By Bill Plock
October 29th, 2023--Dear Coach Gehlhoff,
It was truly a pleasure to meet you and thanks for sharing such a poignant moment with me.
You, like many coaches in the Colorado High School Cycling League, are changing lives—and some very dramatically. As we talked about at seven-thirty on a cold Sunday morning as the sun woke snowy Mt. Sopris to the south, this league welcomes everyone and helps kids build confidence and connect with teammates—and often find themselves.
Maybe we find ourselves a bit too–as coaches, parents, and simply being there?
You caused me to reflect on my week. A few days earlier, while in Durango to celebrate a Durango Devo alum, La Vuelta Champion, Sepp Kuss, I kept seeing current Durango Devos riding around town handing out flyers to inform the community of the parade details. Then they and 1,500 other people rode a lap around town with their cycling hero Sepp. They were so excited.
Two days later they and almost 900 other athletes were riding here at Colorado Mountain College just south of Glenwood Springs. The Durango team even had a flag with Sepp’s image on it. As you may know, he won this race in 2012.
Things seemed to come full circle, but I was struggling to put my finger on the vibe I was feeling that began in Durango. All this synchronicity; the celebrating in Durango, the jubilation at the race, and the fun these racers were having. How between races they zipped around jumping on their bikes, playing football, and just being high school students. But what tied it all together?
On Saturday the JV and Freshmen raced and that night I stared into the starry sky feeling full of energy and love from the excitement of the day. I wondered why I was here, or why was I so lucky to meet Sepp a few days earlier. I kept putting my book down to process all this.
The next morning I was determined to put a finger on it all. But you did that for me. You shined a light on it. I suspect you do that often. After a few pleasantries on that cold morning, you revealed you grew up in a tough way. A broken home could’ve led you to a life in the dark temptations of Pueblo. Then a neighbor fixed up an old bike and gave it to you and you learned to ride. You loved it. It freed you and I can think back to the look in your eye remembering that moment. The bike seemed to save you.
I was inspired when we talked about how you decided to start a Pueblo High School cycling team. How this was your first year and you became a sponge with other coaches. Your daughter was the only competitor but other kids seem interested and I appreciate the confidence you have in knowing you will build a team. And your younger daughter, not old enough to race made it to the podium winning the Yeti skills challenge—how cool is that?
But then, you turned toward Mt. Sopris, like it called your name and you said something very profound, and frankly damn gutsy to say to another man you just met. You said, “For the first time in my life I feel like I am where I am supposed to be.”
That was it! The vibe–we all were where we were supposed to be.
For you, with four kids, and not knowing your past that is an amazing thing to admit. I couldn’t get my mind off that moment all day. And it began to dawn on me that I think a lot of the kids racing would say something very similar. How this sport, this organization lets them be who they want to be and feel good about it.
I asked Executive Director Kate Rau about her biggest takeaway from this year and she said coincidently, “Life is full of ups and downs, losses, disruptions and disappointments. Witnessing the power of community is extremely rewarding. Coaches are lighthouses for youth to find their way. I’m blown away by how they truly support one another. I hope that team members know that they are not alone and trust that there are so many people who care about them. Together we weather storms and celebrate the joy of connecting over shared experiences. Keep supporting one another and know that your individual light shines bright and beams brightly on others. Stay connected to your strength. Huge thanks to all involved for being a force for good!”
You, my friend, are a lighthouse. I can admit that sharing stories like this, being in places like the High School State Championship or at Sepp’s parade, and helping tell these stories to the world is where I am supposed to be. I should not second guess that. I too felt like I was where I was supposed to be, I just didn’t really know it until you said it.
Thank you for giving me the gift to see it all more clearly.
I can’t wait to watch the successes of the Pueblo cycling team. Thanks for stopping at my 303 trailer on a cold day, sorry I didn’t have coffee for you, next time….