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June 16, 2011

Michael Leavitt

Oh how blessed I am. This morning is a beautiful rainy Father‘s Day 2011. I have so much to be thankful for as I am still alive to enjoy this time with my family. I have many random thoughts, so I will attack this in a scatter-brained fashion that will somehow tie together with a pretty bow.

What Is A Dad?

A dad is someone who
wants to catch you before you fall
but instead picks you up,
brushes you off,
and lets you try again.

A dad is someone who
wants to keep you from making mistakes
but instead lets you find your own way,
even though his heart breaks in silence
when you get hurt.

A dad is someone who
holds you when you cry,
scolds you when you break the rules,
shines with pride when you succeed,
and has faith in you even when you fail...

MY FATHER - 1976 – Dad taught me so much in non-traditional ways. In 1975 and 1976 he devoted his spare time with me working on a goal that neither he or I thought we could attain. He devoted hundreds of hours to the goal, and as I look back I wonder whether it was a completely selfish goal for his own satisfaction, or whether he was quietly trying to teach me a thing or two.

NOTE - Dad has never been much to share his thoughts and feelings openly. Most of our communication when I was young was left to actions and non-verbal lessons. This makes it much harder for a child to know where they stand in the big scheme of life.

Back to 1975... Dad , and the rest of the family still at home belonged to the Foothill Cycling Club and we rode our bikes everywhere. It was good for him, and good for us. I learned that I could ride anywhere and find my way back home from any street, city, or location. We would regularly ride 10 miles, 15 miles, 25 miles, 50 miles, and even try for 100 miles. The longer rides were attempted by only Dad and I, but I have many fond memories of shorter rides with Mom and Becky along for the touting fun. The Foothill Cycling Club was a family club and not your competitive racing club. The FCC rides were purely for fun and leisure with the family, yet the men had testosterone and there were always a few rides meant to satisfy purely those manly needs. The wife and kids always stayed away from those, except for me. As I remember it, I was the only 13-14 year old young man in the club.

LESSON 1 - You are never lost. You can find your way home from anywhere at any time.

Sometime in late 1975 Dad told me about a 200 mile race put on annually by the L.A. Wheelman cycling club called the Double Century. The race was simple in that you start just north of Santa Monica Beach and have 24 hours to ride 200 miles up the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway to Ventura, then inland to Ojai, and back down the coast to the start/finish line in Santa Monica. Somewhere in there was a miserable turn inland to an out of the way, hot, dusty, and windy gas station town known as Moorepark (now a thriving community). The thought of only needing to average 8.33333 miles per hour for 24 hours seemed doable, but let’s face it, in 1976 there were a very small amount of people who could complete the race.

The only thing I can compare it to is a marathon. Back in 1976, running 26.2 miles was an incredible goal that few made and huge psychological studies and articles were done regarding the wall that runners had to overcome to complete the marathon. It was rare to meet someone back then who had completed a marathon, yet nowadays it is so commonplace to meet those who have completed multiple marathons. Back then, The Double Century was the Iron Man of dreams to complete on a bicycle.

Dad and I came up with tough and creative training rides of 50, 75, 100 miles, and then the longest of 120 miles... Whew!!! Mom was always ready to come and rescue us at the end of what always turned out to be hot and windy Southern California afternoons. Somehow it would always be 3 o’clock in the afternoon and Dad and I would be riding into a stiff headwind with a long way to go before arriving back home. Seeking refuge, Dad and I would find ourselves inside an air conditioned eatery with little desire to ride any further and I would get to use a pay phone and give Mom directions to our final location. Much to her credit, she always was ready to come and make the rescue.

Dad was a strong rider. He could set a strong pace for 30 or 50 mile rides. In fact, a year after the Double Century I remember that most mornings or evenings found him riding from Pomona, California 30 miles to Ralph M. Parsons in NW Pasadena, California. This was a tough timed event as he headed out the door to work and he could not be late. My memories of Dad riding was that he was never one to ride along and talk and tell stories. Instead, it was a time to focus on the task at hand and give it all of your effort. What is weird is that Dad was 47 to 48 years old at the time and here in a month and a half I will cross the 50 year marker myself.

