Word got out quickly after a flurry of emails, facebook postings and blog posts about cyclists leading the funeral procession for Perry on Friday morning. Thanks to John Frame for initiating what started out as a discussion with Taylor that lead to that flurry. Thanks to Nikki for pushing the emails out to the group.
As I arrived for the church services on friday morning, you can imagine the sadness I was feeling. Perry is as good a friend as I have had since my return to Greenville 5 years ago. We had shared a lot of miles together in a relatively short time. Those miles started last year when I committed to ride with the Challenge to conquer cancer crew. It was early August before I met Perry and our first meeting was not even on the bike - it was at a fundraiser called "Comedy vs Cancer" put together by Bo and Nikki at Saffron's Sidewalk Cafe. He and his wife Toya had come to support Bo and Nikki's fundraising efforts.
As Bo said in his excellent memorial to Perry, "He was not the most demonstrative of men, so it took some time to get to know him, on and off the bike". As we were at a show, we had only brief opportunities to chat. He struck me as a good guy and I looked forward to riding with him.
The very next day, Perry, Jeni, Ed and I met for what turned out to be the first of MANY rides together. We rode the 60 mile route from the Simpsonville YMCA. Although Bo's comment is correct about Perry not being demonstrative, it was obvious on that very first ride that he did indeed have a competitive streak. It was also obvious that he was a lot smarter than me when it came to cycling tactics.
I learned a lot riding with Perry. That first ride began the lessons. As we approached a hill, the pace would increase and we would all begin to push. In my mind, I was stronger than the others because I would find myself out in front as we pushed through the middle of the hill. However, as we approached the top of the hill, Perry would accelerate around me to capture the hill first. This proved his strength, as well as his cycling smarts. A deep respect grew very quickly within me for him as a rider.
As the miles accumulated on that and many other rides, he would continue to suck me into these little competitions, only to overtake me at the end. I like to think I'm a pretty smart guy, but it took me a while to figure out what was happening. In fact, at the Donaldson Tuesday night rides, he would tell me not to spend so much time out front - sit back and rest for a little while. My hardheadedness would usually get the better of me and I would forget his advice at the very next ride (where he would pull another 'Perry' and hold my wheel until the very last second where he would accelerate past).
Throughout the training rides leading up to the Ride to Austin, I began to know him off the bike. His sense of humor and sly wit, the love he has for his family and friends. His dedication to excellence in everything he did. The respect I had for him as a rider quickly grew into respect for him as a man. We became real friends.
Perry and I, along with Jeni and Ed rode so many miles together, that as our departure date neared, our P3C3 captain Ron ended up putting us together as the Polka Dot team. We were all really pleased.
The trip to Austin holds a very special place in my heart. Seldom does it happen that such a large group forms with such focus and develops such lasting friendships. We had that focus and I am very proud of what we accomplished - the fund raising and spreading the message. I am very glad to have been able to share this with my Polka Dot team mates. And, with Perry's passing, it means so much more that I was able to share that with him.
Earlier this year, Perry and I met for a short ride from the YMCA - ironic that one of our last (outdoor) rides together would depart from the same location as our first ride together. I remember how great it was to see him. We chatted a lot on that ride, but we also fell right into the rhythm that we developed over those many training miles. I could always count on him to be smooth and steady in his riding. Whether we rode handlebar to handlebar, or in a small pace line, I knew exactly what to expect from him. It felt really comfortable. I told him at the end of the ride how great it was to ride with him again. I had missed it. And yes, he did pull a couple of "Perrys" on me that day as well.
With the cold winter, many of our more recent 'rides' were inside with the indomitable Jeni coaching us through a trainer session. The last time I saw Perry was during and after one of these sessions - the Thursday night before he passed. I got the news on Monday when Jeni called. I was crushed.
In hard times, family and friends come together. This amazing group of friends who I also consider family immediately reached out to each other to provide support. Tuesday was the Missing Man Peleton followed by a celebration of Perry's life at Dustin and Jessica's place. The house was packed and there was a lot of hugging. There were tears, but the overall was a very positive reflection on the man we all knew and loved. We shared stories and remembrances. Taylor was there and he shared with us as well. The love in the room far outweighed the sorrow. It was a very fitting event for a man who was always a very positive and upbeat person.
Thursday was the visitation and the line of people who came to pay respects was out the door of the church for hours. The P3C3 family was there in support with several people coming from far away to pay their respects. After, a large group of cyclists gathered at Senior Salsa's Restaurant (next to Ride-On Bicycles where we would go for dinner after the trainer sessions). Again, the show of support was incredible. We took up an entire section of the restaurant. At the head of the table, we left a chair and a beer for Perry. It was very hard as I happened to be sitting next to that empty chair.
It was during this dinner that John Frame approached me about doing something special for the funeral procession. He suggested that we ride our bikes from the church to the gravesite. We spoke to Taylor and made a quick announcement and immediately had more than a half dozen riders.
When I arrived at the church for the service, there were already more than a dozen bikes lined up along the front and side of the church. As we lingered outside the church, the number of bikes continued to grow as did the number of attendees wearing cycling kit of some kind. Perhaps fittingly, the largest number of jerseys to be seen were the Challenge to Conquer cancer jerseys. The family had come to show their support and pay their respects.
The peleton was 30+ riders strong as we made our way to the gravesite. It was a fitting tribute to our friend, brother, husband, father, fellow cyclist. I felt like Perry was riding along - one last long pull before going off the front.
3 years ago