In the Back

08.8.2012 | 10:10 am

A Note from Fatty: I wanted to update you on where things stand with Cigna and my son. A couple weeks ago, I wrote that they had declined coverage on the program he’s attending to help him overcome the debilitating depression he’s been fighting ever since Susan’s cancer came back.

Well, we escalated it through all the appeal levels there are available. Cigna said “no.” Each time.

So last week, my HR Representative at work asked for an independent review. Those take a little while, during which I continued to send my son to this program. I figured I’d pay for this, somehow. He’s improving; the program’s worth it.

On Friday, I was actually visiting with a counsellor at this program when the finance guy burst in.

“I have ridiculously good news,” he said. “The independent review sided with us. Cigna has to pay for the treatment, up to today. And that decision is final and binding.”

I was so relieved. But of course, that meant that the battle was just going to start again, starting the next workday.

And then, yesterday, I heard that Cigna had approved — this time without the reviews and appeals — another week of this program.

I’m sure that at some point — sooner than later, I’d guess — I’ll have to ramp up the battle again. And no matter what, this is going to be expensive for me; even with Cigna covering, my portion of the program still comes out to be about the same as an extra house payment each month.

But it’s still true: for now, we’re covered. Which is really great news.

So I’d like to give a big shout-out to someone I’m almost certain doesn’t read my blog: Keisha S, the incredible HR Rep at Gartner, where I work. She doesn’t know me (or didn’t ’til now), but took on my problem as if I were her brother.

I tell you. So many people have gone out of their way to do good things for me. I am a fortunate person.

Today, I am packing.

I am piling up pretty much every cycling-related item I own, and putting it in a truck. Tomorrow I’m driving to Leadville, getting ready for my sixteenth annual racing of the Leadville Trail 100 (Here’s last year’s race report, in case you’ve somehow missed my 1.5-decade-long obsession with this race).

I love this race. I dread this race. The course. The effort. The tradition. The annual wrestling match with my demons. The people.

More than anything, the people.

It’s the people who make any cycling event good. And somehow, it seems like big races and events bring out the best in everyone. As if during the course of the ride, by pushing all your anger and aggression into your pedals, you end the ride with nothing but the good parts.

Facing the Unknown

As the race gets closer, I’ll be nervous. I’ll lose sleep. I’ll fret and second-guess myself. I’ll ask myself, a thousand times, whether I’m in good enough shape to finish the Leadville 100 on a singlespeed in under nine hours.

But I’m not worried about whether I’ll finish. Sure, something could happen: I could crash out (it’s happened). I could have a catastrophic mechanical (it’s nearly happened). But I know my fitness and the course well enough that I am pretty sure I’ll get across the finish line before the twelve-hour gun goes off.

But not everyone knows that about themselves.

There are people who, right now, know the cutoff times are at the various aid stations, and are worrying about those times much, much more than I’m worrying about that magical nine hour mark.

There are people who are thinking about the twelve-hour official finishing time. There are people who are thinking about the thirteen-hour semi-official finishing time, after which officials begin sweeping the course.

Those people are a lot more stressed about this race than I am.

But they’re still showing up. And they’re contesting this race. Even though they don’t know whether they can finish it, they are still going to give it everything they have, in a bid to stretch themselves and find out what they can do.

There’s a remarkable, admirable courage in that.


In any big race, everyone suffers. And there’s a certain temptation to see egalitarianism in the suffering: everyone’s suffering over the same distance.

But that’s deceptive.

You don’t suffer over distance. You suffer over time, multiplied by effort. And everyone’s trying hard.

So by my math, the folks in the back are suffering more. Way more.

But they’re doing it. They’re accepting that they have to work harder and pay a greater price to get across the finish line. And they do.

As far as I’m concerned: the greater the battle, the more heroic the return. I love watching racers come in across the finish line — totally ruined, but simultaneously totally triumphant.

