“Goodbye old friend,” or as my wife would put it “goodbye old mistress.” We spent five years together, travelled to over twenty cities around the world, rode probably 50,000 kilometers as a team and shared many good moments as well as a few disappointments. We knew each other so well that at times it felt like we formed one person. Most of my friends knew my mistress and although they really like her at first many of them more recently thought I was due for a change or “an upgrade” as some would say. I kept resisting the temptation to get a new one. I used to tell my friends: “I don’t like change. I’m faithful to my wife as well as loyal to my friends and business partners. Why should it be different for my mistress?”
And that’s when someone – some immoral little crook I’ve never met – made the decision for me. It was mid-afternoon in Tucson on December 28th. I had just come back from lunch with the family and I was looking forward to going out on a three hour bike ride. The sky was blue and the temperature in the 70s. A perfect day. The one mistake I made that day was to leave the garage door open while I went in to change into my cycling clothes. Living in a quiet gated community gave me a false sense of security. I came back in the garage five minutes later and my mistress – my yellow Trek Madone – was gone. Some petty thief, probably in search of a few dollars to buy drugs, took my bike and left an old – and probably stolen – mountain bike behind.
My wife, as usual, gave me the perfect advice. It resulted in setting into motion events that will forever change the way I look at December 28, 2014. I will always look back at that day as a good day, not a bad day. That day reinforced my belief that if you surround yourself in life with good and decent human beings good things will happen to you. That day strengthened my love for Tucson and the strong American values of community and decency. That day also made me realize that as a cyclist I am a de facto member of the community of cyclists and that cyclists not only look after each other on the bike but also very much off the bike.
The first thing Mary Lou told me was to post a picture of the bike on Facebook and explain what had just happened. I immediately did what she suggested and within minutes, dozens of people in Tucson were sharing my post and putting out the word to be on the lookout for a yellow Trek Madone. I was somewhat overwhelmed by the kindness of so many people, some of who I don’t even know.
And then something special happened. I felt my day was going to end better when I got a message from a police officer who said he had shared the picture of the bike with the Tucson Police Department in the field. He wrote that “they” would get to my house as soon as they could, although it would take a while. I didn’t know what he meant by “they”. Did he mean the police in general or maybe him and his partner? I didn’t ask. Right after his message, the police department called me back to let me know one sergeant had “taken the call” and would come by my place that day. Now that’s service.
At around 6 pm the kids told me they wanted to go to the newly opened Mexican restaurant down the road. I told them that we should wait for the police officer but that I would message him to find out when he was supposed to come by. I actually felt bad bothering him like that and I thought “since when do people actually schedule their meeting with the local police for a stolen bike”. The officer immediately replied that I should take the family out for dinner and let him know when we were back. I’m not making this up. I thought: “What a great person, if this is how people are in Tucson I never want to go back home.”
Maybe a lot of my American friends will be surprised by my reaction as I assume that for them, local officials working hard and being courteous is standard. My experience with government employees in Quebec, except for nurses, is that they are there to work a certain number of hours to accomplish a certain task and that’s that. Coming from where I come from I was completely amazed by the officer’s considerate dealings with me. I was in Tucson communicating with a police officer and in my book he was going out of his way to serve his community well. While one might say that sending a few messages doesn’t take much time it is the attitude that matters. I guess patriotism, the sense of duty and service trickles down from federal to state to city in the USA. I come from a much smaller town than Tucson (1/20th the size) and I have never experienced anything like this.
Throughout the day I shared my thoughts with the kids regarding the theft and the events surrounding it. I was reinforcing to them basic concepts such as how important it is to act well even when bad things happen. I also reminded them that we live in a society with other people and everything we do impacts others. Life is not limited to looking after yourself but also to look after others, including strangers.
Life is what you make it to be. The day could have been completely different for me and my family: I could have been angry or just grumpy that someone had stolen my bike; I could have complained to the police department or the officer that waiting seven hours for the police to show up was too long, I could have blamed my family for leaving the garage door opened (although it was a family standard and I am the one who left the garage door opened!), I could have thrown things around or adopted many other negative ways to react to negativity. Since happiness is a moral obligation (thank you Dennis P.) and behaviour matters more than feelings (thank you Dennis P.) I was determined to make the best of a bad situation.
While I was trying to make the best of a “ruined day” what happened next was almost miraculous. What I didn’t know was that when the officer and I would finally meet, I was going to have a unique opportunity to give back and have a positive impact on him just like he had on me earlier. At about 9 pm Mary Lou and the kids were watching TV and I was outside smoking a cigar (thank you Dennis P.) That is when the doorbell rang. The officer walked in, asked for my ID and asked me what had happened. I then told him a little bit about myself and why we had built a house in Tucson. I told him I am the Chairman of a professional cycling team whose professional riders all have Type -1 diabetes and that our team’s mission is to inspire, educate and empower people around the globe who are affected by diabetes. He responded: “I have Type-1 diabetes.” He tapped his shoulder and said “my insulin pump is here” and then tapped his hip and said “my continuous glucose monitor is here”. I wish someone could have recorded the family’s reaction.
The officer added that he knows our team well and follows it closely. He also told us that he is an avid cyclist who also competes in bike races. What are the odds of that? When I asked him how well he is managing his diabetes he let me know that given the constantly changing work hours and trying to fit in his training, he was struggling with too many blood sugar highs and lows. It turned out I had a copy of Phil Southerland’s – our founder and CEO – biography, which I gladly gave to the officer. There cannot be a better inspiration for a committed cyclist with Type-1 diabetes than to read Phil’s book. Why did I have a copy in Tucson? I don’t recall but I am really happy we did. It was Mary Lou who remembered we had a copy.
I also put him in touch with the right people who could help him better manage his diabetes. Similar to the officer’s changing work schedule (night shifts for example) which results in having meals at all sorts of different times, our professional athletes travel all around the world and are always changing time zones. Our team has dealt with these kind of issues for years and our knowledge is meant to be shared to help and empower others to continue to live a healthy life and manage their diabetes better.
So there you have it. You take a low-life, give him an opportunity to do a bad thing and two good people meet with great results on each side. The same low-life also gave the local community of cyclists an opportunity to come together, do good and inspire others to do the same. And finally, three of our kids got to watch it all and learn from it. Thank you low-life.
A lot of people wrote to me on Facebook or by email about the incident and I enjoyed reading everyone of them. Some friends even offered to lend me their own bike. It is however my good friend and training partner Luc Grise who gave me the best tip: “Dear Alain, on this New Year’s Eve I would like to share this thought with you. As far as your stolen bike goes, I would seriously consider, checking with the Smithsonian museum in the vintage archive section, maybe your Trek will be on display in their exhibition of the month.”
Happy New Year all.