The DQ-ing of Fatty, Part 3: Big Motor, Huge Heart

09.24.2014 | 8:17 am

A Note from Fatty: This is part 3 in my race report on the Jordanelle Triathlon. Part 1 is here, and part 2 is here.

It was a strange feeling, being in a race and having every intention of racing hard…but also knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to say I had finished it. I had just put in a blisteringly fast ride, but I hadn’t done the official course. 

When I finished the race, I was going to DQ myself.

It was…liberating.

Like I Was Standing Still

But that didn’t mean I intended to amble my way through the race. No. I had worked hard to get ahead of The Hammer, The Swimmer, Cory, and Lynette; I was not going to let any of them come cruising by me during the run. 

If anyone wanted in front of me, were going to have to earn it.

I got rid of my helmet (aero isn’t that big of an advantage when you’re going only 6mph) and swapped bike shoes for my Altra Paradigms — the road version of the highly cushioned shoe that’s made it possible for me to actually enjoy running.

Or at least, to not dread it altogether.

I started out on my 10K run slowly. And by slowly, I mean, “by walking.” I’ve found that if I give myself fifty feet of walking between the bike ride and the run, the change of leg motion doesn’t feel quite so strange and achy.

Then I ramped up from “slowly” to “running so hard I was feeling like I was going to hurl.” But I didn’t care about the pain (OK, I cared a little, but not as much as I should have). I was running well. I’d go so far as to say I was pretty much having the run of my life. Check out my splits from the Strava of my run

Screenshot 2014 09 24 07 02 15

You see that? I (usually) kept my speed above nine-minute miles, and averaged an 8:50 pace. For me, that’s fast.

However, within the first two miles, a guy — a guy I’ve met before — came flying by me. Probably doing a 7:30 pace.

Heath Thurston, recently-retired pro triathlete and all-around good guy. 

It wasn’t surprising that Heath passed me. No. What was surprising was that Heath passed me while going uphill…and he was pushing a jogging stroller with what looked like a ten year-old girl inside.

Whuh?

My Favorite Part of the Race

The Jordanelle running course starts out on pavement, but then it turns off onto a dirt path, where you’re sent up and down and all around a picnic area. 

Which was great for me: I much prefer running on dirt.

But some of the sections in the run are steep. So steep, in fact, that a lot of the people I saw were walking them.

And Heath…well…even a powerhouse like Heath would have trouble pushing ninety pounds up that hill.

I managed to catch up with Heath, grabbed a side of the push bar, and joined him in getting the stroller up to the top of that hill.

While I did, he told me that this was his niece and he had actually been pulling / pushing her through the whole race.

I was astonished, and suddenly really glad I had DQ’d — if I had still been “in” the race, I doubt I would have taken the time to push along with Heath and talk with him about what he was doing. As it is, I got to have the whole story, which I asked Heath to write up and send to me, so I could pass it along to you. 

After retiring as a pro triathlete this past winter, I felt pretty lost. Being a pro triathlete was basically all I had known for the past decade.

NewImageBut I had an idea.

My oldest daughter has cerebral palsy and special needs; bringing her along with me through a race had been something I’d wanted to do for years and years…but she was always so shy and would end up not wanting to do it when it came right down to the race.

I asked her if she wanted to do the Echo Tri at the end of June; she once again said no. So I asked a friend of mine that has a daughter (Emery) with an undiagnosed disorder if I could pull her daughter through that race.

I then told Kida that she could babysit her in the swim part, so Emery wouldn’t fall out. Finally, she agreed to that.

At Echo, I pulled my daughter and Emery through the swim, then just Emery through the rest.  

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At East Canyon Tri, I pulled Kida and another friend’s daughter Olivia through the whole Olympic race. That was a tough one!

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Then at Jordanelle (where you saw me) I was pulling my Niece Kindra that has Sturge-Webber syndrome through that olympic course. It was so great to see you on the course that day and to have you run with me and my niece and have you help push Kindra up the hill and thought the weeds. That’s what triathlon and sport are about.

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Finally I just had the opportunity to  be able to pull a good buddy of mine Carlos that I used to work with years ago through the Tri Utah Ogden Championships. We set out to do the Half distance but due to some complications and time, we adapted on the fly, doing the 1.2-mile swim, 35 miles on the bike, then the olympic 10k run course.  

