The new part of town didn’t have much to make itself stand out, even by flat central Illinois standards. It did happen to be where two interstates crossed each other so they put up a sign reading “Effingham, Crossroads of America”. Coincidentally, I am not trying to cover a curse word or show any disdain. I like the town just fine. That was its name.
Rather than be content with the sign, in 2001 a giant cross was added. The literature reads “At 198 feet tall, ‘The Cross at The Crossroads’ looms over ‘The Crossroads Of America'”.
Located a comfortable distance from the highway was the original heart of the old town in which resided a tall, beautiful Catholic church. My Great Grandfather had made the stained glass windows for this church about a century prior, and that was the reason why I was there. This was back in the 1990’s when I spent the entire summer working on this church. The work was a bit of a high-wire act and engaging but the monotony of the budget motel by the highway was starting to be a challenge. Entertainment even took the form of listening to the local low power radio station. Along with playing NPR news at the top of each hour, the DJ would announce the latest town scuttlebutt, complete with birthday party announcements. An ominous breaking news story caught my attention one day. “There has been a railroad crossing accident involving a large piece of farm machinery at the Willow Street crossing” came over the radio. ‘Wow, this is big’ I thought. Just before I went to check it out, the announcer explained that a farmer had stopped his tractor to let the train pass and the crossing guard arm had come down and hit him on top of the head. “Authorities were evaluating whether stitches would be required”. I had to find something more to do.
I had spent most of my life biking for fun and transportation but I had never put a concerted effort towards becoming really good at it. Now, with time to kill in the evenings, I started riding long distances in the countryside. After a couple of weeks of pushing hard on my own, I was surprised at how much faster the bike started going. To my surprise, I found that Effingham had a small bike shop so I stopped in one day to see if there might be any regular group rides. There were none but the shop owner wrote two names and phone numbers on a post it note, slid it across the counter and said “call them”. It turns out that Effingham only had two serious cyclists and I just got the complete phone book.
They were good. One was an older ex-pro who was still quite fast. He was extremely knowledgeable about good training practices and how to win at road racing. What was even better was that he loved to teach it. The other one was his younger protégé who was just starting to become faster than the teacher, not that any concessions were being made. They trained together most every day and were ecstatic to get an addition to their two man training team. I fit in well, just fast enough to give them a bit of a fight.
My workdays while fixing and plating the stained glass windows that my ancestors had made sometimes ran long. Near the end of those days I would hear someone at the bottom of the scaffolding yelling up at me. I looked down and there would be two guys standing with their bikes. “How soon are you going to be done?” one of them yelled. I would finish up and scramble down as quickly as I could, throw on a helmet, shorts and off I went, still covered in putty dust.
The rides were long and smartly planned, always with a few race segments thrown in where we would battle each other tooth-and-nail. The conversation was also good, except for when we were racing. It didn’t take too long before the race segments became a three-way brawl. After some more time, I was pleasantly surprised at the progress I was making. The three of us were pushing each other to get faster together. By the end of the summer, it had become apparent that I was the new speedster.
Success can be a good motivating factor. Perhaps not being a star at any sport in my past was what encouraged me to explore just how far this could go. When the project was done and I went home, I started entering bike races finding plenty of friends to train with. The joy of training and staying competitive was something that I ended up keeping from this experience. Unfortunately, I lost track of my two friends and I even forget what their names were. I do remember that they were good people, we had much fun together and I owe them a debt of gratitude.
What are the influential events that steer us into the activities that we enjoy spending our efforts to get better at? Of course, our innate personality has much to do with it and rarely does a single event point to a lifelong hobby.