DEVO coach Chad Cheeney gathers a group of friends for a bicycle ride to Ska Brewing Co. on Thursday evening for a goodbye party. Cheeney and his wife, Annie, are headed to Bend, Ore., where Annie will study counseling.
For nearly the last decade, Chad Cheeney has arguably been the heart of what has become an impressive Durango success story.
So reaction to the news that he and his wife, Annie, are leaving the area has understandably been one of sadness.
Along with co-founder Sarah Tescher, Cheeney has nursed DEVO – a junior development cycling organization – from a humble beginning to a program that now has 40-plus coaches and 700 registrants a year. Chad and Annie are heading for Bend, Ore., where he will seek coaching and other opportunities, and Annie, also a DEVO mainstay as coach and former director, will pursue a master’s degree in counseling.
Tescher recalled this week her reaction to the news during a lunch with Cheeney.
“What are you talking about?” she said to him. “We just made it over the hump (as a stable nonprofit); 2014 is the year we’re going to thrive.”
The community gave the Cheeneys a heartfelt going away party Thursday night at Ska Brewing Co. Characteristically, the party began with a fun group bike ride from the Durango Community Recreation Center along the Animas River Trail to Ska.
Fortunately for Cheeney fans, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The couple plan to return to Durango in three years after Annie Cheeney completes her master’s program though Oregon State University.
“I can’t wait to come back,” Chad Cheeney said. “It’s definitely a little paradise here.”
Nearly 30 coaches, youth cyclists and former cyclists gathered at the rec center Thursday at dusk. Quickly, a game of bike balancing broke out, which matched the No. 1 lesson Chad Cheeney has always tried to instill: Cycling is fun.
“He brings a lot of enthusiasm to cycling,” said Lucas LeMaire, a DEVO coach since 2009. “He just loves cycling so much. … Kids love him so much because he’s so good around kids.”
Chad Cheeney moved here in 1998 to attend Fort Lewis College. In the last 15 years, the fun-loving Cheeney has become a pillar of the Durango cycling scene. He has coached with DEVO, Fort Lewis College, Durango Mountain Bike Camp and Durango Parks and Recreation. He has raced. He has worked as an announcer. He has built trails with Trails 2000. Annie Cheeney was also a coach since DEVO’s inception.
He wants to assure locals that DEVO is in good hands. After years of toil and sweat, he’s certain a good team of instructors is ready to fill his shoes.
“I don’t feel nervous or scared that I’m losing my baby,” he said. “I feel totally confident DEVO will go on being what it is.”
The program has been around long enough – about eight years – that former “middle school rugrats” are now college-aged DEVO coaches. “And it’s cool to see,” Chad Cheeney said.
Tescher said she and Cheeney never envisioned the program’s success and its breadth – it now works with ages 2 to 25 from push-bike to race teams.
“The coaches and the people with DEVO are so passionate,” she said. “They just kind of fed on Chad’s passion.”
Nathan Cavalca, a sophomore from Brazil, races for the FLC team and joined the ride to Ska to salute his departing coach. He said Chad Cheeney is full of knowledge to help riders improve skills and race performance. But the lighter side comes through.
“He always tries to make riding and training fun,” Cavalca said. “What matters is having fun. The rest will come eventually.”
DEVO recently hired Amy Haggart as its executive director, leaving Tescher available to do more work with coaches and to coach. Tescher said that Cheeney will continue as a DEVO board member: “We’ll be Skyping him into meetings.”
Chad Cheeney, a Bend native, said that it’s similar to Durango as far as outdoors opportunities, although he did give a nod to Durango for having more technical trails. While he doesn’t have an exact plan for his next three years, he knows he wants to broaden his coaching skills by working with coaches there and experiencing other techniques.
The Cheeneys plan to leave Durango on Jan. 31. They give every indication they’ll return.
Giving up a spot in the Games
What would it feel like to have a spot on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team and then, selflessly, give it up?
It would be easy.
“Love,” Tracy Barnes said of giving up her spot on the U.S. biathlon team to her twin sister, Lanny, “is selfless dedication.
“Love means giving up your dream so someone else can realize theirs.”
Tracy (left) and Lanny Barnes at a biathlon event in Vancouver // photo courtesy US Biathlon/Nordic Focus
Understand the numbers. The U.S. Census population estimate for the start of 2014: just over 317 million. The U.S. women’s biathlon team that goes to Sochi in just a few weeks: five. Essentially, by the time it got down to Sunday’s final qualifying race, there was one spot up for grabs. One in 317 million. For comparison, your chance of winning the lottery on a single ticket is one in 175 million.
Really, Tracy Barnes said. It was easy.