All of these races this year have really saved me.  After retiring I felt extremely lost and depressed; I suffer from depression and anxiety but this year was extremely bad, because I use training and racing to self-medicate. Doing these races with and for these kids and friends was probably the best and most important thing i’ve ever done in Triathlon.  

Having a child with special needs is very difficult, but it’s also the most rewarding thing, because the spirit and personality of these kids is absolutely amazing and teaches me so so much about what’s really important in life.  

I don’t really have much in the way of what I’d call a life philosophy, but I do have one pretty simple personal rule that helps me a lot: Find a way to make the world a better place by doing what you love. 

Heath owns that rule. That guy obviously has a big motor, but — a lot more importantly — he’s got a huge heart.

Afterward

Heath and I parted ways — he re-passed and gapped me, stroller and all — and I continued my race on my own, looking over my shoulder and hoping that I wouldn’t see any of my own crew bearing down on me.

And I didn’t. I crossed the finish line first of my friends and family, then walked over to the timing table and told them to DQ me, and why.

Apparently, the DQ didn’t take, because I got called up to the podium — I had placed third in my age group. So I walked up and said, “Hi, remember me? I DQ’d myself.” 

As our group drove home, we talked about what an incredible day we had all had. The Swimmer had won her age group, The Hammer and Lynette had each taken second in their age groups, Cory had taken first in Clydesdale, and Amber had taken second in women’s overall.

I, in fact, was the only one in our group who had not got on the podium. 

But I had had such a great day.

 

The DQ-ing of Fatty, Part 2: Decisions and Realizations

09.23.2014 | 9:09 am

A Note from Fatty: This is part 2 of my “The DQ-ing of Fatty” series. Part 1 is here.

In a triathalong, it’s truly fascinating to be one of the really slow swimmers, but one of the really fast cyclists; you get to witness almost the entirety of the cycling field as you ride through it.

First, you ride through the happiest, most relaxed group of racers. They’re there just to complete the race, to show themselves that they can do this. These people are riding the road on mountain bikes and townies. They are accomplishing something new. They are getting it done. They are the people I would be most interested in riding with and hearing their stories.

Next are the people who are riding road bikes, resting their hands on the hoods of their bars. They’re fit and they’re going hard, but this isn’t the center of their lives. They signed up to do this triathlon to see whether they like it, or maybe to support a friend.

Then come the riders who are either on road bikes with clipped-on aero bars, or maybe even an actual tri-specific bike, but regular ol’ road helmets. These are the people in transition. Unfortunately for them, they don’t realize that an aero helmet will make a bigger difference than just about any other piece of equipment.

And then the field thins out and I’m riding with the people who look like…well, me. Full-on aero bike, full-on aero helmet, full-on aero suit. These are the people who are hoping for a podium spot, at least in their age group.

And once I’ve passed most of these people, I’m alone. Caught in a dead zone between the people who are fast at swimming and cycling, and pretty much everyone else.

And that can pose a real problem.

Let’s Back Up A Little

When I left off in part 1 of this story, I had hit the turnaround point and was barreling toward what I assured you was the event that would disqualify (DQ) me from this race.

In order for you to really understand what happened, though, I need to back up a little bit. 

About a quarter of the way through the cycling part of the race — well before the turnaround — I came to an intersection that had a sign, indicating that people racing the olympic distance triathalong (me, for example) should continue on straight. People who were racing the sprint distance should make a sharp left turn. Like this:

Z out

I slowed to interpret the sign, saw lots of other olympic-distance racers continuing on straight, then hammered on through. No problem.

But by the time I got back to that intersection, I had ridden through the field. There was nobody visibly in front of me. And  there were cars several deep along the right side of the road, either parked or waiting for a chance to get through the intersection, represented here with yellow rectangles.

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These cars blocked any signs that would have been on the right side of the road. 

There was a course marshal standing in the middle of the road (represented above with a green dot). I looked to her for guidance.

I received no guidance. The teenaged course marshal just stared at me blankly, her hands down at her side. I choose to believe that I was such a magnificent sight that she was swept up in the moment and simply forgot where she was and what she was doing.

