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Craig’s Tahoe Recap

By Craig Gabel

 This is a very inspiring story. I know it’s a bit lengthy but please read to the end.  If you do not have time to read it please save this and read at your convenience.

 First thing first.  Thank you to everyone receiving this message for your support of Leesa and I as we try to make a difference.  The following story details how we were able to directly impact lives due solely to your help.  Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

 Lake Tahoe.  What an awesome destination it was.  This 100 mile bike ride was the most inspirational, fun, exciting, breath taking and exhilirating Team in Trianing event we have experienced so far.  The “team” factor really shined bright upon all of us through the entire trip…not  just on the course.  Leesa got cleared for the ride by her doctor just a few days before the ride.  She had just 6 days with no chemo before attempting this epic journey.  The trip out to Tahoe on Friday was fun.  We had some good times with a few of our team mates we were traveling with. 

 We arrived in Reno with no lost luggage…Yea!  We were able to upgrade our rental car since I had prepaid for the entire rental.  They gave us a huge price break which allowed us to snag a 2009 Corvette convertible.  I only mention it because it seemed there was many thigs on this trip that just fell into place.  The car was yellow and black which just happens to be the Livestrong colors and we happened to be riding on National Cancer Survivors Day (the first Sunday in June) which has gotten much attention world wide by Lance Armstrong and the Livestrong Foundation.  So the car was only fitting.  On top of that, Leesa had asked me if we could get a convertible weeks ago.  I shopped around and couldn’t find one anywhere in Reno…online at least.  So when I asked her if she wanted one she went a little nuts…being a Corvette only added to the excitement factor.

 We drove to Tahoe with the top down and wind blowing.  Upon our arrival we went staright to bike pickup.  We had our bikes shipped out 5 days earlier so they’d already be there waiting for us.  We got our bikes and got checking into our hotel (Harvey’s Casino just on the Nevada side…literally).  We drove most of the bike course and hunted down a unique place to have dinner.  The course was spectacular and very hilly. This really was in the mountains so some of the hills were larger than I had imagined.  We found a place in Tahoe City called the Fat Cat Café to eat dinner.  Great food and cool atmosphere.  It was everythign you’d expect out of a local California joint.  It reminded me of a Starbucks but only with a bar and a dinner menu…very laid back.  I recommend the sweet potato fries…yummy!  We moved on around the lake as day turned to night.  The course was hilly but very much a doable route.  Not to intimidating at all. Off to bed to get some shut eye before an early morning ride the next day.

 Saturday’s sun was already hitting the snow covered mountain peak across the lake just after 5:00 am.  That was much too early to see the bright sun.  We met up with the team and went on a 10 mile out and back ride to the Pearl Izumi outlet store (bike apparel shop) across town in South Lake Tahoe, CA.  Leesa was not to ride (coaches orders) so she had fun driving the “fun car” along with us.  On the way back we stopped for breakfast at Sprouts.  I high recommend this place.  Very organic and the food was just phenomenal and good sized portions.  Once back to the hotel we went to packet pick up to get all our event related stuff.  Then we took off for a car ride to do some shopping and see the breath taking sites Lake Tahoe has to offer.  Dinner was an awesome experience as always with the TNT inspiration dinner and pasta party.  The dinner was held across the street from Harvey’s in the Harrah’s casino ballroom.  We had the high energy entrance put on by the various TNT chapter staff members.  I think my ears are still ringing from all the bells, whistles, clapping and cheering.  The pasta was great, cookies even better and the speakers were full of stories that tug at your heart.  We heard from the LLS TNT national spokesperson who announced that we as a collective nationwide group rose over $6,000,000 for this event.  We had 1300 riders from TNT out of about 3000 total event participants.  The race director was a great speaker who went over the race rules and talked about the sponsors.  He was a great speaker full of energy.  Then we had an inspiration story.  It was from a Dad’s perspective of when his young child was diagnosed with Leukemia.  He spoke from the heart detailing every emotion his family experienced along their journey.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house but this is why we were there, to help families and victims of this nasty disease.  It served as motivation to get out there and finish this ride no matter what…no excuses.  I was ready to ride at that very moment.  After dinner we had a team meeting to go over last minute changes, reminders and what not.  At the end of our meeting, one of our honor patients, Anna Oliver, gave a very emotional speech she had prepared.  She thanked us for all we had done for her and the advancement of cancer research.  She would know as she just went through a second battle after 10 years of being in remission and could speak to the changes she has seen since her first battle.  She is a two time survivor and has a heart of gold.  Her family is rock solid and a huge inspiration to me and my family.  I am actually tearing up as I write this.  Her husband Brad is her rock.  He deserves that title as he not only keeps her in check but he keeps our team in check with his kind, friendly, funny and gentle heart.  My mother-in-law has referred to me over the years as the gentle giant.  I see Brad Oliver as a gentle giant as well.  After some hugs and sharing of friendship we headed off to bed.  We had an early morning ahead of us.

