By Chris Haddad
As I prepare for my 14th AngelRide, it feels like the right time to reflect on some of the things I’ll carry with me long after I get off my bike in Mystic for the last time.
I have to say that it surprised me a bit when I first felt it. That feeling of melancholy.
Mostly on my first AngelRide back in 2005, but also in every AngelRide since, if to a slightly lesser degree.
It surprised me because the goal of that first ride was to be a finisher. So I was excited as the miles of Day 2 clicked by. But as I got closer and closer to the finish line, the feeling surprised me. It wasn’t quite sadness, because I was certainly glad that a break from my hours in the saddle was coming. It wasn’t fatigue, either, though I was certainly tired and my legs were ready for a rest. No, it was more like that feeling of melancholy after spending time with a good friend when you know that you are going to be saying good bye for a while.
It surprised me because I didn’t expect it, and I guess I didn’t expect it because I didn’t quite know what I was signing up for when I signed up for my first AngelRide.
When it was recently announced that AngelRide 2018 would be the 15th and final AngelRide held to benefit the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp’s Hospital Outreach Program, I started to feel that same twinge of melancholy. So, as I prepare for my 14th AngelRide, it feels like the right time to reflect on some of the things I’ll carry with me long after I get off my bike in Mystic for the last time.
- Community – There is an African proverb which states “if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” I’m not just citing to this proverb because its preference for “far” over “fast” mirrors my riding style (as the many of you who have passed me can attest), but it says something important about accomplishment that the AngelRide community truly embodies. Fifteen years ago, the Hospital Outreach Program was just getting started, working with patients in one Connecticut hospital. Today, with a significant boost from the funds that we’ve raised on AngelRide, it brings joy to kids in over 40 hospital sites in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We did that. It is important to take a minute to both marvel at that accomplishment and to also recognize it as a reminder of the importance of community.It is also worth noting that this community is even more remarkable because it is a community of choice. We didn’t all go to the same school or share some other bond that happened to draw us together. Rather, with some grit and determination from Lynn and Fred, this is a community that comes from all corners of Connecticut (and beyond) and chooses to wear the banner of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang Camp with pride to try to do our part to help those who need to be lifted up. I, for one, will always be grateful for the AngelRide community and proud to have been able to play my part.So, not all of us went fast (present company included), but boy have we gone far together.
- Challenge – I’ll be honest. When I started training for my first AngelRide, I was a bit of a mess. I remember going on a ride with Lynn and Fred on a borrowed bike and zigzagging back and forth to make it up an incline that barely would qualify as a hill on the AngelRide route. (In fact, I think I remember Dan Shapiro passing me as I rode that day – it is the last observation of Dan saying “on your left” and meaning it in AngelRide history). I’m pretty sure that Lynn and Fred were planning on trying to convince me to be a volunteer instead of a rider. Even though I was pretty miserable on that first day of training, I stuck with it and discovered that I enjoyed pushing myself to ride farther and to climb more hills, getting into better shape along the way. While there is a tangible physical benefit that comes out of pushing yourself a little harder, I think I most appreciate the greater lesson that lies therein.Perhaps it is best summed up by, Ross Gipson a Camp alum. I remember hearing him tell his story of conquering his illness and he left us with the mantra to “never stop climbing.” And for me, the annual process of accepting the challenge of AngelRide has continually reminded me to never stop climbing, especially when the purpose of the climb is to lift others up as you go.
- Joy – Perhaps the most important thing I will take, with deep gratitude, from my years as an AngelRider is the fundamental truth about finding joy, and making joy, in the world. I think I had flirted with an awareness of this truth before, but it wasn’t until I heard Matty Cook share the words of George Bernard Shaw on my first AngelRide that my eyes were opened wide to it. “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one …. “It is easy to be deceived by the prevailing “wisdom” of modern society that the clearest path to joy is by accumulating those things that will make us happy. But what George Bernard Shaw’s words tell us, and what the experience of Camp and AngelRide reveals, is that the real path to joy is in giving yourself away. That is the mighty purpose. Here, we do it on a bike, raising money for kids who have been shattered by life’s challenges and then made whole by the magic of Camp. To be able to touch a part of that, to be able to participate in that magic, has been one of my greater experiences of joy.That I have been able to share this joy with my 3 kids who have all participated as riders — my oldest, Henry, is riding for the 8th time this year — has made that joy even more profound.
For all of these things — the community of Camp and AngelRide, the enduring lessons learned through challenging myself, and the transformative effect of the experience of joy — I am eternally grateful and will be forever indebted to AngelRide and Camp.
And so there it is, again, that feeling of melancholy. I would love to ride every Memorial Day weekend for as long as I am upright and continue to do my part to lift up Camp. But all good things, I guess, must come to an end. As much as it will be disappointing to close this chapter, I am heartened by something else that Ross Gipson said. “Camp is not just a place you go, it is a place you take with you as you climb.”
I hope to always carry a little piece of Camp with me as I climb.