There was no cyclist ahead of me to follow. I’d have to make this decision on my own.

So I made a guess. I would call it an educated guess, but really, I didn’t have a lot of time for cogitating. “I saw before that the sprint distance racers go that way,” I thought. “So olympic distance racers probably continue straight, the way we came. Besides, the course marshal would be waving me right if I was supposed to go right.

And so I went straight. 

Second Guessing is Awesome

Even as I went through the intersection, I was only 50.5% convinced I had made the right decision. Within a couple hundred yards, that conviction had dropped down to about 25%.

And it continued dropping from there. 

I slowed down. Should I turn around? No! There was nothing to indicate I had gone the wrong way; I was just letting self-doubt plague me.

I ramped up my speed again, though doubt made me lose my racing urgency.

Then I mentally pictured where this road was heading: to a T-intersection. I had turned right to get on this road, which meant a left turn to get back on the road that would lead me back to the transition area.

There had been no course marshal there when I had turned right, just a course marking. But maybe that was because nobody had yet come back, I reasoned to myself.

If there was no course marshal there to hold up traffic when I got to the intersection this time, I’d know for sure I had made a wrong turn. Or, more correctly, failed to make a right turn.

Game Over

Of course, there was nobody at the intersection. So I came to a stop as traffic went by, looking for an opening,  as people zoomed by, coming down the hill on my right side, me losing time.

Obviously, I had chosen incorrectly.

I found an opening and got back on the course, now riding mechanically, all the fierce joy of the race gone out of me.

What are my options? I thought to myself. Well, I could:

  1. Keep it to myself. There were no intermediate timing mats. The fact that I had missed the turn wasn’t my fault anyway. But the golden rule made this a non-starter: If I’d found out someone else hadn’t ridden the exact correct course (regardless of whether my route shortened my ride, which is questionable), I’d be angry if he were on the podium in front of me. 
  2. Quit. I could get to the transition area and then end my race, either telling the officials why or not — it wouldn’t really matter.
  3. Keep going and DQ myself afterward. I could keep going, do the running part of the race to see how well that went for me, with the new goal of trying to stay in front of The Hammer and the Borups. Then DQ myself at the finish line. 

I liked that third option. In fact, I liked it a lot. I’d do the rest of this race not so much as a pursuit of a podium spot, but as if I were being chased by The Hammer and her friends.

Game Not Over

I was going to finish this race, but I was going to do it just for fun. Which would be an actual new experience for me: racing for fun.

What I didn’t expect — couldn’t have expected — was the crazy, amazing, inspirational thing that would happen during the final leg of this race. 

Which is what I’ll tell you about in tomorrow’s post.

The DQ-ing of Fatty, Part I: Panic at the Reservoir

09.22.2014 | 9:14 am

I knew what I was about to do was dumb. Knew it. 

But I was going to do it anyways. Even though it was—as I knew—dumb.

Specifically, I was about to do the Jordanelle Triathalon–which kicks off with a mile-long swim—exactly one week after racing the Leadville 100.

The “doing a hard race just one week after doing the Leadville 100” part, oddly enough, wasn’t the dumb part.

No, the dumb part was that I was about to climb into the water, with the intention of swimming a mile. In spite of the fact that I had not gone swimming—at all—since the last time I had done a triathlon, about a year and a half ago. 

So what had possessed me? Why was I going to perform this act of sheer foolishness?

Why, I was supporting my wife, naturally.

Prelude to Panic

You see, months ago, back in the early months of the year—when snow was on the ground and it was ever so easy to say things like, “Sure, let’s do a triathlon.” After all, as one of the perks of being an Athlete Ambassador for World Bicycle Relief this year, BlueSeventy had given The Hammer an incredible new wetsuit.

It seemed only proper to go and use it. So she signed up for the Jordanelle Triathlon (and for the Ogden half-iron-distance triathlon. And for an Xterra triathlon…but those are stories for other days).

Being supportive (and dumb), I signed up as well.

And now the time has come. It was time for me to pay for my costly mistake. It was time for me to swim.

But first, we took pictures: The Hammer, happy and relaxed, and really loving how comfortable her wetsuit is. 