 4:30 AM the alarm goes off and we are up and at em.  5:10 we scurry to the elevator to find an empty car to cram us with bikes in for the journey from the 17th floor to the lobby…this is where the gambling factor with luck and chance came into play.  Many stops along the way as there were 17 floors of cyclist wanting a ride down as well.  It was quite comical actually.  Once on solid ground we headed out to meet the team.  We heard a great speech given by a fellow rider and survivor Jason Sullivan.  Jason is a huge inspiration as a survivor.  He looked Leesa in the eyes and told her she reminded him of six words that would help all of us get through this ride.  Courage, Spirit, Resolution, Tenacity, Triumph, Survive!  Courage (implies firmness of mind), Spirit (a quality of temperament enabling one to hold one’s own or keep up one’s morale when opposed or threatened), Resolution (stresses firm determination to achieve one’s goal), and Tenacity (stubborn persistence and unwillingness to admit defeat).  And, it takes Courage, Spirit, Resolution, and Tenacity to achieve Triumph and to Survive or to help someone become a Survivor.  This really got the team pumped up.  We headed to the starting area and rolled on our way through South Tahoe, CA.  The start was nice and flat. Leesa was a bit on edge because of the close proximity of all the riders.  Once we made it through South Tahoe, we dove down into the forest for a bit and then started to spread out a bit.  As we approached the first climb, we hit a total stop.  It was a check point to ensure only event participant were on the course and we rolled on through in single file.  We started climbing the switch backs and Leesa was doing very well.  She made it about half way up and then had to dismount and walk it for a while.  While she was walking up these steep hills a fellow Team in Training coach from the Washington/Alaska team stopped to offer help.  She told him she was doing fine but was just worn out since she just finished chemo 6 days prior.  The coach went a little nuts in his amazement that she had just finished chemo and was embarking on such large endurance event.  He asked if he could walk with her so he could hear more about her story.  They walked together as I rode on up a couple switch backs ahead of them.  Once I stopped I could hear other riders passing by talking about Leesa.  They seemed inspired and they didn’t want to complain about how tough the route was since she was out here just off chemo doing the same thing.  Story’s like hers in these events tend to shut people up and give them the courage and strength to keep moving forward.  I met up with our TNT coach (Coach Jen…she ROCKS!).  She asked how Leesa was doing.  I told her she was doing okay and that the grade was just too steep for her to keep pedaling so she was walking it.  I mentioned that I wish I had made a sign for Leesa that said she had just finished chemo 6 days ago because it was inspiring many riders that were passing me as I waited for Leesa.   Leesa made it to the top and enjoyed the view of Inspiration Point which a breath taking site sitting high up on a ridge between Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake.  After a few moments of taking God’s creation in, we moved on to an exhilarating downhill that was steep and fast. I like the fast down hills but I had to brake most of the way down. Leesa was in pure heaven as we rounded the bottom to the next uphill grade.  She made a comment about how awesome that was with some words I can’t repeat here.  As we climbed the next ascent we saw our entire team, their families and a few other people who just happened to be at the SAG (Support and Gear) stop cheering like mad for Leesa as she climbed up the hill to a parking area.  It was an unbelievable moment to see all these people cheering on my wife.  Coach Jen and our team mentor JRo (Jennifer Rodrigues) presented Leesa with a sign to attach to her back that simply said “Finished chemo on Monday”.  That was the start of something very big. We took a team picture and then rested for a bit as we took in the spectacular views of Emerald Bay.  Once back on the bike we hit a lot of up and down hills.  Leesa was wearing down so she was walking half of the uphills but she was still motivated to finish.  We got to mile 22 and Leesa had decided that doing the full 100 miles was just going to take too long.  She had it in her to pedal through every mile but time was a factor.  She was going to settle with a 72 mile route around the lake.  I had to make a decision at that point to go on ahead so I could make the turn in time to get in the 28 mile out and back to Truckee, CA so I could complete the full 100.  We parted ways and Leesa rode with Coach Jen to the lunch stop at mile 45. 