LESSON TWO - Focus and work hard to accomplish the task.

I accepted the challenge of the Double Century gladly and each week Dad and I did something to reach our goal. He taught me about lightening the load, especially lightening the spinning weight of the wheels and tires. We perfected our supplies and really got our physical bodies into shape. We must have put on 2,000 miles in training rides for the event.

I forgot that I had written a piece about this for my Monday Morning Messenger Newsletter. It is interesting to see what flowed from my fingertips this morning are very similar to those from March 3, 2008 when I wrote the following...

1976 DOUBLE CENTURY - As I watch my kids, I am drawn back to my youth when I achieved greatness because of my parents. In my junior high school years our family belonged to a Southern California bicycling club geared towards family rides. In those days, you were thrilled to have 10 speeds and 15 speeds were just about to be invented. Bike rides of 50 and a 100 miles were great milestones in that era.

My Dad shared with me the idea of participating in the L.A. Wheelman’s Double Century ride/race. This was an annual ride that a few hundred crazy people participated in each year with about 2/3’s of the riders dropping out at some point along the event. To finish this ride in the allotted 24 hours was a major feat for experienced riders.

I was just 13 when Dad and I started our training. Mom was always ready to come and rescue us when we had major breakdowns, but I remember how dedicated we were for about 8 months leading up to the event. We made numerous training rides in excess of 100 miles, a distance that was absolutely incredible for amateur riders in 1975 -76. I remember riding to remote places like Moorepark, California. Moorepark is now a thriving metropolis in the middle of newer housing tracts. Back then it was a gas stop in the middle of the hot and desolate wasteland.

Double Century
My 1976 Award Patch
When the day of the ride arrived we found ourselves starting in the early morning darkness in the canyon above Santa Monica beach. The ride took us up the coast past Ventura and into the canyon to Ojai to reach the 100 mile point. I remember making it there with Dad just before noon. 8 hours to the halfway point was just fine by me. The sunshine and the headwinds were taking their toll. Knowing that our longest ride together was 120 miles, I knew that Dad was reaching the end of his energy. We took an hour rest before mounting our bikes again for the second half of our ride.

As I look back on this bike ride, I remember how much I learned about my own character. I found out that the first hundred miles was muscle and the second hundred miles was mental. Being young, I did not know that I was not supposed to finish. Dad never talked much, so I don’t know what he was thinking. Dad has never been one to open up very much and this was especially true when we were in the middle of a trying adventure. I wish that I would have been able to talk him through the wall that we hit at the 120 mile mark. Dad’s legs were cramping and by the 130 mile mark he had to throw in the towel. I was shocked, bewildered, and never did understand how or why he stopped. But even as he stopped, he encouraged me to ride on. When he pulled over, Mom was there driving the sag wagon. My younger sister Becky was probably there too, come to think of it. We had ridden further together that day than we ever had before in our lives. 130 miles was a great accomplishment, but I was told to continue onward.

Michael Cycling
100 Miles into the ride

It is a freeing feeling knowing that every new mile is further than you have ever ridden before. At 14 years of age, I was one of just a few young teenage riders. I hadn’t seen any young people since our early morning start. Racer types were ahead of me and we had a fellow cycling club friend named Art riding along with me. Mile after mile we would switch lead positions and take advantage of the draft created by the leader.

I will never forget the ride along the rather barren stretch of Pacific Coast Highway from Ventura to Malibu in the afternoon sun. The ocean breeze and the surf hitting the beach helped me to ignore the pain in my muscles. There was just no way to stop as we rode down PCH, many of the beaches I would come to know with surfboard in hand later in life. Riding through the traffic of Malibu southward to the home stretch towards the Santa Monica finish line as the sun was setting over the ocean to the west was amazing. I knew that we were fighting to finish before dark, and I knew that we were pushing our bodies further than they had ever been pushed before.