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And then me, with The Hammer. I said, “Let’s do a superhero pose.”

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Clearly, we have wildly different philosophies of what constitutes a superhero pose.

By the way, I briefly blacked out after sucking my gut in so far for this photo.

Swim Harder, Not Smarter (And Not Faster, Either)

The Hammer and I were standing, chest-deep, in the water. I wasn’t terribly cold. The distance to first buoy didn’t look ridiculously far. And I felt surprisingly good — the little warm-up swim we had done for a few minutes had gone well.

The race started and The Hammer and I — as is our way — stood there, letting the fast swimmers go, not wanting to get in their way (and not wanting to get crawled over). Then we wished each other good luck and began our swim.

And then race lust overtook me. Overtook me hard. Without even thinking about it, I ramped up my effort, right to my redline. Attacking the reservoir, I forgot something — something I had thought I would never forget. Something, in fact, I had written the last time I had done a longish swim:

As a terrible swimmer, I understand one very important thing: any extra effort I put into swimming results not in more speed, but merely more splashing and thrashing. So I swam at the pace I always swim.

But now, I was swimming above that pace. Way above it. In fact, I was swimming like a man possessed by a demon.

A very, very stupid demon.

And remarkably soon, I paid the price: my lungs couldn’t keep up with my effort, and I felt like I needed air. Now, when that happens on land, I know exactly what this means: it’s time to back off just a little bit. It’s time to breathe more.

But I wasn’t on land, and getting this feeling in the water made me think something new and different. This must be what drowning feels like, I thought to myself.

And, instantly, I was obsessed with that thought. In spite of the fact that I was wearing a very buoyant wetsuit. In spite of the fact that there were kayaks all over the place, looking around for anyone in trouble. In spite of the fact that I had lots and lots of options I could try before giving up and sinking to the bottom of the reservoir. I could sidestroke and keep my face out of the water full-time. I could flip over and backstroke, spending practically no effort at all. I could doggy-paddle, if it came right down to it.

None of those options made me feel any better about the fact that I was panicking in the water, in oxygen debt, and not even to the first turn of the triangle in a two-laps-around-the-triangle course.

There was no way I was going to finish this. No way. I didn’t even want to.

I saw a kayak up ahead, toward the buoy. I began sidestroking toward it, knowing that he or she could tow me back to the shore. To solid ground, a place where the simple act of not moving would not make you die.

The Hammer swam by me. Mentally, I wished her well. I’ll tell her the story of why I had to quit when she finishes the race, I thought to myself. I’ll tell her what a stupid idea it was for me to try to do a long swim when I hadn’t prepared for it at all.

And then I thought, Wait a second. I haven’t done a long swim today. I haven’t gone more than two pool lengths yet, in fact. At my worst, I can go ten pool lengths without a problem.

So why was I freaking out?

Because I was going too hard, that’s why. 

So slow down, you big dummy, I said to myself. Yes, using those exact words.

And I did. Still sidestroking, I slowed way down, intentionally hardly going at all. Just moving forward toward that buoy fast enough that careful observers wouldn’t think I was treading water.

My breath slowed down. My panic subsided. The buoy even looked a little bit closer. Maybe. A little bit.

I rolled back onto my torso and began doing my horrible, formless, travesty of an American crawl again, and formed a new philosophy, one I swore I would never forget or abandon, should I ever foolishly consider doing a triathlon again (for example, two more times within the next month): “I am not racing a triathlon. I’m just going for an easy swim. Once I finish, then I get to race.

I Am AWESOME at Product Placement

And in short, I survived the swim. Once I got my self-induced panic under control, in fact, I very nearly did OK. If you consider 34:57 (79th place out of 125 participants in the Olympic-distance event) OK. 

Which I do.

I stumbled out of the water, weaving like a drunken man up the dock toward the transition area. Halfway there, I stopped and decided I’d work on taking off my wetsuit right then and there, since walking was a genuine problem right at the moment. (I’m not sure why, but my balance is always seriously off-kilter for about three minutes after doing a swim in a triathalon).

As I worked on this project—and believe me, it’s quite a project—The Hammer came running by me. We had done the swim in almost exactly the same time. 