The Nature of the Course

Leadville is an out-and-back course. You ride out 51 miles, and then ride back 52. Or something like that.

What this means is that as you get near the turnaround point — which is also the highest point in the course (12,600 feet) — you get to see the people ahead of you coming back down the trail.

When I first started racing the Leadville 100 — back when just a few hundred raced it — there was an awesome tradition in place. Those returning from the turnaround would cheer for those still marching up to the turnaround.

As the race has gotten bigger, not as many people do it anymore. That’s too bad. If I can — if I have the lungs and am not in mortal peril because I’m going faster than I should — I’m going to yell for the folks marching up as I come down.

Because they deserve it, for one thing. And because I love it whenever I get a cheer from a stranger. It makes a difference.


I’m pointing all this out not just because I want to give kudos to the guys in the back — although that’s part of it. I’m also writing this to myself.

Because the day after I completely give everything I’ve got trying to get under nine hours in Leadville, The Hammer and I will be starting the Breck Epic — six days of mountain bike racing.

And honestly, it’s going to be a stretch to get across the finish line in time.

I’m going to be one of the guys at the back. I’m going to be one of the guys who’s suffering more than the people who finished hours earlier. I’m going to be one of the guys who is going to be happy just to get across the finish line.

And I have a suspicion that if I can do it, I’m going to be incredibly proud to be one of those guys.


  1. Comment by slowRider | 08.8.2012 | 10:49 am

    Hooray for Keisha! So happy for you and your son. Always remember the community you built is here to help if you need us.

  2. Comment by sdcadbiker | 08.8.2012 | 10:58 am

    That’s great news about Bryce’s treatment! Kind of takes a load off before the big week you have coming up. I think that you might be digging a big hole for yourself by going for 9 on a s/s the day before Breck but I wish you the best; may you have no bad luck :-)

  3. Comment by GenghisKhan | 08.8.2012 | 10:59 am

    Great to hear about the progress in the insurance front and loved your perspective on the guys (and gals) in back!

  4. Comment by Keenedge | 08.8.2012 | 11:06 am

    Great News about the treatments being covered! Hopefully they will just give the okay for all future treatments. It has to be more exspensive for them to question it every time. Good Luck to You and the Hammer in you Epic race schedule.

  5. Comment by Pat Schleck (the cyclist formerly known as MattC) | 08.8.2012 | 11:08 am

    I’ll be cheering (from Calif) for you and ALL the people w/ the courage to do this race…

    I ride a pretty fair amount for a lot of years now, but so far (gulp), I’ve never done a century on my mtb (so Hammers son IT guy has me whipped hands down…he’s done a few now…GO IT GUY!!!)

    And GREAT NEWS on the Cigna front…way to hang in there and fight!

    (and just a side question that I’ve been meaning to ask: Leverage is crusing along in their new season..any word on when YOUR episode will air?)

    Good luck Fatty, Hammer, IT guy and everybody else who dares to challenge Leadville!

  6. Comment by Tommysmo | 08.8.2012 | 11:12 am

    @Pat Schleck, I think Fatty’s Leverage episode is this week!(?)

    @Fatty – Glad the coverage is sorted for now. Good luck to you, The Hammer and The IT Guy in your Mtn Bike racing.

    @All – I’ve just gotten Fatty’s first book in the mail. Dont know what he gets in proceeds but, I figure it helps fund his life including Bryce’s treatment. So, if you haven’t bought the book, why not?

    @Wayupstatenyguy, where are you? I’m inAlbany area.

  7. Comment by Erin | 08.8.2012 | 11:14 am

    I hope at some point in my life I have an excuse to burst in on people and say “I have ridiculously good news!”

    It must be an awesome feeling. ALMOST as awesome as receiving ridiculously good news.

  8. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 08.8.2012 | 11:20 am

    So glad to hear of your success with the insurance. Let your son know we all care and support not only his dad, but every member of Team Fatty, and are they whenever someone needs it.

