The grown men went streaking by the young children.
Oh crap...let's start again.
The multi-colored peloton blew past Jesse and I, leaving nothing but a gust of wind in its wake. It was 1991, so I guess we were 5 and 3, respectively. Or, in the case of Jesse's face, disrespectively. Microsoft puts a red underline under that last word, so those programmers must have never seen Jesse's face.
Anyway, as the cyclists blurred into the distance, Mom's face puckered into a look of apprehension. She whispered at the mirage fading into the distance..."Where's Michael?"
Jesse and I had no such doubts about Daddy. We went to hundreds of bike races, and we were never good at spotting Dad's red and white jersey in the crowds of florescent pro cyclists. Mom, though....she never failed in the spandex Where's Waldo. Suddenly...somehow...she just knew. With her sixth (or seventh) sense tingling, Mom loaded us into the Econoline van.
That weekend, and that year, you were on a fucking roll. As a 39-year old, you were at the top of the standings at the Superweek Bike Race in Wisconsin. You were an engine attached to two well-shaved pistons, sneakily sitting in the pack until that decisive moment when the pre-race pancakes gave you the power to kick it into high gear. In case you couldn't tell from my Hot Wheels collection, I really liked cars as a 3-year old.
So Mom loaded us into the van, a vehicle designed for a young family, or a mystery-solving dog. I wasn't worried though. If there was one thing I was sure of, it was that Daddy was invincible. After winning this race, you would probably hop off your bike, grab a Coke, then play hours of baseball with us. So as the van came upon the flashing lights, I was obliviously clutching my Hal Morris-signature glove (the most forgettable signature in the entire glove kingdom), wondering when we were going to get to the field.
Mom dismounted off the front seat, sticking the landing like the gymnast she was as a kid, and sprinted towards the lights.
"Ma'am, we took a rider to the hospital...
...it doesn't look good."
Under the lifeless florescent lights, Daddy did not look invincible. A roided-up pro had hooked handlebars with your 1st-generation all-carbon Trek, and ridden you off the road at 30 miles per hour. That is one tactic to stop the star of the peloton, I guess (he must have idolized the Russian from American Flyers). Your lungs collapsed, many bones broke, and your shoulder...well, your right shoulder appeared to no longer exist.
Mom is so good in a crisis (we tested this hypothesis many times in the years since), and she immediately began whisking us away. As we reached the precipice of the door, I turned around, scared out of my chubby, curly-haired, 3-year-old wits. Just then, you opened your eyes, saw that crying cherub, and smiled. That smile moved to my face. Everything was perfect. Daddy was invincible.
Usually, the story would have a disclaimer at this point, narrated by Morgan Freeman: "It was a long, winding road back..." But fuck that, and fuck Morgan Freeman, because this road was short, and soon enough you were back on it, tearing down the road with your arm in a sling.
You were never going to bike race again? Fuck that, you came back the next year stronger than ever, placing in a domestic pro race as a 40-year-old.
You were never going to lift your arm above your shoulder? Double fuck that crap, you probably threw me 1 million pitches of batting practice after the crash.
Things wouldn't be the same? Triple fuckshit, you came back so fast that the accompanying movie montage would not have had enough time to get to Oates after Hall belted out the opening verse.
21 years later, the chubby cherub has grown up a bit. And everything you did since the crash, all of the adversity you overcame, shaped my outlook on the world. Thousands of hours of batting practice taught me hard work, and it taught me that love is throwing just one more bucket of balls through throbbing shoulder pain. It also taught me to hit pitches that moved 2 feet, because your reconstructed shoulder seemed to make your pitches possessed by the Devil (a Yankees fan, certainly).
Thousands of hours on the bike, riding at your side, taught me strength, and it taught me that friendship is cussing at someone for an unexpected acceleration, then high-fiving after a record two-person time trial. It also taught me to withstand the smell of a truly horrible baked beans fart (also Devilish).
Most of all, though, thousands of hours with the best dad in the whole world taught me what it means to be a man. You taught me the easy things, like character, empathy, and caring. And you taught me the hard things, like faith, optimism, and rooting for the Orioles. In the decades since that nearly life-ending crash, you taught me everything about being alive.
So now, 21 years later, I owe you everything. Dad, you are the best person I have ever met, and my best friend. Now, my best friend faces new adversity, this time in the form of a slow-motion crash into a shitty diagnosis. Cancer sucks, surgery sucks, and the Yankees suck (unrelated, but a necessary point). But I have watched you come back to national-class cycling less than a year after almost dying on the road. I have watched your fastball pop from an arm that was left for dead. And, for 23 years and 364 days, I have had a front row seat to watch you make the world an infinitely better place just by being yourself. So after all this time watching and learning, there is one thing you don't have to teach me. There is one thing I know for sure.
Going into tomorrow, after 24 years, the one thing I know for sure is that Dad is invincible.