“Good for her,” I thought, gathering up thirty pounds of soggy neoprene octopus (i.e., my wetsuit) and stumble-running up to where I had carefully laid all my stuff out.

I got to work. 

  1. Open and stuff a packet of Honey Stinger Chews into my mouth. I do this because I can then multitask — i.e., chew and swallow 160 calories — while I do all the other stuff to get ready for the bike.
  2. Sit down and pull on my Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Micro Socks. I like these because they are thin enough that they fit comfortably under my road shoes, yet still work great for running. And in fact, I wear this kind of socks pretty much all day, every day of the summer. I have twelve pair. Or at least, I had twelve pair at one point. I am not sure how many pair I have now, thanks to clothes-dryer-induced entropy, as well as my tendency to ruin socks quickly thanks to disproportionately large big toes.
  3. Put on my Specialized S-Works Road Shoes. I have had these shoes for about four years, and I love them. A couple of quick twists of the Boa fasteners and I’m ready to go.
  4. Put on my Specialized S-Works Evade helmet. Aero meets road. I’ll have more to say about this helmet a little later in this post. For now, let’s just say that no matter what you think of the aesthetic of the Evade, it doesn’t stick out as obviously as my old TT helmet.
  5. Stuff two GUs into the tiny little pockets of my Pearl Izumi one-piece Octane Tri Suit thingy: my “onesie,” as some people like to call it. Then one more GU under the leg band of each leg. I do not consider the fact that I have packed enough gel for about two hours-worth of riding, when the course is only 25 miles long. I do not have a Root Beer GU with me, because I gave my last one to an elite racer — her name is Amber — who was with our group driving up. Later, she would say that this Root Beer Gu was the best thing about her race. Which is pretty impressive, considering that she took second overall.
  6. Grab my bike—my beloved Specialized Shiv Expert, now outfitted with Shimano Di2 Ultegra and and Dura-Ace C50 wheels—and go

Maybe—just maybe—thirty seconds ahead of The Hammer. And I did not intend to let her catch me.

There. I said it.

And Now For The Fun Part

In spite of the fact that I am a well-known philanthropist and beloved, award-winning superstar blogger, in general, I look for opportunities to be self-deprecating. It’s one of the things that makes me so charming.

That said, I simply do not know how to honestly convey the truth about how the next part of this story unfolded without loudly thumping my chest and howling in triumph.

Because I am pretty darned fast on a TT bike.

I’ve got great power, I know where my limits are, and I know how to stay right at them.

And a week of resting after the Leadville 100 was plenty. Honestly, I don’t understand what people do with more recovery time than that.

All of which leads up to the fact that I didn’t just pass people on a more-or-less constant basis. I flew by them. I’d be yelling, “on your left” to people as I approached and be past them by the time the sound reached them. I’d see someone who was passing another person and would pass both of them at the same time. 

Within the first eight or so miles, I saw The Swimmer, who had put seven minutes into me on the swim. I waved as she shouted, “Go get Cori!”

Then I went by Lynette and Cori Borup—good friends and the owners of SBR, not to mention the people who had given us a ride to the race. No time to talk. 

I stayed low. Stayed in my aero bars. Let the wind go around and over me. “I love this Shiv,” I thought to myself. “I love this helmet.”

And in short, I got to the turnaround — twelve miles, with 1087 feet of climbing—in 37:06. That’s 19.5mph, on average, for the uphill part of the race. Against a headwind. My stated goal for the whole triathalon had been to do the 24-ish mile road course in under an hour. With the rest of the ride being downhill, with a tailwind, I had a shot at it.

I slowed for the turnaround cone, took a sip of water and sucked down a Gu. As I started to ramp my speed back up for the return trip, I saw The Hammer coming toward me — not quite to the turnaround cone, but getting close. I smiled and waved, glad that she was having a fast race too.

I put my head down and went to my biggest gear. Downhill isn’t for resting; downhill is for flying

I gave it everything I got, passing anyone I saw, increasing the gap between me and everyone behind me.

I was, I was pretty sure, the fastest person on the bike in that race on that day. 

But I was also rushing toward the moment that would, in short order, disqualify me from the race altogether.

Which seems like a good place for us to pick up in tomorrow’s post.

