy place … on a bike, winning a race or blowing snot rockets on each other on a training ride. 

Life is okay now … I have two wonderful kids and some awesome friends … a great group of guys.  

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