I’ve Never Suffered So Much, Part II: Dave Thompson

10.18.2011 | 8:00 am

A Note from Fatty: This is the second in the “I’ve Never Suffered So Much” guest post series, sent in by readers of FatCyclist.com. This series will go on for two weeks, more or less, while I travel for work. I hope you find these stories as fun and inspirational as I do.

“C’mon old man. Pedal faster,” yells my son, Rob, from the front of our tandem bike.

“I’m going as fast as I can,” I pant. Truly, we are only going four miles an hour and although it is an incline, it could hardly be called a hill. And true I am in my fifties and sweat is pouring off me, but I am hardly an old man.

Some might pass us on the trail and think that I am suffering. They would be wrong. Real suffering is when you have nothing left to give and you are still expected to go on. It is scary. It is frustrating. It is exhausting.

I experienced real suffering for the first time about thirty five years ago when I first began bike racing as a junior for the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club. I was seventeen, and excited for my first big training ride. We were planning a 100 mile ride which would make it the longest ride I had ever done. I was excited to be part of a team of four juniors. Racing together, doing something I love, and being coached to get better. That didn’t intimidate me. If anything, it energized me. I felt ready. I was healthy, hydrated and eager to be riding.

Santa Cruz Criterium 1977

The first half of the ride was mostly flat with a few rollers. It was a beautiful Spring day and we started off great. Several club members and I set a brisk pace for the first thirty miles. We stopped for food and drink and I was thrilled to hear that I had kept up with the twenty plus mile an hour pace. Keeping pace with the more experienced riders gave me a feeling of confidence. Looking back I wonder if they were pacing themselves for the rest of the ride.

After lunch, the group split, and I was riding with the coach and four junior team riders. The second part of the ride involved some climbing but not anything steep or long. Sixty miles had been the longest I had ridden prior to this day. At about mile seventy, I started to feel the accumulated effect of the mileage and it became increasing difficult to keep up. My fellow team members were also slowing their pace, but still, they were clearly stronger than I.

As the coach finally slowed the pace he began to encourage us. “Just keep going. You’ve got this. You can do it,” he yelled at us.

I wanted to believe him as my body screamed to get off the bike. I would try and hold the wheel of someone but they would simple ride away. I was unable to hold on. The confidence I felt at the beginning of the ride was quickly giving way to frustration, self-doubt, and exhaustion.

On the last climb I couldn’t take any more. I got off my bike and began to walk it up the hill. It was all I could do just to push the bike, at what seemed like a crawl, up the road.

The coach stopped and said, “Come on Dave. You’re almost there. Just get back on the bike. You’ll be spending more energy walking your bike than riding it.”

After much persuasion I got back on the bike. I felt like a zombie. My coach grabbed my seat and starting to push me up the hill. I didn’t even care. I couldn’t imagine pedaling further. I was in agony. I couldn’t think of anything or anyone else. For the remainder of the ride, all I could think of was to stay on someone’s wheel. If I had felt better, or had ridden 100 miles previously, I might have noticed the coach watching us, gauging our abilities. I might have noticed that we had already ridden far more than the designated 100 miles.

The ride ended at the coach’s house and I sat or laid on the front lawn for an hour until I could move again. I realized I had to drive twenty minutes to get back home and I didn’t think my body could do that. As I rested I realized the coach had intentionally pushed us all farther than we thought possible. The ride that was to be my first century turned into 140+ mile ride. Because of good coaching and the support of other riders, I was able to expand my abilities and potential. Euphoria began to replace the exhaustion and my confidence returned.

Even though I only raced for a year, cycling taught me that I could handle adversity. I learned the importance of camaraderie and coaching when working for a seemingly unattainable goal.

Thirty plus years later, I’m coaching my son. He was in a car accident three years ago and suffered a brain injury. I thought biking would help him. I built him a tandem which forces him to pedal with me. The cadence of pedaling sends signals to his brain that his left leg is working. We ride whenever we can hoping to help him learn to walk again.