 By not going on the out and back to Truckee, Leesa gained 28 miles on the other riders.  Now she had a very large group passing her and reading her sign.  Her story was spreading through the entire event quickly.  Along the route and at each stop she received many positive comments and a lot of hugs.  After my out and back to Truckee I made it to lunch and then headed up Spooner Junction.  This is an 8+ mile uphill battle.  In all we climbed almost 1,100 ft from Truckee (5955 Ft) to the top of Spooner Junction (7044 Ft).  I met Leesa at the top of Spooner and we raced down about 800 ft through Cave Rock and into Zepher Cove.  That was a fun time as it was almost a 9 mile downhill that wasn’t too fast but just fast enough.  The wind coming off the lake felt like our helmets were going to get ripped right off.  Good thing they are buckled on! We finally made it to the finish line.  Rounding the final corner we saw our team on the side of the road hooting and hollering for us as we rode on to the finish line hand in hand (it made a great picture).  It was a great moment that I will never forget.  Leesa got many hugs from complete strangers who were inspired throughout the ride.  We checked in with the TNT folks (so they wouldn’t send out the search party for us) and then rode back to our team just outside the finish line and waited for everyone to assemble while we enjoyed and adult beverage, then we rode across the finish line one last time as a complete team. Teammates and cancer survivors Bill Hicks, Jason Sullivan and Leesa led the way for us. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it.  Leesa again was approached by many people who had heard her story. What a day!  What an awesome day!

 We went straight to the after party to get some well-deserved food.  It was BBQ buffet. We ate, drank and recovered for a bit.  Then we were full, tired and ready for a shower.  Leesa was still the center of attention and got a standing ovation by a table next to us as she exited the after party.  She got more kudos as she entered the hotel lobby and on to the elevator. 

 We enjoyed a nice night out with the team consuming several adult beverages…I will leave it at that!  The next morning we packed up and headed out to do some shopping at the local grocery/discount store.  In the middle of the store this anonymous guy asks Leesa if she was the one in the ride yesterday that had just finished chemo, She said “Yes”.   He asked if he could give her a hug because she was so inspiring to him.  Random hugs in the grocery store….really?  WOW!  The reach this wonderful woman had made over this weekend was amazing!  We drove around the lake one last time and I took her on the route out to Truckee so she could see what she missed (or didn’t miss in this case).  We toured Squaw Valley (site of the 1960 Olympics) and were off to the airport to turn in the “fun car” (Boo!) and catch our flight back to KC.  As we were walking through the terminal we saw the Washington/Alaska coach that started this inspiring weekend along with some of their teammates.  Hugs were again exchanged along with words of encouragement.  Leesa at one point said, “I feel like a Rockstar!”.  I told her she should, because she is a Rockstar.  As we sat waiting for our plane to depart I said to Leesa, “I wonder how many lives you have touched this weekend?  How many people finished THEIR race whether it was 100 miles, 72, miles or 35 miles or some other goal.” The number has to be staggering when you think about the lives directly impacted and then those people will go back to their teams, chapters, friends and relatives and talk about this woman who rode in this event just 6 days after finishing chemo.  If that’s not inspiration….I don’t know what is.  That why we are part of Team in Training and why we care to help cancer patients and their families!

 Thanks for taking the time to read our story. Thank you so much for all your support.  We couldn’t have impacted these lives without your help. I hope you feel compelled to do something you never thought possible.

