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The Courage Diary–A Synopsis of an Inspiring Journey

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Guest blogger Heather Simms-Schichtel is a parent advocate, freelance writer and full-time mom to Samantha a precious girl who has an undiagnosed genetic condition. She recently biked the 157-mile Courage Classic in Samantha’s honor.

I wake up and look at the clock….8:00 Friday morning; t-minus 24 until I have to be at the start in Leadville.

Not a problem….I’ve trained. I can pack in a day, get the family ready. Food and cold beer have already been purchased. We are good to go.

Oh wait, one small detail….we still happen to be on the 8th floor at Children’s Hospital.

I start to formulate back-up plans. Can I ride in the morning and drive down to Children’s in the afternoon? How many days can my husband stay in the hospital without going batty?

I was smokin’ crack, thinking that I could pull this off, thinking that I could make this ride happen.


Our fabulous pediatrician, Dr. E. comes into the room.

“What are your plans?” She asks

“I don’t know….what are our plans?”

“Will she be on oxygen the whole time?”

“We will never take her off of it.”

“You have all of her meds?” she asks

“Of course.”

“Here is my cell phone number. Call me if you have any problems. Otherwise, I think we can get you out of here today and you can go up.”

My eyes fill with tears. “Thank you.” I say

She hugs me “Go, ride, be careful, take good care of her and for God’s sake, don’t get hurt.”

It’s 5:30 p.m. Samantha and I are packed up, out the door of Children’s and hopelessly stuck in rush hour traffic. We decide to leave tomorrow morning….but we are still leaving….pending Samantha’s night.

5:30 a.m. Saturday morning and we are on the road. Samantha is snoozing in the back. I am wondering how much coffee it will take to get me over Vail Pass. Six weeks in the hospital, gosh I’m tired.

We have made it.

It’s 8:30 a.m., Samantha is crying in the back. My husband is putting my bike together and I am trying to organize the meds and formula he will need for the day. I feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins, anxiety from the last month of hospitalizations and realize that perhaps the only thing that will calm me down is a 157-mile bike ride.

Good thing we’re here.

I see my team. I love my team. I kiss them all and feel a lump rising in the back of my throat. My step-dad pins a sign stating “My ride is dedicated to Samantha” on my back. We are off.

I ride. I ride up Tennessee Pass, to Camp Hale, breathe in the pine and fresh air. I laugh, eat oranges and hold my teammates’ hand. As we enter the magnificent Pando valley, I am reminded of how very small I am and that maybe that’s okay. I get tired of trying to be so big. Through the valley I see members of Team Courage, riding tandem or solo. I cheer them on….so very grateful that they give me hope…hope that maybe someday Samantha can see Pando Valley from the back of a bicycle.

We stop for lunch. My teammate looks for her husband so she can breastfeed her baby. Have I mentioned how much I love my team?

And those are our three days…..we ride, curse Vail Pass, eat, sleep, wake up and ride again. Samantha is a trooper; no fevers, no pain and she sleeps off the last five weeks in the hospital. My husband and my mom watch over her like hawks, fielding calls from doctors and making sure she’s okay. This has become quite a production.

Monday is our last day. As we pack up, another teammate pumps my tires and lubes my chain. I have become so dependent on other people this weekend. People to watch my daughter, fix my bike, look over us….have I mentioned how much I love my team?

This is the day when it all settles in for me. As I ride up Freemont Pass, I pass another member of Team Courage in a hand cycle; using her arm strength to carry her 45 miles and 2,000 feet of vertical. I look at my beefy, tired thighs. I couldn’t imagine my arms doing the climb I expect from my legs.

“Whoo Hoo! Go Team Courage!” I say.

“Thank you.” The girl replies in a breathy voice.

I get big tears in my eyes and my nose starts to run. Heather! Pull yourself together! You have to climb up Freemont Pass! There is no crying in biking! I wipe my snotty nose on the back of my glove and try to catch my breath. This is tough….because we are at 11,000 feet.

I pull myself together and manage to remain so around Turquoise Lake. As we turn onto 3rd Street, I realize that I did it….that we all did it….my team…because they love my daughter and they love me.