“If I were to sum up the decision,” she reiterated, “it’s not hard to make a decision like that when you care about someone. Anyone who cares about someone can relate to making a sacrifice for someone they care for.”
Tracy and Lanny Barnes are 31 years old. This is, probably, their last best chance at the Olympic Games.
Biathlon is the ski-and-shoot combination. The United States has never won an Olympic medal in the sport. Many observers believe 2014 could well be the breakthrough year.
The twins are from Durango, Colorado. Their dad, Thad, is a contractor; mom, Deborah, was a long-time schoolteacher; older sister, Christie, who lives now in Burlington, Vermont, is on her way to becoming an ENT surgeon and, Tracy said, is “a big inspiration to us.”
Tracy is the younger of the twins by five minutes. Even so, she said, “Most people think I am the older one because I take on that role. I like to take care of her,” adding a moment later, “I think I have always taken on that motherly role. She would roll her eyes. I have always looked out for her in whatever way I can, the way an older sister or sibling would do. Just take on that role. I do what I can for her.”
The sisters didn’t get on skis, or even think about combining shooting and skiing, until they met a US Biathlon coach at a local competition.
When they were 18, they made their first junior world championship team. Two years later, Lanny medaled at the 2003 junior worlds.
Both made the 2006 Torino Games. At the time, they were 23. Lanny finished 64th in the 15-kilometer event, Tracy 57th. Tracy also came home 71st in the 7.5km sprint; the twins were part of the 15th-place U.S. finish in the 4x6km relay.
Tracy said: “We were so young and inexperienced. You always want to follow up with another Olympics. Your first one — just so you can have that first one under your belt so you’re not so green. There’s more to the Olympics than just going and competing. I think that’s a big part of it for me.”
In 2010 in Vancouver, Tracy did not qualify. Only Lanny. Her best individual finish: 23rd in the 15k.
As the Olympic qualifying season unfolded, two of the five spots on the Sochi 2014 team were locked up early, dictated by results on tour. They went to Susan Dunklee of Barton, Vermont, and Annelies Cook of Saranac Lake, New York.
Then Sara Studebaker of Boise, Idaho — like Lanny, a 2010 Olympian — and Hannah Dreissigacker of Morrrisville, Vermont, earned their spots.
Dreissigacker clinched her spot with 18-for-20 shooting, and a 10th-place finish, at an IBU Cup event Saturday in Ridnaun, Italy. She and Dunklee grew up skiing together in northern Vermont.
Thus it came down to Sunday’s racing, at that same IBU Cup in Italy.
Sunday’s race: a 7.5k sprint.
Tracy Barnes finished 10th. She shot clean — no penalties.
That clinched it for the committee, which by rule had a discretionary spot — Tracy Barnes was not just the U.S. athlete with the next-best record over the qualifying period, she seemed to be peaking, and just in time for the Games.
But — wait.
Before that race, Tracy had already made her decision.
During the final four team-selection races, Lanny had been sick, unable to compete in all but one.
Tracy knew the rules, her status and her sister’s, too — if she turned down the spot, Tracy knew Lanny had the next-best record over the entire qualifying period and thus would be the athlete the committee was all but sure to turn to.
“For me, this decision was pretty easy,” she said again.
“It’s a pretty heavy situation, I guess,” she said with a laugh. “I have been through a fair number of Olympic Trials in my career. I know they’re pretty brutal emotionally. I know there can be a chance where bad luck can on the side of an athlete. Just having watched Lanny through this week and how she even tried to race one race sick, that never works, even — especially — at the level we are trying to race at.
“I have trained with her almost every day now, almost half our life, 15 years now. I have seen her dedication. So I could definitely see she deserves to be on the team.”
After Sunday’s racing was over, the two sisters went for a walk — actually more of a hike up into the mountains.
“I told her,” Tracy said, “I had something to tell her.”
She added, “Of course she protested.”
There were tears. A lot. On both sides.
“I told her,” Tracy said, “I had been inspired by her performances this year and I really think she is on a great path and I really want to see how far she can go.”
From high in the Italian mountains, Tracy then called Max Cobb, the president and chief executive of US Biathlon, at his home in Vermont. He ended up having to call her back from a landline. The cell reception was scratchy. Even so, he understood.
“It’s a remarkable thing, even for a sister — even for a twin sister — to be selfless enough to understand that another athlete would have a better opportunity to perform at the Games,” he said, “and give that away.”
He called it “one of the most inspiring gesture of sportsmanship I have ever seen. It is exactly what you hope Olympic sport inspires,” adding, “To see Tracy do this for Lanny speaks volumes about their character and what it means to represent the United States at the Olympics.”
“I can’t even begin to describe,” Lanny Barnes said, “what it means to me that Tracy made such a huge sacrifice for me.