16 hours 12 minutes and 27 seconds was my finishing time (I know, I know, nowadays that time would be scoffed, but it was more than respectable in 1976). I crossed the finish line together with Art and Mom, Dad and Becky were there to greet us. I was proud to be honored as the youngest fastest finisher that year. I knew that I had broken through the wall of pain and finished my own personal riding marathon, and I proved my own abilities to myself that day. I have always hoped that Dad realized what a great feat he completed that same day. His finish was a personal best for distance, and his joint pre-race training and his expressed confidence in me helped me achieve my personal best. Together we achieved what we thought was near impossible and for that I will always be grateful to him for his vision.

Dad & I busted eating candy

I shifted my primary attentions to skateboarding shortly after the Double Century, but Dad has continued riding to this day. I am so thankful for the sacrifices of Mom & Dad to provide for me the challenge of completing the Double Century. Interestingly, Dad now lives back in Tennessee and will often climb on his bike and ride 30, 50, or occasionally 75 miles or more. He has never shared his thoughts as to why he loves to ride, but I think that he just loves the feeling of the wind blowing through his hair. He also loves for common folks to think he is a bit off his rocker. I am living proof that the acorn does not fall far from the tree.

Remembering back to that long Double Century event I am trying to imagine how Dad must have been feeling as he had to throw in the towel and drop out of the ride. I have felt similar frustrations trying to keep up with both Adam and Aaron on rigorous hikes. For Dad to quit that day really just said that it was no his day, and my aging body has those days. It must have killed him inside to stop for the day. But he taught me a great lesson that day as both he and Mom stayed along the race and his role changed from participant to cheerleader. Did he know from the start that he would never finish the race, but he wanted to get me through as much of it as he could and shift the glory of the accomplishment to me instead of on us both? Did he ever get the accolades he really deserved? After all, he had ridden further than he ever had in his life before that point and I think since. In my opinion, there should have been a 130 mile patch created in his honor for his efforts that day. So to my Father on Father’s Day, this one is especially for you...

Double Century
Dad’s 1976 Award Patch
Al Leavitt - My Dad

LESSON 3 - Encourage your kid’s all the way to the finish line!

At this point in life I know that my Dad loves me very much. I also know that he is proud of me on so many different levels. What is sad is the distance that separates us is great and it is odd to think of him waking up alone this Father’s Day 2011. He is back on a large piece of property in Tennessee southwest of Nashville. There are no kids or grandchildren nearby, and yet he wakes up each day and accomplishes new tasks of his own creation. I miss you Dad!

Dear Dad, happy Father’s Day! I wish that you were nearby and could see the great accomplishments of my four children. They are great kids. Here is a quick update on each of them...

Rolf & PoppyJessica - She is now 21 years of age with twins that are almost 11 months old. Little Rolf and Poppy are adorable and both Dave and Jessica shower them with love daily. Haily, Jessica & AaronUnfortunately, Dave’s Father passed away from cancer this past week and they are laying him to rest tomorrow morning. A year ago Rolf Sr. was vibrant and full of life and the last 6 months Jessica and Dave moved in with his parents to help care for him through his death. This was at great sacrifice to their personal plans, and yet what a blessing to help love him through his passing. Their future is now up in the air with no pronounced goals in front of them. It will be fun to see what challenges Dave takes upon himself as the provider for his young family’s needs. You should be proud of both of them as they head down the road of life together. I know that I am proud as their Father and Grandfather.

PHOTO: Poppy riding on the rear of the walker giving Rolf verbal directives.