BREAKING NEWS: Jens Voigt Hour Record Attempt UNMITIGATED DISASTER

09.18.2014 | 8:19 am

A Note from Fatty: Today at 11:00AM MDT, Jens Voigt will attempt / has attempted to set a new one hour record. I am happy to be the first journalist to file a story on how it will go / went.

Grenchen, Switzerland – Sitting at the side of the velodrome, clutching his aero helmet and rejecting all words of comfort from those around him, Jens Voigt is trembling with rage.

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“Yes, I am a little upset,” Voigt confirms, doing his best to smile. “But these things happen, you know?”

The very fact that he makes this attempt at being philosophical about what has been, without question, the single largest debacle in the history of cycling, shows the character of the man. 

For not only has Jens Voigt not set a new hour record as a bookend to an illustrious and long career, but he has not even completed the attempt at the ride. 

Before the Beginning

The day started well enough. In retrospect, perhaps it even started too well. 

Voigt arrived at the Grenchen Velodrome, suited up, and rode 814 laps as a warmup. Asked if this were perhaps excessive, Voigt replied, “I like to burn all the chicken.”

Voigt, it should be noted, is still working on mastering colloquial English. 

A Bad Start

With surprisingly little fanfare — a countdown by hand — Voigt was off, quickly ramping up to a speed of 54Km per hour, easily a fast enough pace to break the record 49.7Km, even taking into account inevitable slowing.

Then, disaster: Voigt suddenly swerved wildly, rocketing up to the high edge of the banked velodrome turn, then flipping end-over-end, tumbling along with his entwined bike.

The cause? A dog had wandered into his path.

“Has nobody heard of leashes?” wondered the frustrated Trek  Bikes Team Liaison, Matt Shriver. 

Scrambling — perturbed but in control — Voigt gathered his bike, helmet, and left shoe (all three scattered in different directions), removed his horribly misshapen front wheel from the bike, pounded it against the edge of the velodrome wall with his fists until it was in some semblance of true again, and continued his attempt.

Problems Continue

Before long, Voigt had picked up considerable speed — now at 63Km / hr in order to make up for lost time — and somehow resumed his groove. In spite of a bad start, it began to look again as if Voigt might still get that record.

But if one were to listen to the official — mercifully unnamed here — one would be able to detect that Voigt’s problems were far from over. 

“Eighteen laps!” he cried. Then, “Twenty laps! No, I mean nineteen!” 

“Twenty-one! Or twenty-two? No, this might be just twenty.”

This continued for a few more laps, after which he held up his palm to an astonished Voigt, signaling him to stop.

“I’m sorry, Jens, I’ve just lost count.”

“What?” replied Voigt, either due to his close-fitting helmet or sheer disbelief. 

“I know, I feel so dumb. I totally should have brought a piece of paper and made hash marks, or maybe a clicker or something. Anyway, we don’t know how far you’ve gone. So let’s just start over.”

“Your horse cart is unsaddled,” muttered Voigt, nevertheless returning to the start line to begin again.

Lost Cause

Alas, the day was doomed to continue to be a series of misfortunes for the storied Jens Voigt.

Within a mere 120 laps of his second attempt, Voigt’s rear wheel flatted, evidently from the extraordinary heat generated by the friction caused by the tires rolling along the laminated wood at an unanticipated 92Km / hr.

Without a word, Voigt repaired the flat, surprising all present that he had, in fact, brought everything he needed for this problem — except for a wrench to remove the nut holding the wheel (Voigt improvised by using his teeth).

Then he had to stop and restart the event again — this time, in order to pee, and to get a snack.

Finally, on what looked like what would be a successful run, Voigt coasted to a stop (not easy to do on a fixed-gear bike), 38 minutes and 49.6Km into the ride.

My playlist ended,” Voigt said, “And I lost interest in riding around and around and around in circles all day.”

“It makes for insect-infested abdomens,” concluded Voigt

Voigt reports that next month he will attempt to pull a locomotive 25 miles, with his teeth, on a bike.

After which, Voigt will retire. For real this time.

Honest.

