This story was collected late in the year 2011, when I serendipitously met a friend doing some shopping. It’s one of those stories that you hope to hear from a friend, sharing some of their history and a couple of their exciting goals in life, and it’s a story I want to hear repeatedly, from everyone who gets on a bike. Make goals! They’re so worth the effort. My thanks to Patrick Gostovic for sharing, and for having a competitive spirit. My IT friends are the best!
I’ve never been to Sneaky Dee’s, I guess because it looks sketchy outside, but I should know better. Lots of restaurants in town look less appealing than they actually are. Inside, the music is solid rock, there is intelligent graffiti on the walls and booths, and the staff are pretty friendly. I order the all-day breakfast to wait for my friend Patrick Gostovic to get off work, and my meal hits the spot nicely. When I ran into Patric at the Mountain Equipment Co-op last week, I was surprised. He’d never struck me as an athlete before, but that was partly because we worked together in the IT industry. And yet here he was buying cycling shorts. I was now prepared to be surprised by his bike stories.
As Patrick sits down at our booth, he spots a name scrawled beside me. Pulling out his phone, he snaps a shot of his neighbour’s kid’s name. Having a tie to something in the decor suddenly gives it more appeal.
In sports, Patrick is all about the stats. He starts by giving me some history on his personal fitness, which interests the personal trainer in me. He says he’s always had a commuter bike, and when he was fifteen years old, he liked to ride circuits around the block and set personal records. He’d go twice around, five times around, both hands, one hand, no hands, and all of it was timed.
He was also a high-performance athlete, an “accomplished swimmer.” By the age of seventeen, he was going to the Nationals, and he was in the ’88 Olympic trials. The U of T recruited him heavily.
“Gee!” I say unabashedly.
“They had the best swim team in Ontario,” he confides.
Six months ago, he realized he was developing the middle-age spread. Patrick is forty-one, and while he wasn’t overweight, he was thirty pounds heavier than he wanted to be. A neighbour had just gone on a fad diet (my internal alarms go off) and had lost twenty pounds in two months (my heart starts to race). Patrick himself lost fifteen pounds in the same length of time, and this is where I remind him of his father’s fatal heart attack, suffered when he and I worked together. Patrick smiles reassuringly at me. It’s alright. He realizes the flaws of fad diets. In fact, as soon as he lost the weight, he knew he had to get active, because apart from the health risks, he was also aware that he’d just pack the weight back on if he remained sedentary. I’m unconvinced.
Patrick was watching his friends and neighbours buy motorcycles to assuage their mid-life crises. He himself felt inspired by a friend who had just announced plans to cycle around France. Patrick loves to travel. He made plans to begin riding road bikes.
“I decided to order one of the shittiest Canondales you can get,” Patrick says, “but I despair that it’s still pretty expensive.” He takes the bike out three to four times a week. This week he topped forty kilometres; this weekend he plans to break the one hundred kilometre mark.
“Are you eating?” I demand, and he laughs at my tenacity.
“Yes,” he reassures me. “In retrospect, I realize my mortality, and I doesn’t want to eat just meat the rest of my life. Now, I eat a lot of carbs.” Patrick averages one-hundred-and-fifty to two-hundred kilometres a week on the bike, which throws his otherwise sedentary life on its head. “My body is forcing me to do the healthy thing.”
“Thank heavens for ingrained habits,” I tell him.
When he goes for a long ride, he is oblivious of his heart during the ride, but once he gets off the bike, he feels exhausted. “I’m so conscious of my heart after a ride,” he admits, “and I keep meaning to go for a checkup.”
Patrick’s history is his saving grace. His resting heart rate has always been “ridiculously low”, typically in the low forties. Even now, when he’s working at his desk he checks it and finds it’s in the mid fifties range. When he was a competitive swimmer, he had to go for a check-up. The doctor tested Patrick’s pulse and asked him if he was an athlete, because otherwise, “he’d have to do some tests for a blockage.” I’ve had similar experiences myself. Doctors often comment that they have patients who would kill for my heart rate and blood pressure, and yet all I’m doing is getting outside and being active, like any self-respecting tomboy would do.
“I’m now reliving my former glory,” Patrick tells me, “pushing myself, racing against the clock, following my stats.” He loves GPS’ing his rides on his iPhone and following any statistics he can find online. His favourite thing right now is to chart his progress on a program called Strava, which maps out routes and calculates statistics like the average velocity for each “chunk of the route.” With these predefined stats you can compare your abilities against someone else. “This morning, I was the second fastest of seventy people!” he exclaims, vaguely gloating. He finds it inspiring to watch himself improve by comparing his numbers against other people anonymously. Next year he hopes to enter actual races, like one of his friends who entered a century race with a team. Once he’s built up his skills and is sure he won’t embarrass himself, that is.
We excitedly share the names of some of the groups we’ve discovered in the city this year. His friend belongs to Morning Glory, for instance. When I suggest Patrick contact Lap Dogs, a light goes on. He has been seeing Michael Cranwell’s name at the top of the stats quite often on Strava, and when I relate some of Michael’s history, Patrick is astonished. People are capable of much more than they realize.
He describes how, when he first ordered his Cannondale, the thing was delivered twice, but it didn’t arrive. Apparently, because Duke’s accepts a lot of Cannondales, the bikes were automatically delivered to them. Patrick had to call the shop and speak with Michael Cranwell over the misunderstanding. And to make up for the mistake, Cannonade delivered new cycling shorts and a jersey to Patrick’s home. He laughs. At first, he felt silly wearing the shorts, but now he feels “this ridiculous validation that I’m dressed right.” He’d never have bought all this stuff, yet now he feels he has crossed a threshold, and it’s not so bad. That was how we met last week—out front of MEC, him shopping and me interviewing.
“With every degree colder,” Patrick says, “I buy yet another accessory to help me cope with the weather changes. This morning was freezing but I was good! Even in winter, as long as there’s no snow, I can totally ride!”
When I ask Patrick if he names his bikes, he says that would take away from the fact that he’s the one doing all the work. “It’s a tool, not a sentimental thing,” he explains. Besides, if someone stole it, he would see that as a chance to upgrade. “It sounds opportunistic,” he says, and then he hesitates. “Don’t tell my bike I said that!” he confides playfully.
As I leave the restaurant, I wonder why I’m collecting this story now, and not months ago. It doesn’t seem to fit the advocacy envelope, nor has it any bearing on this October’s tragic cycling death.
We all start somewhere, and the enthusiasm for any new challenge is very fulfilling for everyone involved. Patrick has as yet only a dim sense of the cycling community around him, how he can plug himself into events and trips and races, how the community works on his behalf. He may never cross that threshold and plug in or contribute in any way, but Patrick has that potential, like everyone I meet.
I think back on our earlier conversation, where I was relating some of the stories I’d collected about cyclists his age and older. He said to me, “Being that I’m new to the sport, I like hearing that I have years to enjoy it. Age isn’t a badge of honour. Lots of the top guys are in their forties and fifties. I’m not starting when I’m too old to do it.”
I’ve given him the gift of encouragement and he’s shared with me his new cyclist’s joy. We’ve built a small piece of community between us, and it’s enough to keep us both going for now.