Friday, February 22, 2013

Pink, Robots, and Racing

Last weekend was one of the most instructive experiences I have ever had on a bike.  I participated in the Bike Sebring 12 hour bike race where cyclists compete to see how long each can ride in 12 hours.  Those who ride the furthest in their respective categories win medals and the respect of their peers.  In the end, things went remarkably well for me, and I ended up medaling with a 3rd place finish.  But, the medal is nothing compared to what the real takeaway was for me...

Preparations for the race began months before with the formation of Team Grayson Pink Robot Racing.  The name sounds strange, but let me explain and it will all make sense.

I have a beautiful little boy who is eclectic, creative, imaginative, and fun.  He has a wide variety of interests from robots, to Star Wars, to his animals, mermaids, blasters, drawing, and more.  He loves pink too.  It's his favorite color.

One day, about eight months ago, Gray came home from Pre-K and in the course of a conversation I was having with him, I asked him, "What's your favorite color?"  To my surprise, he answered, "Blue".  I asked him why suddenly he liked blue and not pink.  He then said with a hint of shame in his voice, "Boys don't like pink.  Boys like blue."

Now, I know my little boy, and I know that he loves pink, and I knew immediately that somebody, somewhere had decided that it was up to them to tell Grayson what color he should like because boys are supposed to like pretty much anything but pink.  Of course, I got down face to face with Gray and told him in no uncertain terms that he was allowed to like pink, and in fact, Daddy loved pink too.  Pink was a cool color and boys could certainly love pink.  Pink rocks.  The little guy seemed validated and relieved.

But beyond the pink issue, I was concerned.  I took it to heart that Grayson had experienced perhaps his first run in with another person manipulating his self-determination.  The very idea that some other random person has the gall to decide for another person what that person should like, or be was an affront to basic human care and value for others I thought.  You are lesser than me unless you are like me.  This, I believe is the root of bullying and ostracizing behaviors.  I am not okay with that concept and even less okay when that concept is forcefully imparted upon my son.  You may have noticed that I am an activist, so the little talk with the little guy just wasn't enough for me.

So we made a bike team.

Grayson and I made our very own bike team called Team Grayson Pink Robot Racing.  As excerpted from the team's Facebook page, he's what the team is all about:

Team Grayson Pink Robot Racing exists as an athletic (cycling) team to support and validate those who are different and vulnerable to bullying.

Team Grayson Pink Robot Racing is a cycling team created to support those people who have experienced or are vulnerable to experiencing bullying, judgment, and being ostracized for being different. The name of the team is diverse, and its mission supports and celebrates diversity and self-determination.

Being different is not a weakness. It is strength, and self-determination is the right of ev
eryone. This team exists as a home and rallying point for those who are made to feel lesser-than. Here, you are everything this team is about -- we will show those who think we are weak, that we are STRONG and we can and will accomplish great things and outstanding achievements.

Today is a bike team, and tomorrow it will be so much more. Our color is pink, WE are the engines for our machines and WE determine the distance we will take them. We are pink, unstoppable robots! Let's roll!

Fast forward to February 16th and the team hit the race course for 12 hours.  Racing for the team were of course me, and I was joined by my friend to be referred to as Female Racer 1 or F1 because she didn't want her real name used in the blog.  Crewing were of course the little Gray-man and my wife, Connie.

Without going into the turn by turn details of the race, there was one outstanding factor that definitely defined the race.  The wind.  Not just a little breeze or a few occasional gusts.  No, this was a sustained 25mph headwind for miles and miles, accentuated by 35mph gusts.  Some riders were so beaten down by the hours of relentless winds that if they didn't get blown off the road, they quit long before the end of the race.  There were times I wanted to quit too, but I had come to the race with a purpose.  I wanted to show Grayson how tough pink was.  How important individuality was.  Dad would wear sissy pink and grind out 12 hours on a bike and crush the concept that pink, or softness, or caring, or gentleness were anything but brave, worthy, and rock solid concepts.  Actions, not words, drive me.  I could tell Grayson pink was cool, or I could show him.

As I pressed forward into the blistering winds, I had ample time to think.  I thought about how people and especially kids, who suffer at the hands of others, and are beaten down like the wind wore down the riders, could eventually reach that breaking point.  That point where they give up or lash out.  The point where the pain of living becomes greater than the fear of death.  When suicide becomes an option.

You see, Team Grayson Pink Robot Racing is inextricably linked to the mission of suicide prevention.  When a child is reduced and invalidated by others to the point that they are driven to find a way out, any way out, it is especially sad.  To me, sadder even that an adult with a mental illness, like me, because adults even with such an affliction, are adults and more apt to understand and deal with what it happening to them.  Children are not equipped in the same way.  They take the abuse, internalize it, and slowly dissolve.

I pressed on.  I pressed on because my friend F1 was with me and she stuck with me, and I stuck with her.  Our crew poured out their love for us and their support.  The wind kept blowing, even getting stronger as the day wore on.  But as fatigue and pain would set in, I remembered the mission and indeed, I could not forget it, because after each lap he was standing right there in his little pink crew shirt, cheering his Daddy and F1 on.  In pressing on, I thought the following, which I posted this week on the team's Facebook page as well...

Sometimes it's hard to think you can go the distance in life, in school, through pain, or ridicule. Cruelty can feel like it will wear you down to the bone. But don't give up. You can go a little longer. You can press a little farther. Not because it's easier than you think. It is hard. But you are stronger than you think and importantly, you are not alone. We are freaks too. We are different. We stand out and we will stand up. For you and for ourselves. Our revenge is our success and our proof to others that we can do great things, and that the greatness that we aspire to is of our own choice and direction. Be yourself. Embrace yourself and chart your course not along the beaten path, but along a road of your own. Each cobblestone you lay bears your imprint and inspiration. And you know what you will find? You will not be following the path worn into the ground by others. No, instead you will be leading those that will follow you on your road, because those that stand out and stand strong are the beacons for others who are finding their own strength.

Finally, at the end of the day, I hope that Grayson learned the lesson that he, like the rest of us, can and should determine who he will be.  He is a beautiful individual and in being an individual he is not alone (irony?), and when others push back, he can push through, stronger than the winds of ignorance and intolerance.  The headwinds in life will not weaken him.  They will make him strong.

Press on.  You can do it too.  You are not alone.


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