Thomm Quackenbush, author

Dear Mr. Armstrong,

Chances are good that I will never mail this letter. I'm not one to wrote fan mail because I know that assistants are the ones reading it. If I'm lucky I'll get back some form letter and an autographed picture signed with a Sharpie in a moment of mindless publicity, or stamped with a pre-fab stamp if I'm not. So I guess this is really for me. I picked up your book today Its Not About The Bike and for a moment I was struck with a realization. For me- it is about the bike.

Actually- it's not the bike per se as much as it is about the mats. You see (or your publicity assistant does) my father is dying from cancer. He has lung cancer that metastasized to his brain and now he has anywhere from 24 hours to 24 days to live. (According to doctors 2 months was generous, 3 months ago.) For me right now, I find comfort in training. I'm a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and for the last ten or so years I have dedicated my life to making the NGBs national team. Now midway through my second decade of life (I guess its really my third decade) I'm becoming too old to realize my dreams. While I would never consider these past years wasted, I suddenly find myself entering an entirely new kind of ring. This one isn't 20x20 or blue and red. There is no yellow shirted referee with his ugly black pants, or screaming coach in the chair across from me. My ponytail isn't sticking up from the back of my helmet. Some days my ring is no bigger that an oxygen tank, it's blue and red pills, and the only refs are the hospice workers. The coaches are long gone and my mom and I are the only ones left. My ponytail feels lucky to get showered at the end of the day if I'm not too tired.

Still, this battle all boils down to the ring. To the narrow field of vision and my opponent at the end, my breathing kept regular through force of will. This is my outlet- this is, in many ways the only thing I have left. There are plenty of friends, plenty of support, but I do not think they want to hear my daily pains, so I enter the Dojang floor knowing my pounding feet will absorb the impact of unspoken pains.

It is different being the one who watches. For you, your strength came differently- it was your fight, it was your perseverance through it all, it was your fear, struggle and determination. - You were responsible for your recovery. In any sport you are never fighting yourself exclusively- there is always someone else there, one who wants to win just as badly as you do. Cancer is the same. It wants to win, and all you can so is battle just as vehemently against it as it does against you. Kick as hard as you can, kick through your target they tell me, kick through your cancer.

I'm watching someone else kick this time. He's getting tired of it too. Each roundhouse imperceptibly slower, each back kick slightly off center. Each turn of his pedals with less strength. And all I can do is train- hold the shield for a million more kicks, hit the bags until the tops of my feet bleed, until my toenails splinter, until my shoulders can't punch anymore. All I can do is tighten my core to absorb the impact of the blows.

For you, it wasn't about the bike, it was about the strength and the will to fight your odds. For me all that's left is the bike. All that's left is the dreaming. Good luck to you, keep fighting however you can, as for me I'll keep kicking.

Emily Shedwings
Wappingers Falls, NY

P.S.- Thanks assistant for reading if you've made it this far. Maybe- actually this letter was for you.

Emily is a strong woman fighting against her body and soul to earn her wings. She is or has been a nationally ranked blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, a two time inducteee to the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, an animal control officer, a graduate student, and a groovy person.

Stars in the Daytime
Stars in the Daytime

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Works by Thomm Quackenbush


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