Ryan’s Ride: Tragedy and Triumph


Nearly seven years ago, I was the mother of 3 year-old twins.

I was active in our local twins group and we’d recently started an email group. My inbox was usually full of information about items for sale, requests for childcare referrals and desperate pleas from new moms.

One morning, however, my email had been strangely quiet so during naptime I busied myself writing checks in my role as Treasurer. I sent out my normal email notices with a cheery tone and got back…nothing.

This was very strange.

Twin moms are often online during naptime and usually responded immediately.

Something was up.

I went to the email list, scanned down the emails, not understanding the subject lines but they seemed to congregate around the Phua family. I knew Michele as we were both Board members and had just two days before been sitting next to her at a meeting.

After a few, I landed on a post from her.

What I read next had me shaking with shock.

Her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Ryan, had died.

In that post, Michele graphically laid out all the events leading up to and slightly beyond his death. He had had a fever, she had given him Tylenol, lain him down, gone back to check, he was dead.

It was that simple.

They tried to resuscitate him, the paramedics came, they went to the hospital with him, there was nothing to be done; they left without him.

Of all the details the one that resonated most with me was that they had taken him to the hospital but they had left without him.

I couldn’t comprehend that without being swept away with grief.

I had had hardly a minute without my boys to that point. Maybe the occasional hour with a sitter but that was all.

The idea that Michele was separated from Ryan like that, and forever, was simply inconceivable to me. And yet it was conceivable because it was so heart-wrenching,

In the days that followed, I got to know Michele much better.

Twin moms are a tight knit group and the sheer enormity of the loss, it resonating so strongly, brought forth a need to help and donations.

In time, Michele and John, already fundraisers for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, put their energies into producing Ryan’s Ride, a bike ‘race’ for kids up to the age of 12 in the San Francisco Bay Area, as part of the Burlingame Criterium.

For the first part of the morning, the roads are closed off and adult cyclists race around at terrifyingly breakneck speeds.

They look so aggressive as they spin their wheels, pumping furiously, in their aerodynamic helmets. The spectators stand quietly as the blurry mass of color flashes past.

Race cycling is one extreme sport.

But mid-morning, it all stops.

An altogether different show is about to start.

A few of the cyclists get back on their bikes and start slowly pedalling around. A starting line is erected. A man with a megaphone starts blaring incomprehensible instructions but to those it is directed, it hardly matters. They know what they have to do.

Slowly, hundreds of children, four years old and under, make their way into the street. They have with them their bikes, their trikes, their parents.

A few of them are gunning, some of them are reticent, all of them are cute. The sight of these tiny kids going out into the middle, getting themselves ready, their parents anxiously standing by their side, is simply spellbinding.

They wait quietly, patiently, seriously, on their best behavior.

When the starter gun goes off, the determination is evident. Hundred of tiny legs (Ryan’s Ride gets around 700 kids) suddenly pound away, concentration focused, eyes on the finishing line. Spectators who are quiet during adult races suddenly find their voices.

In the short distance of the 4 and under category, the energy and determination probably equals that of an adult race.

It is a sight to behold.

Some, of course, make the distance easily, and some struggle. Some need a push, others need a pep talk. Men who, just earlier, were furious, killing machines on their bikes cruise around the course picking up stragglers, shouting encouragement.

The races aren’t done until everyone’s home and the triumph, the glory, the massive boost in self-esteem is worth its’ weight in gold.

Everyone is a winner;  there are no placements just completions.

The kids get medals, goodie bags, a free icecream.

Triumph over adversity or just triumph, it was, and still remains, one of my kids’ favorite activities. Many families who were there the first year have returned every year since.

So if you live in the Bay Area, you’re free on the last Sunday in June and you have a child under 12, consider entering him or her in Ryan’s Ride. You’ll be helping raise money for charity. You’ll be giving your child a risk-free confidence boosting opportunity. And most of all, you’ll be giving those who remember Ryan and know the Phua family, an opportunity to do so.

The Ryan’s Ride website.

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