    Now if we could only get Keisha S working for all those others out there with their own battles with the insurance companies who decide who gets treatment and who is denied.

    Stepping down from my soapbox before I fall.

    Oh. Bye the way…good luck in Leadville.

  9. Comment by Chris Engle | 08.8.2012 | 11:44 am

    Good Luck, keep the rubber side down.

  10. Comment by Liz | 08.8.2012 | 11:57 am

    So happy to hear the news about Cigna. I was on vacation when you first wrote about this so I didn’t see it until much later.

    I had Cigna when I began my treatment for cancer and we simultaneously had some issues with our son. Dealing with them was such a massive stressor at a not-great time in my life. You should see the accordian files I still have. Midway through, my employer changed insurers and my life immediately got about 150% simpler. I wish you similar luck.

    By the way, I couldn’t answer then, but I would be in favor of your selling Susan’s novel, or any other fundraising ideas should they become necessary.

    Best wishes on all your racing! Can’t wait to read about it.

  11. Comment by Doug (way upstate NY) | 08.8.2012 | 12:08 pm

    Great news on the insurance. That should give you some breathing room to sort things out. We hope to see you on Friday, but regardless we I’ll be cheering you on during the race from the top of the race.

    In the endurance racing I have done my goals are 1. Finish, 2. Be average :)

    @tommysmo, Albany? That’s only kind of up state. Now Potsdam is Way Upstate!

  12. Comment by Gillian | 08.8.2012 | 12:31 pm

    I reiterate that Cigna is the worst. It is unconscionable that your employer had to exhibit some muscle in order to get you coverage. BUT – I’m so, so glad she did. I’m so glad he’s improving. My friend described her husband’s depression as “the ring of Mordor” – and even if you aren’t a Lord of the Rings geek, I think it’s an apt metaphor. Everything you attempt to do has to be done under the weight of this heavy thing dragging at your neck. I hope this treatment takes the ring off Bryce’s neck, I really do.

  13. Comment by Ed | 08.8.2012 | 12:36 pm

    Fatty, wishing you the best of luck in finishing both Leadville and the Breck Epic!! I look forward to the amazing stories that will follow.

  14. Comment by Corrine | 08.8.2012 | 12:40 pm

    Great news about Cigna!
    I’m one of those in Leadville hoping to make the 12 hour cut off and hoping I don’t get pulled early. I’m sure it will be a suffer fest but I can’t wait to start. Getting more nervous each day and hoping I can dig deep. Hope to see you and The Hammer and the IT guy around town or on the course

  15. Comment by Janet B | 08.8.2012 | 12:40 pm

    I’m ridiculously happy to hear you have Keisha S. on your side and the result is your son is getting the help he needs.

    Now go have fun on your ridiculously torturous race.

  16. Comment by Eric L | 08.8.2012 | 12:41 pm

    Great news. Go out there and nail it Fatty, we’re cheering for you.

    I’d like to see a photo of you festooned with all of your Leadville medals and belt buckles.

  17. Comment by RodNeeds2Ride | 08.8.2012 | 1:00 pm

    Good luck man!

  18. Comment by NYCCarlos | 08.8.2012 | 1:15 pm

    glad to hear about cigna! Sorry I won’t be there to cheer my face off for you at Leadville this year. CRUSH the 9:00 mark. Survive the B.E.

    and most importantly… have some freaking fun!

  19. Comment by Susie H | 08.8.2012 | 1:34 pm

    have a great time this coming week! can’t wait to ‘read all about it!’

  20. Comment by Ginger-Schminger | 08.8.2012 | 1:52 pm

    SO happy to hear the awesome news for your son!

    I’m one of those back-of-the-packers…always one of the last ones to cross the finish line. I’m ALWAYS thankful for those who wait to cheer for those of us at the end and I’m ALWAYS thankful to others way ahead for cheering me on (I’m looking at the hundreds of people who were WAY ahead of me on the half Ironman course last year). So kudos to you for understanding what it means to us. Have an amazing time and I look forward to reading your race recap!

