Of the hundreds of columns I’ve written over the years, there have been just a handful that were hard to write because they came from a painful place following the passing of loved ones. One was for my mom back in 2005, and one was for my wife in 2011. Fair warning: this column will be another sad one but also, I hope, celebratory.
Regular readers of RBA might recall our annual reporting on the Mike Nosco Challenge, which has taken place every November 3rd. The ride actually started on that day in 2004 when, following the death of his younger brother in a car accident, Jack Nosco decided to go for a bike ride to find some solace and expel his grief.
Five years after that solo ride, Jack had the idea to create a public ride that, in honor of Mike’s charitable legacy, could bring some benefit to others. And by “others,” I would have to include my wife, who was a memorial honoree in 2011.
THEN CAME TATE
It was in the days following the 2018 Mike Nosco Challenge that Tate MacDowell and I began exchanging text messages. We engaged in back-and-forth messages for a week because our respective travel schedules made an actual phone call difficult.
After Tate and his wife had finally arrived in Mexico for a short vacation, he wrote that he was stuffing himself with guacamole and that it would probably be easier to talk when he returned to the States.
My next message to Tate still has its 11/23/18 12:10 PM time stamp on it: “Enjoy your vacay. Let’s talk when u get back. I want to take my time with your story.”
Tate responded the same day: “OK, sounds great and thanks for taking an interest.” A few weeks later, he texted me again: “I’m available all week for a call.” That would be the last time I heard from Tate.
Even with my own firsthand knowledge about how quickly cancer can take a life, I’m still wracked with a sense of both guilt and sorrow that I never got the chance to do that interview and properly tell Tate’s story.
THE REAL DEAL
Like many of the Nosco honorees, Tate, too, was diagnosed with cancer and was one of the recipients of the Nosco charity that year. He had been sick for a while, but in a truly heroic effort, in the months preceding the event, he and his wife Laura decided to not just attend the event but participate in it.
For that 2018 event, old friend and former throttle-twisting national champion Eric Bostrom had conceived a “sherpa” program whereby less experienced riders could ride in the company of an experienced rider for any needed support. Eric was the designated sherpa for the couple, and it was at one of the rest stops high up in the Santa Monica mountains where he introduced me to them.
With a brilliant blue sky and forever view of the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, it was that moment that best epitomized the essence of the Nosco Challenge—a vexing and emotional inner section of personal challenge and the calling of a greater good.
“His smile and courage reflected the essence of how sports can not only make you feel human but superhuman.”
Standing among all the fit and tanned roadies, Tate stood out as someone not well-versed in cycling. In fact, prior to Nosco, he and Laura’s most frequent rides were aboard beach cruisers! Skinny and—gasp—riding with flat pedals on a borrowed bike, he looked all the more awkward owing to his home remedy of taping over half of one side of his glasses to deal with the double vision caused by a tumor in his optic nerve. But he was there, and after briefly telling us his backstory, all we could do was re-mount our bikes and ride on in stunned amazement.
Tate is gone now, and as I sat writing this column, I realized the best I could do to get close to him and that day was to ask Eric to recount his thoughts about their shared experience. Even over the phone Eric was getting emotional as he thought back to that day riding alongside Tate and Laura.
“The three of us rode our own route, which skipped the Deer Creek climb, but as we were climbing up Mulholland Highway, Jack and all the fast guys came pedaling by. And just as a joke, Tate decided to ride up behind Jack and start pushing him up the hill. That was a moment I will never forget, because it epitomized why we were all there captured in Tate’s own painting (above).
“No one knows how long we are here for, and for Tate, the quality of life he led was paramount. His smile and courage reflected the essence of how sports can not only make you feel human but superhuman. Everyone hurts on the Nosco ride, but it was moments like that when you realize that you can be part of something much bigger and more important than just your own experience.”
For more: Mike Nosco Memorial Ride