AdamAdam - He is an incredible young man full of talents and love for others. It is rare to see a 17 year old without guile and such an ability to love and friendship others.He will be a senior in high school this next year and he has caught the vision of good grades and hard work. AdamHe is a math and science wizard, yet his first love is the stage. He is studying his lines now for the lead in “Catch me if You Can” at Orem high School. He loved Les Mis, yet his crowning role in 11th grade was the lead as Charlie’s Aunt where he played the Aunt. He was surrounded by so much great talent in the cast of 11, yet his comedic timing and mannerisms stole the spotlight for an incredible performance. Adam is also quite athletic and he has helped to carry my spirits on tough hikes and climbs. When I am failing, he will come along with a song, story, or experience to lift my soul and help me accomplish what even I think may not be possible. He is one that you would enjoy getting to know.

PHOTO: Above - Charlie’s Aunt, Right - Adam learning to replace the clutch on the 1982 VW Rabbit.

Haily - Water FairyHaily - She is becoming such a vibrant talent. Haily is loved by all who meet her and her artistic talents and great looks make some extremely jealous. She is 15 and at that age where you can’t yet drive and can’t yet date, yet she feels mature enough to do it all. Haily - Peter PanHaily enters 10th grade next year and she loves every aspect of school. Her ability to draw and sketch is a divine gift. She just finished up a stint as the Water Fairy in the Princess Festival. We watched her brighten the lives of hundreds of young girls as we stopped by the festival yesterday to spy on the ongoings. She frolicked in the water and blew bubbles as she stopped to interact with the participants. This coming week she is off to girl’s camp where she will get to go backpacking. This is a young lady who has already conquered the summit ofthe highest point in Utah, while all the other girls will be experiencing a backpack for the first time. She is devoted to causes and stubborn as a mule when she is set upon a goal. You would love to see her artwork... I’ll find some samples and share.

PHOTO: Haily as the Water Fairy in the Princess festival.

TucanosAaron - he will always be our baby, and yet at 13 he is growing into an incredible young man.Aaron is a great example to other young men his age and he does not entertain the vulgarities that so many his age succumb.We play basketball together a couple of times a week and he is now holding his own against the other men ages 18 to 50.His three point shot is deadly and he now drives to the bucket with authority. Aaron has the same fun loving heart as his brother and earlier this week he hatched the idea of a special Father’s Day gift for me.“Dad, can you save Thursday from 1 PM to 6 PM?” He asked.Thursday came along and Adam and Aaron treated me to an incredible lunch at the Brasilian restaurant Tucanos, followed by a basketball shooting competition at the Provo Beach Club, and ultimately found me sitting in an air conditioned movie theater watching Thor. TucanosThis was all their idea and it was a special afternoon for me. I hope this tradition continues for years and decades to come.

PHOTO: Aaron, Adam, and me at Tucanos.

ShellyShelly - I would be very remiss if I did not take a moment to talk about Shelly, the mother of my children, and my lovely wife. I continue to watch her in amazement as she struggles with her health. She has managed to carve out a small quality of life amidst a horrible affliction. I whine over a hangnail, yet she manages to hold onto a smile while struggling with immense pain. Her greatest asset is her lover for others and her care for family. It has been hard for her on both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day since both have passed. I love to watch her glow as she is surrounded by her children and their friends. To watch her gives purpose to life. While others give up in trials, Shelly holds on defiantly in the hopes that more family experiences come to pass. Her needs are really very simple, as she would love to sit in a comfortable air conditioned room with all of her family sitting around telling stories and playing games... Nothing more, except those cute little grandkids had better be present or there will be heck to pay!!!

PHOTO: Shelly in her latest beautiful glory!

As a Father myself, I am blessed. As a Son, I am blessed. As a Grandfather, I am blessed. Thanks so much for being my Dad!

Love, Your Son Michael

Happy Father’s Day to any and all who read this edition of the“Leavitt Family - Fun Family Times!”
Please take a moment to send us your thoughts and feedback... What are your greatest Fatherly memories?

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“A child looks up at the stars and wonders. Great fathers put a child on his shoulders and helps them to grab a star.“ - Reed Markham, American Educator
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