  21. Comment by The Hamer | 08.8.2012 | 1:54 pm

    Good luck! But dude, it’s not a truck! It’s a Honda El Camino. Just sayin…

  22. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 08.8.2012 | 1:57 pm

    Just saw this on Velonews:

    Elden, if you see this veteran give him our thanks, and a jersey. Invite him into the ranks of Team Fatty, and wish him good luck.

    And, just maybe…while you are riding along enjoying the scenery….think about a contest or ride we could all do for wounded war veterans and their own roads to reccovery.

  23. Comment by W.M. deRosset | 08.8.2012 | 4:13 pm

    >So by my math, the folks in the back are suffering >more. Way more.

    This observation has held true at almost every endurance event I’ve seen. There is usually someone at the front who had a bad race/ride, and comes across the line looking rough, but the endurance and capacity for suffering the back-of-the-pack folks exhibit is both humbling and inspiring. I watched the last two hours of Paris-Brest-Paris (a day after I’d finished, mid-pack) and there were some hard-as-nails riders there.

    I work pretty hard to stay somewhere in the comfortable middle in my chosen sport. Anytime I’ve strayed (and it has always been to the back, sadly), it has been a difficult experience. It is far easier to work hard, train well, and be relatively fast than it is to bump along against the time bar.

    Good luck this weekend, and especially in your push with Cigna.

    Best Regards,

    William M. deRosset
    Fort Collins, CO

  24. Comment by oreneta | 08.8.2012 | 5:57 pm

    Good luck at Leadville, and thank you particularly for the update about your son. That is very good news indeed that they are doing what they need to so far, here’s hoping it keeps going. Even more, here’s hoping that your son continues to improve.

    Again Fatty, sing out if there is ever anything at all we can do in any way. Clydesdales mount up!

  25. Comment by Aussie Bryan | 08.8.2012 | 6:20 pm

    Hey Fatty, Such great news to hear about your sons treatment.
    Isn’t it funny how sometimes you think the world is working against you and suddenly the random act of kindness from a stranger, makes you feel good things can still happen and it restores a bit of faith back in people. Sounds like you’ve got the boost you need for a massive week.
    May the MTB gods smile on you, and give you free pie.
    Best of luck for Leadville and Break Epic.

  26. Comment by BE | 08.8.2012 | 7:08 pm

    You are a funny guy, but sometimes you make me cry. Best wishes with ALL your endeavors out there.

  27. Comment by Mellabella | 08.8.2012 | 8:22 pm

    It is great to hear the news about your sons treatment! Good luck at Leadville and Break, I think the Hammer is going to nail it :)and I can’t wait to hear your stories!

  28. Comment by zac_in_ak | 08.8.2012 | 10:16 pm

    Great news about your son. I hopee CIGNA keeps covering it and you can keep up with your portion. I’m sure if it’s in doubt that Team Fatty can come to the rescue! The amount you give is astounding. The amount we can give you, can also be astounding.
    I am one of the people at the back. I go on group rides with a local store, most of the people are racers. Expensive bikes ,powermeters, full kit. I outweigh the “heaviest” guy by at least 70lbs…but i never quit(well ok once) I am overweight, diabetic, hypertension, and slow. But I love biking and I love challenging myself. I also love it when strangers cheer me on. Is it weird that I wanna cheer on strangers?

  29. Comment by Bee | 08.8.2012 | 11:09 pm

    Just saw the other note about depression as the “ring of Mordor” and I have to agree with that. It is heart-wrenching to go through with a family member.

    Good luck on all the rides, and I always cheer on the strangers! I’ve even done tris where I’ve start shouting to lackluster spectators “Hey, come on! Cheer like you know me!” If you are going to hog the finish line, you obligate yourself to cheer for everyone!