At first, Rob could only ride a block or two and I wondered if making the bike had been a mistake. Was I expecting too much? Would he ever be able to coordinate his legs to pedal? Rather than voicing my doubts, I kept trying and I kept encouraging Rob.

Now, we try to ride twelve miles on weekend days. We even rode with Team Fatty on the twenty-three mile course in the Livestrong Challenge in Davis this past July.

September 2011

It is still hard work for me to get both of us up even a mild incline. To some, it might even look like I’m suffering. I’m not. I’m proud. His therapists insist that the biking is helping his strength, walking cadence, and energy level. I’ve found a way I can directly help my son recover. Right now, Rob doesn’t know that his body can fully recover. He is still struggling up the hill. He is learning that he can do more than he realizes. He knows he has my support. He knows I will continue to help him expand his abilities and potential just at my coach helped me. We have grown close in a way I didn’t think was possible a few years ago. We joke a lot when we ride. Rob always greets everyone on the trail.

On a ride a few weeks ago Rob asked, “Dad how old are you?”

“Fifty two. Why?” I responded.

“Fifty two and still cycling?” Rob said with mock amazement. “Let’s give the Grim Reaper the middle finger,” Rob urged me.

So, if you are ever biking and you pass a strange looking tandem and the young man in the front is making a snide comment to the rider in back, give a shout of encouragement. We’re not suffering, just extending our limits. Real suffering is when you have nothing left to give. Although I’ve found myself frustrated and exhausted, I know I am not suffering. I still have lots to give. At least enough to get us up the last hill.

Dave Thompson is a mechanical engineer and avid cyclist. He lives in San Jose, California with his wife, Amy, and his son Rob. He has been a follower of FatCyclist for three years.


  1. Comment by Josh | 10.18.2011 | 8:08 am

    Who’s cutting onions…

  2. Comment by muskyhunter | 10.18.2011 | 8:22 am

    Way to go Dave and Rob! I love the Grim Reaper comment!

  3. Comment by Rob W | 10.18.2011 | 8:23 am

    @ Josh….no kidding! This got me choked up too! Do DAve! Go Rob! Dave, thank you for sharing this story. You are an amazing father!!!!!!! How many exclamations oints can I put here? Wow ! As a nerdy tech side note, I am interested in how you made the tandem……another post someday???

  4. Comment by Rob W | 10.18.2011 | 8:24 am

    Go Dave…that is ;)

  5. Comment by chad | 10.18.2011 | 8:29 am

    cool bike, awesome story!

  6. Comment by Mark in Ottawa | 10.18.2011 | 8:42 am

    Dave – what a great story! Boy can I relate to the first part – the coach testing your limits and making you exceed them all-the-while you not noticing what you’re doing! Do all coaches have this trick up their sleeve?

    That tandem looks great! I’m happy to see you and your son able to get out and share some time together doing an activity you both obviously enjoy. Here’s wishing you both courage with your son’s recovery. I’m pulling for you guys.

    Mark (in Ottawa, Canada)

  7. Comment by grannygear | 10.18.2011 | 8:51 am


  8. Comment by GJ Jackie | 10.18.2011 | 9:13 am

    And I thought this was going to be just another junior racer story. Why is my screen all blurry?

  9. Comment by AngieG | 10.18.2011 | 9:21 am

    Let me tell you the strength of this dyanamic duo. I had the amazing pleasure and honor of riding with them at Livestrong Davis.

    They get up to speed and then watch out, they move right a long leaving you in the dust!

    I can’t wait to see them again next year. I imagine by then Rob will be in the back and Dave will be riding in the front. :-)

  10. Comment by KM | 10.18.2011 | 9:28 am

    Awesome bike, awesome story,… pardon me, I have some sentiment in my eye.

  11. Comment by Fat Cathy | 10.18.2011 | 9:35 am

    All I can say is WOW. Just WOW.

  12. Comment by Kathy McElhaney | 10.18.2011 | 9:41 am

    What an incredible story!

