When people come into our lives we may not immediately realize the impact they will have on our life. But, as we get to know them, as we learn from them, we realize how very important the kindness, generosity and support of friends is to our health and happiness.
In September of last year, I met Steve Pye. He was one of the coaches at the USA Cycling coaching clinic that I attended. As I struggled through the serpentine drill, just barely in control of my bike, Steve walked over and stopped me. He put his hands on my handlebars, and said, “I’m going to help you do this.” I was on the verge of tears (and not the weepie kind that I like).
In that moment, Steve read my energy, and he adeptly refocused my attention from frustration to determination. He stood at the apex of each of the turns so that I understood exactly how to snake my bike around the tight corners. I figured out the drill–and more about how a bike works–thanks to his patience and intuitive sense to provide just the right support for what I needed in that moment.
By the end of that clinic, I learned substantively more than I expected, and I knew that I was going to hire him to coach me to Ironman Lake Placid. My weakness – or as he constantly reminded me to say – “my area of opportunity” is the bike. Who better than an elite cycling coach to take advantage of that opportunity?
Over the past several months, Steve helped me with Operation: Become a Better Cyclist. I’m still a work in progress, but thanks to his guidance, I can say that I am definitively better today than I was last year. He’s encouraged me to be outside of my comfort zone, to put myself in situations where I have to learn how to adapt, rather than evade. He’s broken me of my previous brute-force-bull-in-a-china-shop-hope-for-the-best style.
One time he said to me: “The bike is an elegant machine.” When I have issues with the mechanics of the bike (flats, chains dropping, wheels rubbing,etc.), I repeat that sentence to myself. He had many nuggets of wisdom like that, which I turned into mantras during my rides.
To ease my tension and cycling anxiety (an ongoing issue for me), he would tell me: “Turn off the lights in the rooms that have no working in them.” In other words: relax. During a hilly and technical century ride that I just did, I repeated that sentence to myself probably 100 times – once for each mile. He also sent me a link to the YouTube video for Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s song “Relax” – and told me to put in my playlist. He was funny like that.
Steve was teaching me that bikes really aren’t poopy – but more than that, he reminded me that sport is only a tool to learn about life. Steve taught me about patience and self-love. Every time I got frustrated with my shortcomings, he came back with words of encouragement, and always found a way to accentuate the positive. When I would get mad at myself, Steve would remind me that those emotions are a waste of my energy and impede my progress – they don’t propel it. There seemed to be no limit to the support he could provide.
Last week, I went out for a particularly challenging ride. 10 x 40 seconds all out, up a slight incline. In the description, he wrote: “Oh you are going to love me after this ;).”
Pre-Steve, I would have done this sort of ride on my trainer. But, back in March, he told me the weather had broken and to put that thing in a closet. My bike handling skills weren’t improving as long as I was riding at a standstill. So, outside it was.
The day was warm; the sun was shining. I used the warm up to work on some skills, and then got to it. I nailed the workout – and felt stronger as it went on. I could hardly believe it! I was so excited to come home, to tell Steve that I made it!
I planned to tell him about how I practiced the sprinting techniques he taught me. To tell him so so so many things. I do like to write novels in the comments. He would joke about eating bowls of popcorn, or needing a second cup of coffee to make it through my books.
I had a lackluster bike at Rev3 Quassy due to creeping cycling anxiety, which we have been working on, but I felt like I had made a breakthrough this week. With 6 weeks until Lake Placid, things were coming together. His investment in me was paying off. I wanted him to know I was back on track – thanks to his help and guidance.
When I got to my car, my friend Alexa (also coached by Steve) had texted me: “Can you call me?” Then, I had an email from Steve’s wife Sarah asking the same thing.
My throat caught a bit. I didn’t imagine that was a coincidence – especially since I had only ever talked to Sarah once before. I didn’t want to make the call. I didn’t want to know what they wanted to tell me. But, I also hoped – wildly – that maybe it wasn’t what I thought. Maybe it was a birthday party – Steve’s birthday was coming up. An optimist by nature, I just didn’t want to give in.
But, it was the worst. Steve was hit and killed by a car while he was out riding.
Steve Pye made a significant impact on my life in the too short time that I’ve known him. It wasn’t just about the sport. We talked about all sorts of things – gardening, vegetarianism, travel, coaching, family, politics, spirituality – anything really. A typical phone call with him would be one-third about training and two-thirds about life.
I was not only becoming a better cyclist – I was becoming a better human. His perspective on life was like none other. He had such a unique way of seeing the world and making meaning out of it. I am grateful to have known him.
My heart is broken, and weeps for the deep loss that surely must be felt by Steve’s family–his wife and two sons–as well as his friends and his athletes. A large community has been touched and changed by the spirit that was Steve Pye. His loss will leave a hole in our lives.
I will miss you, Coach.
Note: You can donate in memory of Steve Pye by clicking here. The Memorial Fund will support Steve’s family – primarily Ethan’s future endeavors in education and other ambitions as he gets older – and a local youth cycling program, Trips for Kids Denver.