  30. Comment by Tommysmo | 08.9.2012 | 6:10 am

    @Doug (way upstate NY)

    Clarkson class of ‘87 here. I know Sergi’s Pizza’s still there and probably Maxfields. I’ve walked across the Raquette River in winter time – though I refrained from painting the rock.

  31. Comment by Steve M | 08.9.2012 | 7:50 am

    “You don’t suffer over distance. You suffer over time, multiplied by effort.”

    TRUTH! I’m going to borrow this for awhile and use it when I explain to my faster or non-participating friends how I managed to finish a race in the back part of the mid-pack.

  32. Comment by pedalpink | 08.9.2012 | 8:30 am

    Good luck at Leadville! I’ll be counting the 540 minutes down to your sub 9 hour finish.

    Mike and I had hoped to be there racing behind you (far behind you!) this year. We entered the lottery back in November for mixed tandem. Unfortunately Mike had a stroke on Christmas Day and has been hospitalized eight times since so we’ve been unable to ride or train.

    We’ve repeatedly asked the organizers for a deferral or the option to allow another tandem team to take our entry to no avail. I personally think this policy is unfair and punitive (those entry fees were expensive).

    We’d thought about lining up at the start and doing the best we could, but didn’t think it was safe for us or the other riders in the event. So just a thought to not just the “off the back” riders but to those who didn’t make it to the starting line.

  33. Comment by Saso | 08.9.2012 | 8:34 am

    Good luck at Leadville and fantastic news with Cigna. I think this points to sub-9 again.

  34. Comment by Brian | 08.9.2012 | 8:35 am

    Good luck Fatty. Things are looking up for you with the positive decision from Cigna…good karma is coming your way for another special belt buckle.

  35. Comment by cyclingjimbo | 08.9.2012 | 11:57 am

    Best wishes to you, The Hammer and The IT Guy at Leadville and/or Breck from one who knows what it is to be in the back.

    Great news about Cigna’s decision for Bryce – perseverance pays off sometimes, and kudos to your HR rep who was willing to join in the fight.

    @pedalpink, best wishes for a full recovery for Mike. Life changing event, to be sure, and I wish you all the best.

  36. Comment by Mark in Ottawa | 08.9.2012 | 12:09 pm

    Great news about Cigna being required to cover obviously necessary treatment. I hope that you don’t have to go to battle again soon.

    With respect to suffering, I think you have it only sort of right.

    Yes, the back-of-the-pack-ers suffer long and hard on the day of the race, but if you do a cumulative addition of suffering, the hours and hours in the saddle that you’ve spent (and suffered) this year (and previous years) preparing your body to have the fitness required to do the race in less time is most likely way more than the singular day of suffering for the less well trained racers.

    That said, I’ve done it both ways, and both require a lot of suffering.

    Mark (in Ottawa, Canada)

  37. Comment by Doug (way upstate NY) | 08.9.2012 | 4:08 pm

    @tommysmo: I teach at Clarkson. Sergio’s is in business, but the lost their roof in a storm two weeks ago and are closed for a bit.

  38. Comment by FujiPixie13 | 08.10.2012 | 6:37 am

    Best riding to Fatty, The Hammer and The IT Guy in Leadville. Ride for the PIE!!!!!!!!! We do it all for the pie. :o)

  39. Comment by Austinite | 08.10.2012 | 4:46 pm

    Best of luck to you Fatty. Hopefully, I will see you tomorrow and at least say hi if I have the energy.

  40. Comment by printenv | 08.21.2012 | 11:17 am

    I have had similar problems before with Cigna. My psycologist got mad at them and told them she and I found them infuriating and was frustrated with their poor service. Cigna’s response was “Well he can go somewhere else.”

    I feel bad for the frustration that has been going on with this company. The only good thing is it isn’t just you. Tell your son it does get better, it really does.


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