I have been on a history kick. My latest fixation is the period of time between the first and second world wars. All the characters of that era fascinate me—Churchill, FDR, Patton—but I have lately been drawn to Eleanor Roosevelt more than anyone else. She became a strong leader and advocate despite her insecurities and despite many setbacks. These two quotes say it all:
We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Yesterday, I saw these principles in action when Jordan mounted a bike at SoulCycle and rode with a pack of friends, colleagues and family who came to show their support for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF), for Jordan, and for all children living with cancer. She made it through the entire ride and she’s still beaming.
To understand the context of this day you have to go back a year with me. About this time last year, we worked with SoulCycle and the UTA Foundation to organize a fundraising ride to benefit ALSF, for which Jordan is a hero ambassador. While we road in the car to the event, I coached Jordan on what to say to the riders. She doesn’t love speaking, but we wanted her to have a role since she couldn’t join the ride. Her legs were not strong enough. They were terribly thin and her feet suffered from sores that would not close, sparking fears from her doctors of a possible bone infection.
“Try it again,” I said.
“Let’s kick cancer’s butt together,” she replied.
A few minutes before the ride got started, Jordan wheeled into the studio, nailed her speech, smiled softly and then made her exit. She waited in the lobby as our pack rode hard with instructor Chris Layda. She was really unhappy about being left out, but when the pack congregated afterward she joined them in a round of lemonade and she smiled charmingly from her chair in the group photo.
Our drive home was mostly quiet, with me filling the gaps with exclamations about how much fun I’d had. That’s when Jordan weighed in.
“Next year, I want to ride,” she said.
Jeanette and I exchanged glances, then I counseled Jordan to manage her expectations. I told her it was possible she might do a full SoulCycle ride someday, but she might not want to set her hopes too high. As I have written here before, Jeanette and I were both resigning ourselves to the idea that Jordan might spend the rest of her life on wheels. Jordan had another idea.
“I think I can do it, Dad,” she asserted. “It would be cool to do that ride with you.”
If you’ve been following along with us, you know what happens next. Jordan elected to have surgery earlier this year that has produced stunning results. The wheelchair is collecting dust in our hall closet. And Jordan achieved her goal of riding a full class with our group yesterday, not two weeks after she bravely (and somewhat easily) checked off another goal by walking a mile and a half at another fundraiser.
Yet that is not the whole of this story. This is not just another testament to the resilience of my cancer slayer. Eleanor Roosevelt’s words have manifest all around me. During our fundraising campaign this year, so many people reached out to tell me their own personal cancer stories. Each touched and inspired me, and in each instance the person told me they wanted to share because they were touched and inspired by Jordan’s accomplishments. As Eleanor said, “you gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” For many of these fellow fighters and supporters, sharing their story took courage and allowed them to look fear in the face, even for a moment. That fact makes me want to do more.
It’s no secret. I am a SoulCycle fanatic. I ride five times a week. I feel so much a part of this community, having made new friends and developed relationships with several of the instructors. Yesterday’s event happened at a poetic place for Jordan’s latest milestone. Both of us have gained strength, courage and confidence because of SoulCycle.
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
We don’t have to do these “things” alone. In fact, I have often said that while our family has felt many things on Jordan’s Journey with cancer, we have never felt alone. This was especially true yesterday. The room was packed. The energy was off the charts. And three very special people had an impact on my experience—Jennifer Goodwin, Alba Verela and Laura Crago.
I met Jennifer by riding next to her every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the front row of the Santa Monica “rooster” classes. She’s an intense athlete and, to be honest, I was intimidated by her for the longest time. It wasn’t until a day in class when instructor Molly Schreiber referenced the awesome ride that she staged for Jordan last year, that Jennifer introduced herself. “That was you!” she said. From that moment on, we became Soul Buddies. I quickly learned that she has struggled with her own health issues, and reading her blog is a testament to Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice. Jennifer has the strength to stare anything down. She’s a true inspiration and having her to my left as we rode with Jordan gave me so much strength, courage and confidence.
To my right, was Alba Verela, a SoulCycle instructor that I ride with at least once a week. Alba’s energy is infectious. Even though she was not the instructor for the charity ride, and despite the fact that she had already taught two classes that day, she showed up on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and motivated me to push even harder. It isn’t every day that you get to ride shoulder-to-shoulder with one of your fitness heroes. Alba is more than that. She’s a dedicated mom, a friend, and a beautiful soul. It meant the world to me to have her there.
And then, there’s Laura Crago. I’ve logged almost 400 rides at SoulCycle, and about a quarter of them have been with this rockstar. I first learned about her from another instructor, who told our class about Laura’s inspiring ride across America in 2015—from the Santa Monica Pier to the Brooklyn Bridge … on her own. When I heard about that, I immediately thought, “I have to ride with her.” And I did. That first ride did not disappoint. I’ve been riding with her every week since.
Laura was the perfect match for Jordan’s ride yesterday. The spirit that propelled Laura to cross over 3,000 miles on a bike is the same spirit that lifted Jordan from the wheelchair to the saddle. Earlier this year, Laura injured her back and for several weeks she was unable to ride the podium in her classes. She taught from the floor and many of those rides—when all we had to guide us was her voice, her dedication and her passion—were the most powerful, challenging and rewarding rides I have ever experienced.
Shortly after we announced our ALSF SoulCycle ride, Laura began promoting it in her class. She didn’t know who would be teaching and neither did I, though I had requested her. Nevertheless, she told our classes that she was coming and that she would ride with us regardless of who was teaching. I was thrilled when we got word that she would lead the pack!
From the beginning of the ride, she reminded riders that they could do anything they set their minds to, just like Jordan. She challenged us to give just a little more than we thought we could that day to ride in solidarity with the more than 700 kids who begin their journey with cancer every single day. And, she weaved Britney Spears and KT Tunstall into the playlist, knowing that they are two of The Slayer’s favorite singers (Jordan sang along).
I saw two warriors bond yesterday, I rode with 50 more, and I left the event on an emotional high that I’m still savoring the day after. And Jordan is already talking about her next ride and wanting to try some dance moves.
“We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time.” I am so grateful to be surrounded by so many people who have supported Jordan and our family on the many steps of her journey. Not only do I not feel alone, I feel blessed. And my daughter thrives from an abundance of heroes—fellow warriors, inspiring role models, and generous souls. That is why she does the things she might otherwise think she cannot do.