 Next up for me is the Redman full Ironman Triathlon on September 25th in Oklahoma City.  Leesa and I have also committed to continuing our fight to raise money for cancer research by going back to Tahoe next year for another 100 miles and also to Anchorage, AK for the Anchorage Marathon.  Please help support our cause.  



Tahoe Recap

By Leesa Gabel

Whew…what an amazing weekend in Tahoe!!! Naming the event America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride was extremely appropriate!

Craig and I arrived in Reno Friday afternoon and that’s when my rockstar weekend began. He upgraded our car rental to a bright yellow convertible Corvette!!! I’ve never been in a convertible, let alone a Corvette! I’m sure it was quite a site to see us trying to figure out how to get two large suitcases in the trunk. In the end, we dumped the contents of one into the trunk and placed the empty case in the passenger seat with my legs inside of it. Thankfully a TEAMmate took it back on the shuttle for us.

Our Tahoe rideThere’s not much time before an event to sightsee, but we made a point to for this one…hello….convertible Corvette….plus it was important to me to see the course before Sunday’s ride. Driving a course and riding a course are not the same, but at least I would have a better idea of what to expect. I could see where I was going to have the most challenges — the switchbacks and Spooner.

Saturday morning the team went out for a leisurely bike ride, minus me. I drove the team car….the vette…LOL!! Coach Jen didn’t think riding would be a good idea for me…..better to save my energy for the big event! Saturday evening was the Inspiration Dinner….always a great (and emotional) time. Surprisingly I didn’t have a hard time falling asleep. I think the time difference had something to do with it.

I was however a bundle of nerves on Sunday morning. All my positive self-talk just went right out the window. The mass start was my #1 concern. Starts are not my strength….can’t ever seem to get my shoes to slip under the toe clips easily. But once we got out a ways and it thinned out, I was fine. The first 10 miles were fairly flat. Which I was thankful for since it had been two weeks since I’d been on my bike. Then we got to the ‘entrance’ to the switchbacks. I say ‘entrance’ because there was a chute constructed so that only one biker at a time could start up….had to show a special wristband….and this was the only section of the route that the road was closed (only for a short time). I made it up and around the first couple, then I lost my steam. So I walked. No biggie. I met another TNT coach who stopped to make sure I was ok. I told him I was, that I needed to walk to catch my breath because I’d just finished chemo on Monday and the altitude was getting to me. This coach was from the Alaska team….I shared more of my story and he was so amazed that he asked permission to share it with others too. I was more than happy for him to do that….little did I know what that would bring. Craig and Coach Jen were waiting for me at the top….Craig overheard a group talking about me….he said it’s too bad Leesa doesn’t have a sign on her back letting people know she’s only 6 days out of chemo. Coach Jen rode on ahead to meet up with the rest of the team at the first SAG stop. I got back on my bike and Craig and I rode on….down a great hill!!! At the top of the next was the SAG stop. The entire team plus their family members and a few others were all waiting for me and Craig chanting “Gabel”… was awesome!!! Another TEAMmate, JRo, had a gift for me….a sign that read ‘Finished Chemo on Monday’…that she pinned to the back of my jersey.Here's My Sign

That sign helped get me even more encouragement and support. I felt like a rockstar and super hero all rolled into one.


I knew at the start that I wasn’t going to do the 100-mile route, I was just going to do 72….cut out the out/back to Truckee, CA. At around mile 22 Craig needed to go on ahead so that he would make the cut-off for Truckee. I had 4 miles to ride by myself which was really nice….quiet….beautiful. I met Coach Jen at the next SAG stop (mile 26). She rode with me all the way to lunch (mile 42). She is a wonderful woman…a tremendous coach….and a great motivator/encourager! I did learn after the ride that I would have made the cut-off time to Truckee! Ride officials were actually looking for me at the Truckee SAG stop because they thought I was coming….and here I thought I was riding too slow to make the cut-off.

At lunch Coach Jen and I decided it would be in my best interest to SAG forward up Spooner. So I did…or so I thought….I got out of the van at a SAG stop not knowing that I still had 2-3 miles of up hill to go!! The stop was at a false downhill….which I sailed down only to discover more uphill! I made it up one hill on my bike, but had to walk after part way up the next. I admire those who can stop mid-hill and then start back up on their bikes (my husband being one).

