By Rob Quinn (Dirt Journal)
Editors note: Like the Farmer’s Insurance Commercial, “We know a thing or two because we know a thing or two”, Rob has been an ardent supporter of high school cycling and its way of helping kids, well, be kids, and aspire them to achieve and have a lot of fun along the way–Rob knows a thing or two about being an adventurous kid! With the virtual high school season ending just last week, here is a story of Rob’s youth, his “oh shit” moment and a fun experience helping coach Evergreen High School.
It was just another night for “The 24th Street Gang”. We were eight to ten boys with a two-year-age separation, living on the same block in “River City” a.k.a La Crosse, Wisconsin. The gang name was coined by one of neighborhood parents. And it stuck.
I should not say it was just another night. It was special for two reasons. First, my parents were in Chicago for the big Sports Retailer show. My father owned Quinn’s University Sports Shop located on main street for 43 years. It would still be going today, if I had not hauled ass out west, out of good old cheeseland, the day after I graduated from college.
With my older sister and I being “babysat” by our cleaning lady Mrs. Shimanski, I felt confident I could hang with the 24th street gang’s operations that night. Even as a young boy I recall she wore the same house dress every time I saw her, she had a huge wart on the tip of her nose and she spoke differently than the other people I’d been exposed to, with a lot of “ain’ts and dems and dose guys”. Mrs Shimanski’s husband Dick was a brakeman for the Burlington Northern train line that rambled past their front door. The train slowed down when it went by their little house by the tracks and Dick would hop on with his lunch pail in hand waving good-bye. Funny the things you remember as a kid. They had one son, Dicky, who as best as I can remember always in trouble. I remember my mom saying, “You don’t want to grow up to be like that Dicky Shimanski”. Dicky would later be sent to prison in Portage (Jeffery Dahmer’s last known address) for killing a man in a bar fight when he was 19. Mom was right about that one.
I digress, with Mrs. Shimanski in the house, I could run wild longer than if mom was enforcing the standard 10 PM curfew. No rules with dad; he had won WWII, built a business and liked his vodka and golf.
Tonight, was special for a second reason. The Lindsey family was camping on the Mississippi River which meant their house was free to be crawled upon by the remaining members of the gang; in “rank”…Bobby, Duane, yours truly, Chris/ Matt, (Both Bobby’s brothers), Bunce, Tink (also brothers) last but not least Boomer Pig (Duane’s Brother) Boomer had plenty of heart but was a runt until high school. Listed as alternates: Billy and Tad Lindsey who only lived on the block for a few years and were absent for tonight’s “Operation”.
I say “Operation” because when we went out on “Night Patrol.” It was very much like a Military operation. Usually armed with BB guns, rifles and CO2 pistols. We’d creep around the neighborhood and surrounding woods playing games and acting like the WWII TV shows we were weaned on in the 60’s like Combat, Rat Patrol etc. etc. It was less than 20 years after “The Big One” and it was still very much part of the landscape even then.
Bobby was the alpha-leader of the Gang and he had an exercise in mind to execute on this glorious full-moon night. We would shimmy up a patchwork of trees and vines to the Lindsey’s un-fenced balcony (hardly in-code in today’s world) and make the 5 foot jump to a 100 year old oak next to the house. It seemed like a stretch. Before I tell you the glorious outcome and why it was important, let me tell you about Bobby. He was an alpha male in every aspect. The biggest, strongest, most agile naturally gifted athlete. He was also a natural leader with just a hint of Tony Soprano in him. Nobody was tougher and a better fighter than Bobby. Yes, people fought in those days and nobody went to jail or the shrink’s office after a school yard showdown.
With the natural prowess of a big cat, Bobby easily made the jump establishing it was do-able. Next is Duane. He made it but not as easily as Alpha-leader Bobby. Next up me!
Ready-set-go! I took the five step run but something went wrong. I mis-planted my take-off foot onto the rain gutter in the dark (later resulting in a $27.50 repair bill).
I missed the landing, and drawing howls of laughter from my fellow gang members, I slid down the lower half of the tree fire-man style, sunny side down.
The ride was short lived, stopping before the ground with my upper left thigh impaled on a tree branch that had grown facing up. I also would learn first-hand what the word “rupture” meant. The laughter soon stopped. Instead Bobby called me a “dumb-shit”. The “operation” was now a rescue operation for the rest of the Gang. The limit had been set. Between the adrenalin and embarrassment, I couldn’t feel a thing. I did know I was impaled and needed help getting out or off depending how you wanted to look at it.
The others mom’s started ringing the “get home” bells and shouting names and the night was over. When I got home, Mrs. Shimansky was snoozing in front of the still novel color TV. I snuck upstairs to inspect the damage. My new Levis were a total loss. I’m sure I’ll hear about that. My inner thigh had a three-inch gash that exposed the fatty tissue that still had splinters and debris that was visible. My nuts felt like Bobby had kicked me in the groin. A feeling I knew from experience. Nothing a glass of Chocolate milk and good night’s sleep can’t cure.
So what does this have to do with high school cycling you may wonder.
A recent Yale study of 20,000 high school students showed that Nation-Wide, three quarters say they are “Unhappy”. Compare that with the unhappiest town in America; Gary, Indiana (once glorified in The musical “The Music Man”) who clocks in at 35% of the people being self-classified as “Unhappy”. Get the picture?
In summary of the Yale study…”Teenagers don’t like school now because they feel micro-managed by adults. On the brink of adulthood, teenagers are increasingly treated like toddlers”.
