It started early in their life. My kids wanted to be outside.
Before they could walk my wife and I had them in a backpack as we walked around Harpers Ferry in all weathers. The wintry weather didn’t seem to bother any of my daughters. Faces red from the cold as they climbed Maryland Heights, they seemed fascinated or preoccupied with the beauty of nature around them.
When they were old enough to walk we put them on skis, a challenge at 3 years old, but they both enjoyed the freedom to descend the slope under their own power and control. Cycling the C&O Canal has also become a regular activity and organized sports have started with the American Youth Soccer Organization here in Jefferson County. There was always a new challenge to discover and explore.
The preteen years included hiking, camping, fishing, and a bit of hunting. Running has also entered into their routines. I admit it was my wife who looked after the childhood academics as my favorite lessons with the kids were in the outdoor classroom.
When I was 14, my daughter Taylor attended a triathlon race I had participated in in Shepherdstown. The River to Ridge Relay Race was an annual team event which included canoeing down the river, then a cycle race around River Road and Trough Road, then a runner finishing the race in downtown Shepherdstown.
I had a female bike racer on my team, and she was amazing enough to blast the competition against a mostly male field. This caught Taylor’s attention. Why not? Why not take part in a race against men, women, whatever. What mattered was the challenge, the training and the result, giving it your all.
The fascination with bike racing and training quickly took off. We got an old Trek racing bike and started riding together, which a father daughter did every night after school and work.
When we were 15, we started going to local races. Taylor was asked to join a team, mostly adult women, but it didn’t matter. She was strong and determined and took the time to train. She did quite well and rose through the ranks with the support of her teammates. At this age, my two daughters also continued to participate in organized sports. Biking had taken over Taylor’s free time, and lacrosse and soccer were taking up Tess’s time.
During Taylor’s junior year, we received an invitation to attend the National Junior Road Race Championships in Deer Valley, Utah. It would be a challenge.
Twenty-four of the country’s top junior riders aged 17 and 18 would compete for a national title. The competition would be fierce. We decided to go, so we made our plans, continued our training, and then shipped Taylor’s race bikes, uniforms and gear to Park City, where we would stay for the race.
An excerpt from Taylor’s college essay regarding race day says, “I grew up in the rounded, aged Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia. Unfortunately, the hills where I trained left me ill-prepared for the steep, steep mountains of Utah. I hitched to the pedals of my bike at the start line, surrounded by 23 other young women, many of whom were a year older than me. Looking at my race number on my 451 bike, I was dreaming but was brought back to reality when the announcer counted down the seconds over the PA system to the starting bell. The bell rang and we took off as a group and rode down the mountain, out of Deer Valley and onto the road, driven by police motorcycles with flashing lights and support vehicles. I was on the first leg of the 56 mile mountain stage race.
I got into a van with other parents and stopped to watch the riders pass at strategic points along the racetrack. The race took them down and out of Deer Valley, at an elevation of 6,600 feet, then the course climbed over a pass on the way to Kamas town, passing 8,000 feet in elevation, then descending to the bottom of the valley in the small mountain town of Kamas. .
Taylor was hanging in there with the frontrunners of 10 determined young women. Many runners had already slowed down and retired from the race. Then came the difficult part of the race. They had to go back up and over the 8,000 foot pass again to get back to Deer Valley and cross the finish line. Taylor was hanging in there, but I could see she was struggling, 46 miles after a 56 mile run. At this point in a mountain stage race, winning was going to be up to the riders who could suffer the most and spend their energy wisely and strategically.
Professional cyclists have compared mountain stage races to a burning forge. It hardens or breaks you and you usually won’t know it until you feel the fire. Taylor began to fall from the back of the pack which was down to just eight individuals, but she found the strength to come back with them. She fell back and pedaled hard to join them again. I think she was battling dehydration and her bike was wobbling a bit as she stood up and hammered the pedals. At the top of the pass, she fell once more.
I was now back at the finish line with the other parents and race officials, as the exhausted competitors made their final climb to the finish line in Deer Valley. Of the field of 24 nationally ranked young athletes, only 12 crossed the finish line that day. Taylor was No. 12.
Her bike wobbled back and forth, she was white as a sheet, she was clearly distressed as she crossed the finish line and she was struggling to hold back tears. Her whole body was shaking, I heard her say, “I hurt, I hurt, I have nothing.”
I was in awe of my daughter’s performance.
It’s been 17 years since that day. My two daughters then participated in sports competitions at the college level. My daughter Tess’ hard work resulted in a congressional nomination by West Virginia Senator Shelly Moore Capito to attend the US Naval Academy. Although she made the difficult decision not to attend the Naval Academy, she later received a scholarship as a Division I lacrosse player.
All of these early life challenges helped lay the groundwork for a life of outdoor adventure sports, pushing them to new levels and enjoying endurance athletics and competing with their friends here today. today in the Eastern Panhandle.
It all started right here at Harpers Ferry and as Taylor said in the closing statement of her college essay: “By the end of the race in Utah, my whole attitude towards life was remodeled. Mountains can be climbed and many things in life are possible.
Until next week, get outside and enjoy the great outdoors.