In a few hours, I’ll be walking my daughter, Christiana (pictured above) down the aisle to be married to Patrick.
For the past several months, friends and family have asked, “How are you doing with giving her away?”
My journey toward this exciting union has been a series of small goodbyes. Last night at the rehearsal dinner, I was going to share one such tale that was based upon the picture (above) from the slideshow that will play at the reception. It didn’t happen; the venue was loud, my voice is thin, & I knew I’d never be heard.
So this morning, I’m writing about it.
The Ride to Goodbye
About a year ago, Christiana told me she wanted to join me on a JDRF ride where I’m one of the USA Cycling Coaches. I got her a bike and we started her training in April for the 100-mile ride.
October came and we were on the road to Amelia Island, Florida. The night before the event, we sat with our team after dinner to discuss ride day strategy. One group would average about 14-15 MPH while the other 17-18. Christiana averaged 15-16 but she felt confident and chose to ride with the faster group. She’d completed an 80-mile ride with them a month prior so I agreed with her decision.
Saturday morning, we joined the other 386 JDRF riders and rolled out of the starting area. Her group latched onto some fast riders and by the 40-mile mark, we were averaging 19 MPH. I was wearing 3 hats that day: Coach, Dad, Jay. I not only made sure the other riders were safe but that she was too. Everything told me she was fine so I let her roll on at this fast clip.
Around the 45-mile mark, she had a flat. I changed it but our group kept going so now she was stuck with the old man. At only 150 lbs, I don’t block that much wind which meant she was having to work harder. The sun was peaking, temperatures would hit 90, and there was a crosswind. It would be a challenging day.
I pulled her along hitting every rest stop to make sure she was staying hydrated & fueled. When we rolled into the 70-mile stop, I went to get her something to eat & drink while she rested in the shade. I returned to find her leaning against a fence with the dreaded “1,000-mile stare.”
“I need you…”
As her father, I knew she was tough enough to finish the last 30-miles even if it meant sacrificing her body; I’d seen her do as much playing travel soccer. But as a cycling coach, I knew she was close to becoming hypoglycemic (bonking) so the risk may be too great.
We talked and I tried to ascertain if she was just very tired, which everyone feels at this point in a century, or if she was indeed close to bonking.
What happened next is where today’s story begins. Her face softened and she was no longer the young woman–a nurse, a fiancee–but my little girl. At that moment, one in which only a father can discern, I knew what she was asking:
“Dad, I need you to decide for me.”
Not The Same
My heart ached for her. I knew how much she wanted to finish, how hard she had trained, and that to come so close yet fall short would be a hard pill to swallow. I also knew she didn’t want to disappoint those who sponsored her, but we both knew that her safety & health mattered more.
I tried to find a solution, a plan that would enable her to finish with low risk, but we both knew these weren’t valid solutions. With the finish line only several miles from where we rested, I let it guide my decision as her father…
“Let’s get you to the finish line.”
She sighed a breath of relief while her shoulders dropped in defeat. I felt a lump rise in my throat. My coach “hat” was off and I was her dad, fully aware of her pain and hurt. I wanted to do anything to make it “go away”; to minimize the heartache. The only thing I could think of was a question I was sure she was pondering…
“I bet you wish Patrick were here, don’t you?”
Her lip quivered. Her face filled with emotions as she nodded. I instinctively reached for her, to comfort her with a hug but she stopped me. In a tender voice, she said, “Dad, don’t. It’s not the same.”
Out of the Frame
Her words stung, but they were not meant to harm or hurt. This was a necessary cut, one I firmly believe God orchestrated for us to experience together; a small goodbye between a father and his daughter.
I nodded and stepped back. In a flash, my role had changed: mine was to diminish while Patrick’s was to increase. I wasn’t angry; this is what I had prayed and dreamed about for Christiana the moment I first laid eyes on her some 23-years ago. Nevertheless, it stung.
The moment passed and we both knew it was time to finish what we started.
We got back on our bikes and I escorted her toward the finish line. I knew she was still disappointed about not finishing 100-miles so I told her how proud I was of her and to focus on her HUGE accomplishment: cycling 72-miles at an average of 17.5 MPH.
I watched her roll to the finish & I peeled off, wanting her to get the full glory of the day. I heard her name being called over the PA and the crowd cheering. And that dang lump was back in my throat.
I parked my bike and made a bee-line for her. I did get my hug but it was a congratulatory one and I was okay with that. Next, she headed to our hotel room to rest and I climbed onto my Colnago to help other riders finish. Later, we’d celebrate with some well-deserved margaritas.
That is why I love this picture. It tells a story only she and I know; one of goodbye and hello.
Later today, I have the honor of escorting her to the starting line of a new beginning with Patrick. I’m ready. I’m proud. I’m honored. I’m excited. And I’m sure that lump will return escorting some tears…happy ones.
And like the photo, I’ll step aside and out of the frame…but I’ll be there…in the background…forever her dad.
I love you, Christiana Lowder!