Sarah Taylor couldn’t hear the crowd cheering as she crossed the finish line of the 40-mile course. She couldn’t hear the guys on the PA encouraging her with thousands of watts of power behind their voices. She couldn’t hear the hands clapping or the music playing.
It wasn’t that she was so exhausted or so focused that she blocked it out. Sarah couldn’t hear it because she can’t — she’s deaf.
Sarah is a member of Team Dephyr, a group of people who can’t hear who decided in 2012 that they would form a cycling team. They wanted to do what they could to help another group of people. For the second year, Team Dephyr joined more than 2,000 riders that made up more than 150 teams taking part in the Tour de Cure — a cycling event that raises money for the American Diabetes Association. This year, the event was held at Monroe Community College, and offered courses ranging from 3 miles to 100 miles.
“Well, we started last year with the 25-mile course — one (person) did the the 40-mile — but, we all got together and were like, hey, let’s make a team. So, we did that, and this was our second run, and hopefully it continues.”
Out of habbit, she signs while speaking to me even though I don’t understand the gestures. Except the one at the end — fingers crossed.
Amid the crowd of teams and families meandering around the finish line, Team Dephyr was no different. Earlier, I walked upon them with no clue that they were who I was looking for until Sarah waved me over. She knew someone was looking to talk to them. My cell on my ear and the look of a prairie dog were dead giveaways.
Sarah is a lip-reader, making talking to her easier than I’d expected. She was the organizing force in the group, making sure her teammates communicated about where everyone was, what they wanted to do next.
“Because we’re deaf, communication has always been of big importance to us, and we were able to do that,” she said. “We could be like, OK, we’re going to meet here and then we could find each other and help each other find others, and so, you know ... teamwork. I’m proud of our teamwork.”
Another member of Team Dephyr, Veronika Talbott, was forced to sit out the event due to an ankle injury she suffered while training. Sarah acted as interpreter while Veronika forced a smile when retelling the story. Her disappointment is easy to understand, even if I can’t keep up with her hands.
“I’m excited to be a part of the cause,” said Veronika, who has a friend with a 4-year-old son with diabetes. “[Next year] I will make sure not to hurt myself before.” Sarah laughs as she relays the message, and I laugh as I watch Veronika smile. She puts one hand over her face as if to say “just my luck,” her other hand supporting her weight on a crutch.
Page 2 of 2 - The weather was unpredictable, at best. In the early hours of the morning, heavy rains and intense lightning caused organizers to make the difficult decision of canceling the 100-mile course, which was set to go off first at 6:30 a.m. The “century ride” had brought in a number of cyclists who looked forward to the challenge. Instead, they were invited to ride the 62.5-mile course that left the starting line at 8 a.m. By that time, the skies backed off enough to go on as planned.
By mid-day, bouts with rain and wind were sandwiched between scenes of cloudless skies, making for a confusing combination of bright blues and grays.
Some time around 1 p.m., interest again peaked at the finish line. While the members of Team Dephyr and surely many others in the masses had their own hurdles to clear, Dr. Brad Berk’s story stands alone.
Berk is the CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center. In 2009, he was hit by a car while cycling, and the accident left him paralyzed. I knew this, and I thought I understood what it meant — he can’t ride a bike. But there he was, propelling himself across the finish line in his recumbent bike. The cheers grew as loud as at any point in the day. Berk rolled down the alley of supporters, his ride ending with a champagne shower.
At that point I was introduced to John Fahner-Vihtelic, who helps run an adaptive cycling program in Rochester and trained Berk for this day.
“Ten months after Brad injured himself in ’09, the following May, he came to my cycling program and we’ve been riding ever since.”
As John tells the story and my attention darts from his beard to his sunglasses, I realize something else — his left leg is a prosthetic one. John glosses over his own tale of losing his leg in ’76, jumps over the seven years of letting his health fade, and cruises past his numerous successes mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and competing in triathlons once he decided, “I gotta change.” John’s a former national and world champion in his age group, but he knew today is about Brad.
“It’s just remarkable ... it’s just remarkable,” he said of Brad’s story. “The publicity — there’s five of us on our team, and we raised almost $10,000. It’s for real. It really is a remarkable event.”
With the efforts of Team Dephyr, Dr. Berk and the rest of the participants, the Tour de Cure started the day with more than $735,000 in donations. With a million as the goal and more donations coming in throughout the day, it will certainly come close, if not exceed it.
Stories of people helping people wrapped in an event that helps people. At the very least, each cyclist raised a little money to help fight diabetes, but it’s likely there is more to it than that. More people overcoming obstacles in the effort to help others overcome theirs.