John F. Russell: Riders find love, mud at Howelsen

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It seemed like a strange place and time to witness the power of love.

But as I stood at the base of Howelsen Hill last Wednesday night, my clothes soaked by a steady rain, I saw true love first-hand.

How else can I explain why anyone would pedal a bike 11-plus miles through lightning, rain and mud for nothing more than the satisfaction that comes from finishing a race?

And when I say mud, I'm not talking about the little splatter you get on your back after riding through a puddle. I'm talking about the kind of mud that inspired mud volleyball and mud-wrestling matches and the people who would pay money to see that kind of thing.

It's the kind of mud that requires a hose instead of a shower, the kind of mud that would strike fear in the hearts of mothers around the world and the kind of mud that most people would avoid.

But when you're in love, you would do anything.

Love is the only way I can explain why more than 100 people would keep pedaling their bikes during Wednesday night's Town Challenge race.

By the time most of them reached the finish line, either riding or pushing their slop-caked bikes, they were covered in a thick coat of the stuff.

It clogged most of the working parts of their bikes, it stained their clothing, and I'm pretty sure that more than a few ate more than a helping of the stuff.

The riders reward for this wasn't money but the knowledge that they had finished what they started and proved their love for competition.

Sure, they complained about the mud, but behind the whining was a story -- a memory that will last long after the inevitable dust of this Town Challenge series has settled.

Years from now, riders will talk about this Town Challenge with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The stories about that muddy Wednesday night surely will grow with time. The steady rain that fell during the race will become a driving rain, and the mud along the course will, no doubt, get deeper and deeper with time.

But the one thing that will not be lost in the story is the love the athletes displayed for their sport.

You see, these riders didn't do it for the money, they didn't do it for the fame, and most of them didn't do it because they thought they had a shot at winning.

If you want to see athletes playing for those reasons, watch professional sports. There, you can see athletes who hold out for money, rarely play if they are hurt and have egos that never will be satisfied.

But if you are looking for athletes who are dedicated to their sport, look for the eyes shining from mud-caked faces at Howelsen Hill. They are a group of regular people who discovered that they are willing to do just about anything for their sport.

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