Alison Tetrick: Wisdom from my tough-as-nails ‘Grampy’
By Alison Tetrick,
Pro cyclist, Entrepreneur, CTS Contributing Editor
Legacies live forever, especially when you do more.
I have been going through my grandfather’s medals, jerseys, and photos this week. It hasn’t been easy, yet as the years go by, I treasure the time we had and what he taught me.
My grandfather, Paul Tetrick, is the one who encouraged me to try bike racing. Paul, “Grampy”, was an Army veteran turned contractor. He was a steel plated man. John Wayne meets Clint Eastwood. He started riding when he was well into his fifties, living in Northridge, California, after distance running took a toll on his body. He couldn’t run, so he clipped into the bike and hopped in with the local La Grange group ride and tested himself against the younger professional and elite athletes in the area. They couldn’t drop him. They marveled at his athletic tenacity. He was a tough isolationist who was more determined than they ever knew. Then he got that spark. You know that spark. He fell in love with the challenge of the bike, and he dove all the way into the deep end of cycling.
Grampy was an all or nothing type of guy. He wasn’t cuddly and he only showed calculated emotions. But he became a student of the sport. Grampy ended up earning over seventeen USA Cycling Master’s National Championships and was racing and setting national records well into his eighties. He proved that sports are timeless.
I remember being in their darkly lit house when he grabbed my hands. I was shocked at the touch and excited to hear what he had to say. He looked at my rather large “mitts” and said, “Al, you could do this. You could go to the Olympics in this sport of cycling.” I chuckled. I liked to ride horses and play tennis; anything that required high speeds was frightening. Don’t get me started on the brightly hued spandex that cyclists wore. Dorky to the nth degree.
Nevertheless, you know the story, I tried out the bike. First in triathlon, and then on to road racing locally and then exploded into the international scene. But first, I bought a bike off of eBay and drove from Texas to Colorado to surprise him at his local Cherry Creek Time Trial series. I planned the adventure with his best friend, Scott Tucker, who is still racing and setting records. I didn’t quite know how to clip into the bike, but I faked it and rolled up to him as he was warming up. I said, “Paul, I hear there’s a time trial around here, do you know where the start line is?” The look on his face was of both shock and glee. He took me on a warmup lap on the course, and promptly dropped me. That was the norm for the next few months. He was a smooth assassin on the bike.
When I first got the call to come to the US Olympic Training Center for a USA Cycling Talent ID camp, my Grampy drove from his home in Evergreen, Colorado to Colorado Springs to make sure I checked into the dorm and my bike was built and my tires were pumped up. That was a good thing, because I didn’t know how to do any of that. The rest was pretty much history. He was with me my entire career and he still his. I would pay the international phone bill to call him from Belgium or Argentina to tell him I won. I would pay that same bill as I was racked by tears of defeat. For a man who didn’t tell me he loved me well into my adult life, he understood my emotions and let me cry, laugh, exaggerate, and share my exploits and downfalls. Cycling became our universal language of love.
The day after my Grampy passed away, my sister, Jennifer, and I competed in the USA PRO National Championship TT. It was a brutal day for both of us, just thinking about him and what he had taught us. But I knew he wouldn’t have had it any other way. We were together and riding our bikes and he was beaming love, in his own way. As I raced that time trial, I knew he wouldn’t want me to start too hard, but I did anyway just to prove him wrong. He was right. I heaved. I cried. I listened. And I started writing down all of his wisdom and advice on my heart.
So, I thought I would share with you a few of his nuggets of wisdom:
- Wiggle your toes. When riding, make sure to check-in with your extremities. Wiggle your toes and ensure you aren’t white knuckling your bars. Wiggling your toes can alleviate possible calf cramps and can help relax your lower legs and make power transfer more efficient. When my legs locked up in a time trial, my Grampy would always ask if I remembered to wiggle my toes. I never forget now. Wiggle your toes.
- Do your best. In victory and defeat, just ask yourself if you did your best. If you did the best that you could in that moment, the results don’t matter. Your effort matters more than results. Your best is all you can ask for. “Did you do your best?” He would often ask. If I explained all the ways I could have been better, he would remind me to fix it, and prepare better next time. But your best effort doesn’t depend on, nor is it necessarily reflected by, race results. There are many things we can’t control, so as long as you can hold your head high knowing you did the best with the cards you had to play, exit stage left knowing you wouldn’t change a thing. And if you could, change it next time, but don’t lose sleep over it.
