by Dave Donnelly
My first attempt with sports was in grade school. I think the whole class signed up for football. I was abnormally tall, which was often mistaken for “big”, so I was immediately drafted and put on the front of the offensive line. My first game I was knocked over by a kid half my size right away and literally pushed about twenty yards behind the rest of my team… So there went football.
Next was basketball. Again, due to my abnormal height, the coaches were all over me. After repeatedly tripping over my own shoes, making baskets for the other team, and other comedic mishaps I decided enough was enough. I told my coach that basketball was interfering with my piano lessons, which was true but I’m sure you can guess how that went over.
I loved soccer but never seemed to be able to control the ball. Had a blast playing lacrosse but hated checking people. Enjoyed tennis but once again, not so good. Sailing made me seasick. The guys in crew at my school were just jerks.
The only athletic endeavor that has always kind of stayed with me has involved bicycles.
When I was six I got my first bike. The Schwinn Bantam. Coolest bike on the block. I rode that thing everywhere.
Next up was my Schwinn Thrasher. It was a sleek, blue, bmx bike and definitely upped my cool points in the neighborhood. Growing up on Northwestern University’s campus was especially great at this point. They were constantly demolishing buildings and leaving huge, empty mud pits. With a little imagination and the right group of buddies these mud pits turned into the perfect offroad, bmx course.
When I outgrew the Thrasher my parents introduced me to my next two-wheeled friendship. This time in the form of a Schwinn 12 speed. I rode everywhere, until my interest in bicycles went on hiatus.
In the decade that followed I got back into music, went to school for sound, joined a punk band, toured, put out albums, broke up the band, started a new band, fell in love, moved to California, joined a motorcycle gang, ran a record store, got engaged, got unengaged, joined another punk band, moved back to Chicago, ran a motorcycle shop, caused some trouble, moved to Wyoming..
Then I bought another bicycle. It turns out living in a tiny town way up in the mountains in Wyoming was a difficult place to make friends. Mountain biking turned out to be a great solution. I could get on a great path right outside of my back door and be in the middle of nowhere in half an hour.
After a little over a year I returned to Chicago with a rekindled love of bicycling. My first year back I commuted by bike, even most of the winter. In the spring I started to get tired of being passed by road bikes and started thinking about a change. That decision was made for me about a day later when my clunky mountain bike was stolen.
So I built a really neat road bike with parts recommended by cyclist friends. Riding escalated from commuting to rides to the botanical garden with some friends, to the Apple Cider Century.
I was ready to up the ante a bit and wanted to do something charity driven. A friend introduced me to the Ride for AIDS, Chicago. This was really good for me because it had great training and really helped with my cycling (it’s 200 miles!). It was also a great charity and I felt really good about raising money for them. I even captained a team of 60 for a few years.
So after the second year of the 200 miles a few of us decided to do the Northshore Century together. It was kind of chilly and threatening to rain but we decided to go for it. About twenty miles into the ride we were passed by this huge group of rowdy, exciting, super fast riders. I asked myself if I thought I could do that. I started pedaling as fast as I could to catch up and reached them at a light. I super nervously asked if I could try and join. A guy near the back said sure, just stay towards the back and hang on. I rode with them for about thirty miles and it was a blast!! So much energy and fun! I hung out at the half way point with them a little but was too shy to strike up a conversation. All of a sudden someone yelled “Spidermonkeys! Let’s roll!” and they all mounted up and left.
I hung out at the stop and waited for my friends to catch up. The second they arrived all I could talk about was how fast we went and how nice they all were and how much fun it was. I told myself that I was going to learn to ride like that and join that team some day.
In my thirties I’ve learned how to throw a pretty good spiral, become a relatively good basketball player, and even tried soccer again (I still suck). And yet, my favorite athletic accomplishment of my thirties was riding the Northshore Century with the Spidermonkeys. I can’t tell you enough how excited I am to be part of a team with so many amazing, encouraging, and talented people. And I can’t wait to see what next year brings!