    Decades ago my Dad bought an old beat up tandem to ride with my brother who was a hemophiliac. I was always a little jealous of that bike and their being able to ride together like that. But the pleasure it brought to my brother was priceless.

  13. Comment by Craig | 10.18.2011 | 9:59 am

    Wow!!! My day just got a lot brighter after reading this. Great guys and a great story!!

  14. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 10.18.2011 | 10:25 am

    Like Angie says… Rob, Dave and Amy define family and perseverance. I’m sure Dave will gladly take the front seat, especially for the hills.

    On a second note I think that was ‘me’ behind those straw bales, or at least my hair…back in the day,

    Thanks Dave for a great story….. now who wants to go next?????

  15. Comment by plum | 10.18.2011 | 10:33 am

    Well done. One of the best things I’ve read here in a long time.

  16. Comment by Meredith S | 10.18.2011 | 10:48 am

    Your story gave me misty eyes. You two are awesome! Keep it up!

  17. Comment by Bee T | 10.18.2011 | 10:55 am

    Wow… what an incredible slow reveal on that story!! I thought it was going to be another great father with a cute little 12 year old on the back of his bike story (and those are also great stories), but then that sneaker twist! What amazing dedication of a father to his son.

    This definitely gave me the slow warm fuzzies. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Comment by Maggi | 10.18.2011 | 11:11 am

    Wow, Dave — just, wow. What an inspiring story, on so many different levels — thank you so much for sharing!

  19. Comment by Bike and the Fat Man | 10.18.2011 | 11:12 am

    I have to stop reading these things at work…try hiding the tears and sniffles in front of a bunch of mechanical techs. So inspiring! I will not complain any more when doing intervals because of this story. Thanks Dave and Rob

  20. Comment by Liz | 10.18.2011 | 11:15 am

    Another excellent entry!

    Dave and Mark K: Do you have any way of getting in touch with your old coaches, if they are still living? It is amazing how far these lessons in perseverence have carried you and I’m sure your coaches would be thrilled to learn that they are still paying benefits.

    Best wishes to Dave and Rob! Hope to run into you one day.

  21. Comment by Kevin M | 10.18.2011 | 11:16 am

    I think we all have heard of Team Hoyt in triathlon. I want to introduce you to Team Thompson!!! Great story! Dave thank you for the inspiration to all parents. Rob, keep working hard!!

    Now excuse me I have to go take care of the flood in my eyes.

    Roll on!

  22. Comment by Nurse Betsy | 10.18.2011 | 11:43 am

    What an inspiration you two are. Thanks for brightening my day. I think the “Grim Reaper” comment would be a great t-shirt or bike jersey. I would wear it! Take that Grim Reaper!!!!!

  23. Comment by yannb | 10.18.2011 | 11:49 am

    Dave, Amy and Rob, you guys are an inspiration to Karen and I. We were happy to meet you at the Davis LiveStrong challenge this year. Love your story today, and yes someone was cutting onions next to my desk too. Hope to see you guys again soon.

  24. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 10.18.2011 | 11:55 am

    I’ll second or third the nice to meet you at Davis. It was an honor to ride the event with you all.

  25. Comment by Sara | 10.18.2011 | 11:55 am


  26. Comment by Bo | 10.18.2011 | 12:02 pm


    The same guy is chopping onions beside my computer as well….

    Thank you for the inspiring story. All the best to you and your son.

  27. Comment by rich | 10.18.2011 | 12:04 pm

    Awesome story…thank you!

  28. Comment by melicious | 10.18.2011 | 12:05 pm

    Great story, both of your juniors experience and that of your son. We never know what life will throw at us. It looks like you and your son took what was thrown at you and ran with it. Excellent! Thank you for sharing.

  29. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 10.18.2011 | 12:15 pm

    Very cool tandem bike and great story! You are an amazing father, Dave.