It would be hard for me to look at my current neighborhood crew of 18 to 20 years old’s and imagine them winning WWII, much less an apartment lease!
In another study, high school seniors in the Silicon Valley (of all places) are some of the most unhappy in the United States. Suffocating micro-managing is the top complaint. In a search for perfection we are creating a less than-perfect situation.
I contend that those “Oh shit” moments like the tree impalement (don’t worry…we’ll get back to that) or stepping out in the school yard and duking it out with the guy you don’t like, or landing a double in the Halfpipe are all moments of growth that by nature we are designed to handle. I’d wager to say the adrenalin rush our cave-man ancestors felt when they charged a Woolly Mammoth with a spear was the same as that halfback going over the middle in football or that High School Mountain Bike racer taking that first big drop, that the other guy or girl just made.
In 1998 Matt Fritzinger wanted to start a road biking team at Berkeley High School. At the first practice 4 kids showed up on Mountain Bikes. The next day Matt decided to call it a Mountain Bike team and NICA was born—the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
Fast forward to today and The Colorado High School Cycling League, basically a chapter of NICA (with its first race in 2010) and its huge growth and influence on thousands of youths it has inspired. Today’s American racing phenom Sepp Kuss (a top finisher in this year’s Tour De France) competed in Durango just a few years ago. The league inspires hundreds, maybe thousands of “oh shit” moments for our young people. In a sane, safe and fun platform. The league has given thousands of kids a break from what they hate most—US!
The truth hurts but also makes me laugh.
I was lucky enough to be involved with and coached the Evergreen High School team for seven years. You could see these over-scheduled, over-coddled kids come to life and even raise a little gray-area hell in the process. That’s a capital T-R-O-U-B-L-E right here in River City! (I need to explain this. La Crosse the home of an almost real de-nutting is called River City. The line quoted is another song from the 1960’s musical “The Music Man”…that glorified Gary, Indiana. (It all comes full-circle in Dirt Journal). Bottom line, just like the Caveman and the Woolly Mammoth, NICA provides that primal fight-or-flight rush that used to be quite risky or reserved for the lucky few that qualified as halfbacks or ½ pipe inverted arial snowboarders. The fight or flight rush usually came with a lot of strings attached, just ask Dicky Shimansky.
Toughness, grit and courage can be defined in different ways.
Getting ready to redline a 12 mile high school course with 50 anxious neighbors at the start gives the participant “that feeling” that it’s going to hurt, it’s going to be a little dangerous and it’s going to be fun. Like any story, it’s got a beginning, a middle and an ending. The difference between this and a video game is that a mistake usually draws blood!
In our world of calculated risks and waivers before you play at a neighbor’s house, The NICA experience checks a lot of the boxes when you think of a healthy, fun and exciting experience to chase away those negative feelings that seem prevalent. Not unlike the 24th street gang, the best and most dedicated riders set the limits and try to match or exceed them. Sounds a lot like life to me!
There were exceptions to this rule of trying to hang with #1. On our Evergreen Team for 4 years was a kid named Quintin Kurtz. By the time Quintin was a senior he was a World Cup experienced Downhiller with a professional contract from Pivot bikes. He raced XC to keep fit. A big- strong kid (Dad played college football at Utah), every year a few foolhardy Freshman boys (others had already fallen for this and lived to tell about it) would try to follow Quintin’s line and the results would be spectacular! With the term “Yard Sale” not reserved for skiing! It got to the point that during our pre-season meetings the subject had to be addressed. Don’t try to follow Quintin on the descents.
To wrap up my story and my “oh shit” moment—I lived.
The next morning the wound had become infected and my right testicle was the size of a tennis ball (quite a feat for a pre-pubescent 11 year old and one the gang would marvel at) it was time to come clean with Mrs. Shimansky. Get that grin off your face. That Saturday morning, I suffered the ultimate indignation, showing Mrs. Shimansky my injury.
The injury did not qualify for an immediate trip to the ER. First, she did not drive, second, the ER costs a lot money. Third getting a hold of people was not as easy as it is today. Finally the parents of the gang the number 3 were reached. Once the severity of the injury was explained and our other neighbor Mrs. Vickroy, I was commanded to show her my injury while on the phone with my mom. I heard her say, “Two large punctures and a swollen right nut”.
The real action started when I got to ER at Saint Francis. The doctor acted like he saw a ghost when he examined my leg. Apparently, there is something called the femoral artery. By the grace-of-god the two large branch punctures just missed the artery on both sides or I would have bled out in minutes given the circumstances. Much to-do about nothing I thought. I learned a new word called Epididymis. Mine was now the size of a baseball. Dr. Eagan assured me I just “Racked my nuts and if you keep ice on that son-of-a-gun, she’ll go down in no time. The bad news is / good news for your parents is you’ll never be able to father kids till after high school”. Awkward silence, un-easy laugh. A joke! Mrs. Vickroy, a devout Lutheran did not crack a smile. I got-it and thought it was funny. It hurt when I laughed.
One week on the couch, a round of antibiotics and some R&R and I’ll be back to playing no-pads-Packer helmet-only tackle football with the gang. Sure-enough I’d be back at Saint Francis more than a dozen times in the next 8 years. My mom eventually worked there, I think to defer our medical costs!
I think the desire to push limits, to be part of a “gang” and to raise a little hell are all part of the adolescent experience in nature…not just humans. By having a vehicle like NICA and The Colorado High School Cycling League and for that matter sports in general allows us to progress and test limits. Ain’t that what it’s all about in the first place?
Long Live NICA and The Colorado High School Cycling League!