An Emotional RAGBRAI Ride: Dedicated to Grandpa Nelson

Later this week, Krissy and members of the Nelson family will be taking part in RAGBRAI (an annual seven-day bicycle ride across the state of Iowa).  But even though she has ridden it several times in the past, this one will mean more than all the rest combined.  Please join me in reading Krissy’s emotional story about how this year the Nelson’s will be dedicating the ride to her inspirational cycling Grandpa.

Why I Ride: RAGBRAI 2012 Dedicated to Grandpa Nelson

by Krissy Nelson

I remember the first time he said it out loud to me, “I have Alzheimer’s.”  I already knew this, but for some reason it felt like the first I’d heard the news when Grandpa was the one saying it.  We were in his workshop and he was telling me all about some of his old hand crank drills and carpenter’s tools he enjoyed using so much in his earlier years.  Grandpa could fix anything, but he could not fix this fate.  He hugged me tight, told me he loved me, and that he was proud of the person I’d grown up to be.

Grandpa was one of the first people who got me into long distance cycling.  When I was younger I would hear all about this thing called RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) that he and a few other family members, including my Dad, would go on in July.  I thought they were crazy – I mean, who wants to use their vacation time to ride their bike across a state?

This year will be my 11th RAGBRAI…yep I caught the same cycling bug my family had, and Grandpa was right there to lead the charge!  How many people can say they’ve ridden across a state with their grandfather?  I’m lucky enough to say that I have several times.  I share this story a lot because I apply to all parts of my life now, but the best piece of advice my Grandpa ever gave me was: “As long as we’re pedaling, we’re moving forward.”

This came from him on my first RAGBRAI as we were riding up a hill.  I was in too high of a gear and Grandpa told me to just spin up the hill -  get in an easier gear.  As soon as I did that, I was good to go.  Grandpa didn’t believe in being a speed demon or killing your legs.  He was very much the “slow and steady wins the race” type, but he pedaled every last mile and finished every RAGBRAI rode.  Because of Grandpa, I actually enjoy the hills now.  I sit up, relax, and just pedal.  I enjoy the view from the saddle of my bicycle.  There is no hill I climb that I don’t think of him.

Sadly, on April 18th this year, my Grandpa Nelson passed away.  To put it lightly, I was devastated; I still am.  Grandpa had been in a nursing home for a few months and I am so blessed that I was able to see him the day before he died.  While that was a very difficult day for me, I am so glad I saw him.  Grandpa always knew that I loved him, but being able to tell him again how much is something I will never forget.  My sister, and cousin stood by his bed for a very long time and I squeezed his hand….and he squeezed it back.  Without a doubt, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life was to tell my Grandpa goodbye as we left the nursing home, knowing it would most definitely be the last time I’d see him.  I leaned to give him a hug, and with every ounce in him, Grandpa lifted his arms and hugged me back.

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