  30. Comment by sam | 10.18.2011 | 12:17 pm

    Wow. Thanks for sharing your story – you and your son are both doing amazing things. And thanks for the ‘blast from the past’ with the top photo – I grew up in Santa Cruz County in the 70s and though I probably wasn’t at that race, I totally recognize the scene! Best to you and your family.

  31. Comment by Heber Chad | 10.18.2011 | 12:26 pm

    there are just so many times I read Fatty’s blog expecting a silly diet advice or what to do with old waterbottles and I walk away (roll back from my desk) and think I can’t believe what an amazing group of people have come together in this strange and wonderful place…thanks to all of Team Fatty. Thank you Dave for sharing your story, I think I’m going to ride my bike today.

  32. Comment by pedalpink | 10.18.2011 | 12:45 pm

    So I’ll be the fourth of the LiveStrong Davis crowd to jump in and thank the Thompsons for “extending the limits.” It was great to meet your family at the LiveStrong event at the appreciation dinner and then the next day on the ride. From one stoker to another, Dave, I applaud your creativity in finding a way to make bicycling an important part of Rob’s recovery.

  33. Comment by MattC | 10.18.2011 | 12:45 pm

    Dave & Rob…AWESOME STORY!! And as my Sist’a AngieG said above, it was great meeting you at Davis, and an honor to ride with you! Hope to see you again in Davis for 2012…(and HEY HEY HEY…the new team page will be out very soon all of a sudden!) Go Team Fatty!

  34. Comment by sllym | 10.18.2011 | 12:47 pm

    I need a warning or disclaimer before a post like this. Something like “This post may make you openly weep at your desk. If you are prone to crying, please consider reading this in a non-public venue.” What a great, inspiring story. Way to go Team Thompson!!

  35. Comment by Robin | 10.18.2011 | 1:20 pm

    Awesome and inspiring story! I’ve been a fan of Team Thompson since you both became a member of Team Carborocket and it’s great to hear of your progress!

    As an aside, I find it interesting to be one of at least three FatCyclist readers who grew up in Santa Cruz in the 70’s… I wish I’d gotten involved with cycling way back then instead of just over a year ago!

  36. Comment by TimRides | 10.18.2011 | 1:21 pm

    And another Wow. Amazing story: it hit me right between the eyes and misted me right up.

  37. Comment by chtrich | 10.18.2011 | 1:22 pm

    Great story Dave. Keep it up!

  38. Comment by Stephen G | 10.18.2011 | 1:48 pm

    Thank you Dave. I’ll think of you and Rob every time I ride.

  39. Comment by Clydesteve | 10.18.2011 | 2:49 pm

    Dave – from one M.E. to another: FIVE STARS! Keep it up Dad!

  40. Comment by Charlie | 10.18.2011 | 3:10 pm

    Suddenly all the hills around here seem to have flattened out!

    Great job…

  41. Comment by Dave T | 10.18.2011 | 3:15 pm

    Thanks so much for all the positive comments and encouragement. Rob’s recovery often seems painfully slow and the support and encouragement means alot. We were excited to ride the Livestrong Ride last summer because it meant Rob could actually bike for 23 miles. What impressed us even more was being part of such a great team. Even though it was the first time we had met any of Team Fatty, we felt immediately accepted. What a gift to be able to connect with people so quickly. We are definitely planning on riding the Livestrong Challenge in 2012. We’re even hoping to sign up for the 40 mile ride. That is, if there aren’t many hills. For those of you who rode last year, we are looking forward to seeing you again. For those of you who weren’t there, consider joining us. It is a blast.

    If you are interested in seeing design and production pictures of the tandem, here’s the link: https://picasaweb.google.com/dmga01/RobsBikeUpload

  42. Comment by Shawna | 10.18.2011 | 3:39 pm

    Great story Dave. So glad it was published. Rob has such a great personality. From an outside person looking in, he really helps people keep things in perspective.
    Keep it up Rob, keep you dad young and on his toes!

  43. Comment by Rosie | 10.18.2011 | 3:42 pm

    Just completely awesome. We can be the theoretical wind at your back when you need a little help getting up that next hill.