I try to hold back the tears as I turn into the Lake County High School. I hear the cow bells and a distant cheer of “Go Heather!” I see my husband taking pictures.

I ride up the hill sobbing… of those ugly cries…you know where you no longer have control of your facial expressions? Full body crying….pretty…..I can’t even thank the lovely girl in the wheel chair handing me my medal….no…..sorry little girl…I’m so overwhelmed, you’re so inspiring, and part of the reason why I’m crying.

I see some unknown person take a picture of me….yeah, that’s right, take a photo of the lady doing the ugly cry….nice

My team surrounds me in big, comforting bear hugs. We did it. Six weeks in the hospital, three courses of I.V. antibiotics, sleepless nights, a sick little girl, and 157 miles around the mountains. I am eternally grateful; to my husband, my parents, my friends, our doctors and our nurses….maybe it does take a metropolis…and maybe that’s okay.

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  • comment avatar JoAnn August 4, 2009

    Oh, Heather! You weren’t the only one crying at the end of that climb…I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my face, too. Thank you so much for giving us an update, and CONGRATULATIONS to you and your team! Best of luck to you, Samantha and all of your teams, now and in the days to come.

  • comment avatar Amber August 4, 2009

    I love your last line and it could not be more true. Congratulations to you and we are so thrilled you shared your touching story!

  • comment avatar Kagey August 4, 2009

    “As we enter the magnificent Pando valley, I am reminded of how very small I am and that maybe that’s okay. I get tired of trying to be so big.”

    This is a message every mom needs to hear sometimes, and I can’t imagine the overwhelming, urgent need to feel “big” that you must feel.

    Your courage inspires me!

  • comment avatar Victoria August 4, 2009

    What a story. I especially like the line “I get tired of trying to be so big.” Don’t have to be so big with such a great team around! Yeah!! And I don’t believe the part about “ugly cry.” That’s beauty cry right there. Beauty cry to go with a beautiful story. Thank you!

  • comment avatar helen August 4, 2009

    You are an amazing mom.
    Your love for Sam shines through in every aspect of your life.
    So proud to know you.

  • comment avatar Maryjo Morgan August 4, 2009

    Heather, you are so full of verve, moxie, snark … you humble, invigorate, and inspire me. I hope will find new endurance to face into their own challenges, revved and stoked by your sheer gusto. You GO, Girl!

  • comment avatar Amand J August 4, 2009

    Everyone needs an ugly cry 😉 We so love you, your family and all you do for our community of special needs…keep it up, you are a champ girl!

  • comment avatar Cynde August 4, 2009

    Heather, you are walking the walk (or in this case, riding the ride); thanks for taking us along. Your grace and determination are inspiring.

  • comment avatar Melissa Taylor August 4, 2009

    You made me cry, too, Heather. I love you and your team! You’re a [email protected]* mama!!

  • comment avatar Jennifer B August 4, 2009

    Heather, you are an amazing writer and mom! The reader is pulled into the story as if they are right there on the ride. It was very inspiring to read.

  • comment avatar Lynn @ human, being August 5, 2009

    I did the CC in 2007 after being being the event’s communication manager for 4 years. It was a bitch. I barely made it through. But every time I wanted to quit, I saw a Team Courage member out there and I thought if a kid wearing a plastic leg can do this, I can do it. I can do it for the kids who could not ride bikes because they were too sick. Crossing that finish line on Day 3 was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

    Thank you for helping Children’s. you’re a frequent flyer, so you know how great it is.

  • comment avatar Karen Roberts August 10, 2009

    I am crying the “ugly” cry right along with you! You brought me there with you through your words–but my thighs aren’t as sore! What struck me the most, besides the sheer inspiration, is the team and how it is IMPOSSIBLE to ride 159 miles–but mostly, raise our kids and live our lives without the support and love and knowledge of our teams. Team support is so important, I can see why the tears flowed from the emotion, the stress and the gratitude. Thank you Heather and Samantha and Doug.

  • comment avatar Pat Frazer August 11, 2009

    What an inspiring story, about loving people, and beautifully written. Too bad it was so difficult to read through my own tears!

  • comment avatar Jenn Varra September 2, 2009

    I am so inspired by you, Heather! Samantha is truly blessed to have you for a mother…