Forget Me Not Farm: Guest Post from Odessa Gunn

09.17.2014 | 6:43 am

A Note from Fatty: Sometimes I have so much fun joking around as I set up my fundraisers that I tend to push the causes — the reason I’m raising money at all — into the background.

Let’s fix that right now.

Today’s guest post comes from Odessa Gunn (Levi Leipheimer is her husband), a highly-involved, unpaid volunteer at the Forget Me Not Farm, which is the charity benefitting from the “Race with Fatty and Levi at Boggs” fundraiser I’m doing right now (read parts one, two and three if you don’t know what I’m talking about). 

Read what Odessa has to say, then go donate. You might win an extraordinary trip, and you’ll for sure change some kids’ and animals’ lives.

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I found the Forget Me Not Farm almost seven years ago, when a friend read an article about it in the local paper. I went to the Farm to volunteer, because I had recently adopted two horses of my own and I was interested in learning more about farm animals.

I wasn’t really aware that it was a therapy farm for at-risk kids and, to be honest, I was pretty nervous to work with kids. 

Meeting the Animals…And Kids

The kids come to the farm as wards of the state, participating as part of their state-sponsored therapy program.  Many of them had never seen a farm animal, much less been charged with the care of one.

In my first week, I spent hours feeding animals, cleaning stalls, and assisting the kids with meeting and learning about all the animals — from chickens to llamas, goats to horses and cows.

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I was able to see the children slowly relax their guard as they began to understand that this animal would depend on them for food, shelter, and health. I saw them connect emotionally with these animals in a way that they couldn’t connect to people.

The children who come to Forget Men Not Farm have unstable lives, to put it mildly. Many of the kids are victims of abuse and neglect; to see them allow themselves come to love and to be loved by these animals, was extraordinary.

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I was hooked and have been volunteering there once per week ever since, including joining their board just under six years ago.

Veggies, Too 

Since then, we’ve started a garden program that matches the scale of our animal care efforts. The kids’ therapy now includes ongoing responsibility for growing their own produce; they take it back to the group homes where they live.

The food is fresh, organic, and includes all the benefits that come of sourcing nourishment locally. That’s a lot different from the food normally found in these group homes, which is typically institutional; it makes us feel good to know they are getting fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Just last week, we picked enough food from the garden for them to make salsa in our new outdoor kitchen.

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Mentoring Program

Recently, the Farm has developed a mentoring program to better serve the more complex needs of the older kids who come to the Farm. This is one-on-one time with long-term, vetted, dedicated volunteers with whom these kids can develop a relationship. It’s the extra piece that really builds on the connections with animals and growing their own foods that the kids made while younger.

This is where they can really acquire more emotional skills that will enable them to come out of State care and into the communities where they choose to live. 

Where the Money Comes From

It’s important to know that the Farm doesn’t charge the various State and County agencies for the services it provides. It also doesn’t receive any state or federal program (although there have been occasional capacity-building grants for specific, non-service projects).

About 70% of the Farm’s funding is from individual donors and the remaining 30% is from family and foundation grants. The support from the GranFondo since 2009 has allowed us to develop the gardening program, hire a full time farmer-educator, and build an outdoor kitchen.

More importantly, that money’s been used to fulfill the mission of the Farm by allowing us to host far more kids and rescue many more farm animals.

The Staff and Volunteers

Becoming a part of the Farm family, from the two-person staff, the other 70 or so volunteers, and all the kids and animals was life-changing for me. We teach children how to love and respect animals, nature and each other. Most of the adults in their lives are authority figures, but we get to listen, teach, and spend time with these kids simply because we choose to.

Anyone who volunteers at the Farm has to make a one-year commitment (though many stay far longer) so that they can be a real presence in the lives of these kids. Their existence is so unstable and they spend most of their lives shuttling between various social service offices. Having a place that can be a consistent part of their lives, with people and animals that they can return to again and again is a vital part of the work we do.

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I’m so lucky to be able to help these kids build a life they may not have had without the comfort, security, and responsibility of the Farm. I’ve got to assume that I’ve been helpful to them in my seven years as a volunteer there.

But I can say for certain they’ve helped me.

PS From Fatty: Click here to donate. I recommend donating in increments of $5.00, each of which gets you a chance at riding with Levi and me at Boggs. 

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