I waited at the Spooner SAG for Craig so that we could finish the ride together. The next couple miles were all downhill. It was amazing!!! I was going so fast and the wind was so strong that I thought my helmet would fly off.Plus the views of the lake were just breathtaking, but I could only take peeks as I had to really focus on the road in front of me at the speed I was going. There were more uphills that weren’t on the map….need to send a note to the map makers! By this point I was getting so very tired and the hills were really taking it out of me. Craig was up ahead….waiting for me as usual….talking with another TNT group of coaches/support. He had my story shared before I go there. Hugs and pictures…..Not since my wedding have I hugged so many people!! We continued on until the next hill. He was up ahead…again…talking to another TNT coach.

AMBBR is a premier TNT event. There are so many TNT chapter teams present that each team wears something representative of their chapter on their helmet so as to be able to identify all TEAMmates. We wore shuttlecocks on ours. And since no one has names on the backs of their jerseys, you’re identified by your chapter. So along the route if I heard ‘Keep it up Mid-America’ I knew they were talking about me. Aside from great encouragement the most I heard on the route was ‘on your left’…LOL!!

So Craig and I are almost at the finish. He’s waiting for me and talking to a TNT coach. When I get to them I’m out-of-breath from walking up the hill. This woman hugs me…she’s heard about me from her TEAMmate….the coach from Alaska that I met on the switchbacks. She tells me that she would be honored to help me SAG forward a little. I’m very thankful for her offer because I know there’s one more hill and I don’t think I have the energy. Into the SAG wagon me and my bike go. She drops me off in sight of the finish. I wait for Craig. We come into the finish area….there’s the team…waiting…..I start to cry. Craig and I ride to the finish together….we cross holding hands!Finishers!!

I get my finisher medal and Craig and I go back to the team to cheer on the remaining few that are still riding. Once all 24 of us are back together we ride to cross the finishline as a team — Jason Sullivan, Bill Hicks and myself lead the group because we’re the survivors on the team.

From there we return our bikes to the truck and head to the after-party!! I stayed long enough to get some real food in me and then head back to the room to shower. I’m still being hugged by complete strangers who tell me how inspirational I am. Words cannot express how all of these people have made me feel.

The next day at the airport I still have a few people approach me. It’s simply amazing. Being a part of TNT has been such a wonderful experience….life changing.

I know I’ve left out so much from the weekend. It’s hard to put it all into words. There are so many side stories and so much that you needed to be there for yourself to experience. I’m so very thankful for all those who donated to help me and Craig get there. I..we…couldn’t have done it without you!!

I’ve been taking the last few days to rest, but I’m ready to get back into a more active lifestyle again. My calendar is filling up quickly with events that I’d like to do…mostly biking. After Tahoe, I feel like I can conquer anything!!



Packed! Ready??

By Leesa Gabel

I can’t believe the ride is just 3 days away!!!

Craig and I had a great time in St. Louis over Memorial Day weekend. We had both families over to my parent’s hhouse on Saturday — talk about a crowd!! I was surprised that none of the younger kids made a comment about my bald head. I was prepared to give an elementary school explaination, but never needed to. That was nice. On Sunday we had a Garber family picture taken. My small family of 5 has grown to a family of 15!!! I can’t wait to get the pictures in. We came back to KC Sunday evening…without our kids! Of course Ashlee called us when we were just West of Columbia crying and begging me to come back to Grandma’s house. It took all my strength not to beg Craig to turn the car around. I haven’t been apart from the kids for this long…ever. But I know they’re having a great time and are in very good hands.

We leave tomorrow for Tahoe. I’m packed. I’m not sure if I’m ready though. I’m getting nervous. But I always get this way before a big event. All the ‘what if’s’ start playing in my mind. I figure I’ll just get out there and give it my all. Driving the route with Craig will help me too. In my mind I’ve created monsterous hills….I’m hoping to be proved wrong.

I definitely have a great team who supports me 110%. I’m looking forward to spending time with them before and after the race. I’m looking forward to being with all the other TNT chapters.

Plus….the fact that the event is done on National Cancer Survivor’s Day is awesome!! I think it’ll make my finish even more spectacular!!

Time to ride!!