A boy named Sue

Tim Speciale - January 10, 2020

My friend Mike runs a not for profit that teaches kids how to ride bikes. He has a theory that every person remembers the first time they rode a bike unassisted on two wheels. I can't speak to everyone but I remember mine. There will be many in my family who debate this I suspect, but this is my version.


A brief history

My parents divorced when I was three. In the aftermath (of which I take no side), my mom needed some support. My brothers and I eventually moved in with my mom who at this point was living with Sue. The specifics of how this all came together probably aren’t important in this story but it’s worth mentioning that I don’t recall much before Sue. Many of these memories aren’t pleasant; Sue was an angry person. I’ve come to realize that Sue’s negativity had some positives impacts that continue to pay off for me.

My first introduction to competition

Sue was a woman, but every aspect I remember about her fit the mold of a traditional male figure. She was a Chicago Bears fan (and drank beer and worked on cars, and was generally loud and in your face). She was the first person in my immediate circle that actually cared about any sort of competitive sports. Sue taught me to dislike Wisconsin because The Packers sucked. I had no real reason to think that The Packers and all of Wisconsin sucked but her intensity in the tribe was sensible enough for me to follow along.

I learned to love football directly because of Sue. This would eventually lead to the playground and pickup football, basketball and baseball games (and eventually bike races in my neighborhood). The seeds of my competitive spirit were planted by Sue in the context of Chicago Sports; Barry Sanders running over The Bears and Michael Jordan creating a dynasty.

Michael Jordan vs Magic Johson

My first bike ride

My friend Mike runs a not for profit that teaches kids how to ride bikes. He has a theory that every person remembers the first time they rode a bike unassisted on two wheels. I can’t speak to everyone, but I remember mine. I suspect there will be many in my family who debate it, but this is my version.

At the time, we lived in Ridgefiled Illinois. Rigefield was an unincorporated and largely unknown community on the outskirts Bull Valley, nestled in the woods off of Route 14 between Crystal Lake and Woodstock. Our house wasn’t in a neighborhood; there were none in Ridgefield. The road in front of our house was a high-speed country road which meant that the only place to ride my bike was in our driveway.

It was a black 20″ huffy with grey tires and for a while it had training wheels on it. The house was new so the 4-car driveway was smooth and fast but there just wasn’t much room. But behind our brown rental was a warehouse that on the weekends had an open gravel parking lot.

Rigefield Flooring Company
This is the little patch of dirt in where I first rode a bike on two wheels under my own power.

My first memory of overcoming fear

The day had come where I would step out into the wild and wonderful world of riding my bike without training wheels, I think I was 4 or 5 years old. My memories are faint but I recall my brother Ash riding around in circles as if to prove to me that it was not a big deal.

I remember the realization that Sue was no longer holding on to my bike and that I was on my own. I started crying immediately at this realization. While focused on my fear of being unable to steer a bike on my own, I ended up steering it right into a tree (you can see it above, the first in the group of two in front of the truck). This didn’t help the cause obviously but Sue wouldn’t let me quit. It was the same sternness and grit that shaped many of my negative memories of her that would be critical to my success that day.

In spite of my desire to quit, she made me try again. And again. And again. Eventually I was able to ride around the parking lot at my own leisure. My life would never be the same. I had my first taste of freedom and it came to me only through facing and beating my fears. Through repetition, grit, and fight, I earned my freedom…one pedal stroke at a time.

This picture was a few years after I learned how to ride a bike, I was in first grade and had upgraded to a Dyno VFR that I would have until it was stolen in 6th grade, but that is the patch of dirt behind the warehouse where it all began.

The Characters

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