- There is always someone better. Cycling teaches you humility. There is always somebody better than you on any given day. Go to sleep a World Champion and wake up and there is still somebody better than you. Don’t fixate on how you stack up against your competition, but prepare and perform to the best of your ability. We all eat humble pie on a daily basis but be proud of what you accomplished and will accomplish. The chase to be the best version of YOU, and not someone else, is what matters.
- Take rest days. Grampy would do 1000 sit-ups a day and train early in the morning, but oh boy, was he a firm believer in rest. He loved the rest week and one day completely off of the bike taking my grandmother, Granny, to Nordstrom. He would often ask when my last rest week was and when I was going to slow down. He would pull out a Louis L’Amour novel with his feet up and not do a thing, except dote on my Granny endlessly. I don’t know how restful that was… All I know, is that you are supposed to rest, though I am not sure I practice what I preach there.
- Do more. Don’t be complacent and take the easy way out. Challenge yourself and break records and break age barriers. Speed and sport are timeless. He would always tell me to “do more” and use that as my mantra. “More, more, more,” he would say. And then remind me to take a deep breath when more was enough and be satisfied that I gave all the “more” I could.
Thank you, Grampy. You live on. May we always give more.
Long-time CTS Athlete Alison Tetrick will be contributing posts to the Trainright Blog, telling stories and sharing lessons learned during her career racing at the highest levels of road and gravel cycling. In addition to consulting for many outdoor brands, Alison has launched AMT Bandanas, a line of one-of-a-kind bandanas that bring to life why we ride and enjoy the outdoors. Proceeds from the sales of the bandanas go towards creating scholarship opportunities to bring more women and diversity into the sport of cycling.
What a lovely tribute and some wise words of advice to treasure from your Grampy. How wonderful that you spent time together – he must have been so proud of you (as you were of him.)
Nice thoughts, Alison. From what I’ve read, you’re sort of “tough-as-nails” yourself. A chip off the old granite.
Thank you for sharing your story and the impact of your Grampy on your life. He is my kind of person, doing is best , no complaining and doing it again the next day. Right now I am asking myself ¨have I done enough today ¨? Your Grampy lives on. Many thanks for the touching and inspirational message.
Gaëtan ( Québec, Canada ).
In 2013 Moriarity NM, I was so impressed with your grandfathers tandem TT effort! He inspired me then and you inspire me now. Thank you Allison.
Thank you for sharing this, it brought a smile to face and warmed my heart. As a beginning road cyclist (at age 49) I will think of you and Grampy as I wiggle my toes when I’m out there trying to “do more”. Keep the good advice coming and good luck with the AMT Bandanas.
Love it !! Thank you Alli !!
Such good examples from you both! So many lessons so little time. I’m a little younger than your Grampy but his lessons are long learned, wisdom of the ages if you will. If only I can measure up to Grampy, maybe there’s still time.
Great, insightful piece Alison, thanks for sharing this wisdom from a man who had a lifetime of learning. I can relate to many of those nuggets of wisdom, (even the toes wiggling, which I do).
Maybe like you, it’s tough for me to not overtrain, as I really enjoy riding & hiking, (like many), but when I balance it out, I’m a stronger, less injury-prone athlete, with much less chance of any burnout.
Having a role model like your Gramps, leaves such a lasting impression, and energy & wisdom to be passed on to the next & next generations. Happy riding.
Hi Alison, thanks for sharing your memories of “Grampy”. I think most athletes have a certain someone that inspired them in their sport… how cool for that person to be your Grandfather! As a semi-retired weekend warrior battling recurring injuries and struggling on the bike, your story reminds me that we have been trained to never give up, but to adapt to our circumstances and appreciate those who invested their time to mentor us. I am sorry to hear of your Grandfathers passing, but please know that your story illuminates his spirit and really gave me a lift this morning. Ride on Grampy!
Thank you for the words of wisdom and inspiration. There is some foundational stuff there. You are lucky to have each other ! And yes, I’ve done the Cherry Creek rides, it’s my back yard 😊
Thanks for sharing Alison, I’m think I’m becoming Grampy. Seems like yesterday that I was one of the young guys out riding fast and racing with friends. Now I’m 60 with three little grandkids and another on the the way. I always seem to give them the strider bikes and new bikes a little early for their age, but I keep hoping my obsession with cycling will rub off on one of them like your Grampy’s did with you.
Alison, you write great articles. your thoughts and visuals come through so clearly. Thank you.
Thank you Alison,
Being a “Grampy” I relate to your very nice writing. It is nice to see the great relationship
Great tribute to your grandfather. I started cycling at age 62, now 66. I love it and am amazed at my progress. You were fortunate to have such a great encouraged.