“It’s hard to put into words what she did and what it means to me.”
She added a moment later, “Often times during the hype of the Games we forget what the Olympics are really about. They aren’t about the medals and the fame and all of that. The Olympics are about inspiration, teamwork, excellence and representation. I can think of no better example of the true Olympic spirit than what Tracy did this past weekend. It took a lot of courage and sacrifice to make such a powerful decision.”
She also said, “It’s not every day that you are given a second chance like this. I thought my chance at the Olympics was over. But now I’ve got a second chance and will do everything I can to bring honor to her,” meaning Tracy, “ and our country in Russia.”
Teddy, U14 rider and brother of Nano, has been going through yet another round of Chemo and battling with cancer. Below is his dad’s latest post. To help out or receive updates(they travel to Denver once a month to get five days straight of chemo so they could use help with gas money, etc.) go to www.teamteddy.net
Not sure of much, but…
Dec 10, 2013 9:32pm
Chemo by mouth at home sounded like a grand idea.
Just five days.
Three pills at bedtime.
First night, Teddy shakes a capsule with great suspicion. He mockingly peers deep into its core looking for something slimy, “You sure about this?”
What can we say?
We’re not sure about much these days.
He tilts his head back in pure Teddy drama, “Here goes one grenade down the hatch!”
Second night, I’m wishing for the infusion bag.
Pale faced and on the couch by then.
With the infusion bag, he gets chemo from the metal rolling hanger with spindly tubes and needles.
They’re the culprit.
With the capsules, it comes straight from mom and dad.
One toxic grenade after another.
We’re not even supposed to touch the stuff.
Arrives in a dark, glass bottle.
The next week is spent completely wiped out in bed with an appetite for zero.
Zero food, liquid and fun…with the exception of when Aunt Karen or Cousin Caleb drops in from up the hill.
Pill by pill we seemed to lose our Teddy.
His spirit completely broken and docile; realizing that this will be one long, eighteen month haul.
Last night he lounged solemnly in bed adorned with a camping headlamp.
Reading King David’s Psalms.
Psalms of despair, trust and hope in the midst of the unseemly.
One after another.
“Want me to rub your feet, Bugga?”
“Sure, but I might kick you in the face. You know, blood everywhere.”
Imagine teenage smirk on face.
“You’re turning down a foot rub? That’s stupid. I’ll take my chances.”
He smiles benignly.
Starting to soften and feel somewhat whole.
Cracking Teddy jokes.
Soon after, I gently prodded, “We need to sleep, Bugga.”
I slowly started to pull his Bible from his tight grasp. He fought back and fiercely curled around it in a tight ball.
Never letting go.
Desperately hanging on.
Still somehow, by fierce faith, sure of God’s goodness in this journey.
Quietly wept ourselves to sleep.
This morning was supposed to be his first day back at school.
Didn’t work out.
He hid out in the car.
Maybe will try again tomorrow.
Back on the ranch, we needed to offload Ziggy, our sweet paint mare, and Waffles, our braying burro.
Sad to see them go.
Ears, noes and eyes flickering through the slit panels of the horse trailer as they rolled away.
Seemingly not sure of much.
But happy to leave “together” to their new home.
A wonderful home with dear friends just across the valley.
The Elk are bedded down below. Spindly legs, lethargic from pawing away the crusty snow, yet they can scale a Colorado mountain in a heart beat.
Phantoms in the frosty mist.
Their bellies full of freezing grass.
It’s below zero out there.
On the other end of the wild kingdom, Henri, our cow pug, is on the outside terrace looking in.
Blind as a bat.
Smooshed nose frozen up against the glass.
A wreath of fog fanning out from his twitching, bubble-eyed face. Waiting patiently to be let in to the warmth of our wood stove.
Not sure of much.
Rather confident though that “together” inside by the fire, is far better than outside down in the valley with the spindly things…
This weekend is the event that kicks off the ski season in style for our fellow winter sports programs (Nordic, Freestyle, Alpine and Snowboard teams). Dig through your closet for the that black tie and high heels!!
Go to http://www.purgatoryskiteam.org/ and click on ‘buy tickets’
For ages: 7th-12th grade Coach Garrett will be teaching skills and how to maneuver on a cross bike and course. 3 optional team races Nov 23rd, Dec 7th, Dec 14th at FLC fields. We HIGHLY recommend cross bikes due to wear and tear on mtn bikes!
Meet at Buckley in costume for our annual Halloween ride. Parents welcome, parents with kids 3rd grade and younger required! Costumes..of course, but not mandatory. We’ll ride to cemetary for our spooky Mr Sloan’s story and some candy.