    Thanks for giving me the gift of gratitude on this Tuesday afternoon.

  44. Comment by Marco | 10.18.2011 | 4:57 pm

    Awesome story!! Thanks for sharing, Dave.

    Sweet bike!

  45. Comment by zeeeter | 10.18.2011 | 5:11 pm

    Awesome and really inspiring, was a real pleasure meeting you guys at the Davis BHOF and riding with you there!

  46. Comment by BamaJim | 10.18.2011 | 5:34 pm

    Inspirational! Keep up the great father/son teamwork!

  47. Comment by stuckinmypedals | 10.18.2011 | 5:38 pm

    I so agree with Angie, MattC and zeeeter. It was great meeting you guys in Davis. You’re an inspiration to us all and I loved hearing more of your story. Keep it up!

  48. Comment by Spiff | 10.18.2011 | 5:40 pm

    I read the news and think that people are awful. I read this blog and think that people are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    P.S. I worked in TBI rehabilitation for 10 years -I am sure that the biking will help…both physically and emotionally. I can’t think of a better reason to ride a bike.

  49. Comment by Steve Brown | 10.18.2011 | 6:07 pm

    Ah,the good ole days. When you fastened your cleats to the bottom of your own cycling shoes with tacks.

  50. Comment by Nathan Hoover | 10.18.2011 | 7:43 pm

    VERY nice posting Dave (and Amy!) It’s such a great story and you tell it so well. Congratulations! And GO ROB!!!

  51. Comment by roan | 10.18.2011 | 8:34 pm

    I read this posting early this morning, came back to read it again and the comments. WOW ! I saw you guys at Davis in July opposite side of the starting mass. I was thinking of next July, now it is a sure thing, see you there. Dave, thanks for posting the bike build link, I know several people that may be interested…one is also an ME.
    Great to see that you have a retro racing photo.

  52. Comment by AK_Chick | 10.18.2011 | 10:24 pm

    Spiff: I read the news and think that people are awful. I read this blog and think that people are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    I couldn’t agree more! Loving the guest posts! Thanks for letting your readers share their stories Elden! :)

    I really wanted to write something, but my hardest experience on a bike wasn’t that hard, thought cycling in 90 degree heat in Austin sure pushed this Alaska girl!

  53. Comment by cece | 10.19.2011 | 4:09 am

    What a wonderful story of love! I came back and read it a second time?

  54. Comment by Laura Laker | 10.19.2011 | 4:20 am

    This is wonderful! I love your interpretation of suffering, what an inspiration.

  55. Comment by Kent | 10.19.2011 | 6:56 am

    Dave and Rob, Keep Climbing! Great story.

    Fatty, love your stories, but I also enjoy reading about the friends you typically never met. We all have hills in our lives at some point. Thanks for sharing.

  56. Comment by Christina | 10.19.2011 | 8:15 am

    Fantastic! You guys are an inspiration.

  57. Comment by Kathleen@ForgingAhead | 10.19.2011 | 8:28 am

    Beautiful story. Love the photo and the smiles on your faces :-) I’ll look for you on the roads – do you guys bike Canada Road on Sunday? It’s nice when it is closed to traffic.

  58. Comment by L'Hippo | 10.19.2011 | 12:36 pm

    Another inspiring post!

  59. Comment by centurion | 10.19.2011 | 12:49 pm

    As a parent with two teen drivers, all you had to say was “He was in a car accident” and that is suffering enough.
    Enjoy the Ride!

  60. Comment by RodNeeds2Ride | 10.19.2011 | 4:45 pm


  61. Comment by Obstinate Roadie | 10.20.2011 | 9:45 am

    What a great idea for getting your son’s neurons firing. We do similar things for our child with disabilities. Keep at it even when there appears to be no improvement. Someday the neuron pathways will connect, and he’ll make sudden progress. We’ve seen it happen.

  62. Comment by Fat Freddy | 11.1.2011 | 4:52 pm

    You guys are the best. Thanks for letting me be part of the team!


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