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Finish What You Start

On September 18, 2022, I completed the Marji Gesick "50-mile” race in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Marji Gesick 2022

Shortly after its first year, one of the race founders and a friend of mine, Danny Hill, encouraged me to do the race. I responded immediately with a solid "thanks but no.” The race is notoriously grueling, and I feared it.

Then the thing I feared the most happened – in December of 2017, my identical twin sister Joanne died after a short, unexpected illness. Joanne was an incredible human being who faced a lot of adversity due to disabilities caused by complications during childbirth. Life was not easy for her. Despite that, she forged a life out of a lot of grit and determination, filled with the things she loved. One of her many lessons for me.


Being a twin to Joanne was the greatest gift of my life. I felt her loss so very deeply. After her death, I no longer recognized anything about my life. I was lost without her. I had little interest in the things I loved, including biking, and I wasn't sure any of it would return. I had no clue how I would come out of the abyss of grief, sadness, and depression. However, Joanne taught me never to give up, so I eventually started to put one foot in front of the other. My life started unfolding again. Many “trail angels” along the way also helped (a Marji Gesick reference).


Eventually, I started biking again, and then came a nudge to do the Marji. Perhaps it was Joanne pushing me? I remember thinking,

"the Marji would not be the scariest thing I've ever done - saying goodbye to Joanne was - and I've survived that so far."


So in 2019, I signed up for the 100-mile race. I tried to get ready, but I was not all-in, which you need to be for a race like the Marji. I didn't finish that year and signed up again in 2020 which was pushed to 2021 because of the pandemic. For 2021, I decided to do whatever I could to get ready for my next Marji100.


What did that mean for me? It meant getting a new coach, Nicky Ruszkowski from ARO Coaching, who better suited my style. It meant I had to be open to absolutely everything she told me to do and do it. I couldn't make excuses about why I couldn't do a workout or why I wouldn't try something she suggested. Barring an illness, injury, or an extremely valid reason, I did not miss a training ride. I take pride in the solid green month after month on Training Peaks. I did everything else she suggested – meditation, yoga, stretching, core training, cold showers, chamomile tea, manuka honey, skills session, skills videos, Ted Talks, giving up caffeine the week before the race, etc. I did it all. I’m so glad I did. This work taught me who I am and how I want to show up in life. I also became more confident as a rider and as a human being.


In this effort, I also found Joanne again. She was there pushing me out the door, along for every bike ride reminding me how much the bike helps me make sense of my world. And, as fear and worries crept into my head, I heard her voice telling me to "go, do the things you love, even if they are hard." She's been with me ever since, my compass through the UP, urging me to keep trying.


I didn't finish in 2021, but it wasn't for lack of trying this time. It was the right decision. I had given my all to get to mile 65 and had nothing left that day. But as Joanne taught me, I decided to keep trying. I registered once again for the 100-mile race in 2022.


2022 was going to be my year. Life had different plans for me,however. Due to some physical injuries, training to the level I needed was exceedingly difficult, so I decided to switch to the 50-mile course. Not being able to ride and train as I wanted was very frustrating. The chronic pain I had for over a month was exhausting. I was starting to lose hope that I would even be able to do the race. But, as Joanne taught me, I kept trying. I did what Nicky said and stuck to my physical therapy. Luckily, things improved, and I got to the start line.


To our family, friends, and spectators, the Marji Gesick seems like just a bike race, but for me and many others, it is so much more. For me, it's analogous to how I show up in my life, and I wanted this year's Marji to be a good one. It was a great one.Joanne taught


Before the physical setbacks, I had high hopes for the race and my physical performance. I wanted to be fast and never imagined it would take me almost 19 hours to finish. I’ve learned though that when you let go of the outcome, you might get more than you ever expected.


Going into the race, I had two goals. The first was to finish. I was determined not to text #quitter to the race organizers again.


I can’t begin to describe how brutally difficult this race is. The climbing and the technical terrain made for very slow-going. The last 18 miles are the most difficult and riding at night made it even harder. But no matter how difficult it got or how crappy I felt, I was not going to stop until I crossed the finish line.

Our finish line: Todd Poquette, race director, and the team of women I suffered through the last 15 miles with.

Throughout the day, I rode with another woman, and we decided to stick together to the bitter end. We then came across two

other women in the same boat. At that point, we were all exhausted, desperate to be done, and didn't want to quit, so my group of two became a group of four. Into the wee hours of Sunday morning, we lifted each other up, cheered each other on, and made sure we had what we needed to get to the end. Four strangers gave enough space in their hearts to help each other get through something brutally difficult. This is just one of many examples of the generosity and spirit of everyone involved in this event.

My second goal involved the last climb of the event, Jasper Knob, a bald-topped hill within the city of Ishpeming, MI, composed of jaspilite (believed to be the world's largest gemstone).

Because of her disabilities, Joanne could never do all the things I get to do so when she died, I decided to spread some of her ashes on as many adventures as possible to honor her life. I've done that wherever I could the last four years and I decided that Jasper Knob would be the last place.

It mattered to me that I did it at the Marji Gesick. I don't know why it was important, but it was, so I used that to propel me forward. The top of Jasper Knob was a sight for sore eyes! I couldn't see straight from pure exhaustion. All I wanted was to get to the finish, which was downhill from there, but I took a moment to imagine the view and hoped it was a good one. The next day, a friend posted a picture, which I'm almost positive was from spot I stood and placed her ashes. It looks like a pretty spot.


Jasper Knob: The spot I stood and placed Joanne's ashes

The Finnish have a word, sisu, which means stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, and resilience. Joanne embodies this concept. Despite great adversity, she kept moving forward and claimed a life of her own. Her spirit propelled me to Jasper Knob and then the finish and I hope her spirt hangs round the top of Jasper Knob to propel future Marji racers to their own finish.

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