By Joel Kostelac.
A few weeks ago I celebrated my birthday. It was a great week and day and probably fairly typical as birthdays go. I worked, enjoyed time with my family, and even managed to squeak in a ride at Allegrippis. I am thankful everyday that I can do so.
Ten years ago I celebrated my 28th birthday a bit differently in a small southern Iraqi city named As Samawah. It is a small city straddled over a key supply line to Baghdad and home to an important bridge over the Euphrates River.
Only a week earlier we had fought our way into that city and were systematically clearing it of Iraqi forces, suicide bombers and the like. Only about a week before that, I was sitting in the Kuwait City Airport, with the rest of the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, waiting for "shock and awe" to begin and to cross the border into Iraq.
In that time, in the desert to my west, my friend and college roommate, a husband and father to a four-month-old son, was killed. He, like myself, was preparing with his unit, the 101st Airborne Division, to move into Iraq, when a disturbed, disenchanted American soldier, but enemy nonetheless, threw a grenade into the tent where he was sleeping.
Chris Seifert believed in his profession, he believed in his unit, and was proud to serve our country. In my year there, I lost other friends and members of my unit. Many others were wounded. Many more brave Americans were killed or wounded in the years of combat that followed. Many suffer still with the memory of the events they have faced. What Chris and all these others have in common is they all volunteered to serve our nation and took the fight to those that would seek to destroy our way of life.
I have been riding mountain bikes and participating in other endurance sports since I was in high school. I’m not the fastest guy around. In fact, I’ve never, ever, stood on the podium of a race. I am solidly average or "middle of the pack" as they say. I participate, though for many of the same reasons the elite riders do: for fitness, for fun, for competition. But in the last 10 years it has meant more than that to me. It has given me an opportunity to reflect on my time serving in two wars and with the loss of Chris and several other close friends and fellow paratroopers.
This year, in the 10th year, my goal is to ask others to reflect as well, by reminding us of just what their sacrifice means, and I can think of no better way than by competing in one of the toughest, most challenging events around. With the help of Mike Kuhn and the team at Trans-Sylvania Epic, I will be competing as part of an Epic Team in this year’s event in honor of my friend Chris and in support of his son Benjamin’s scholarship fund and to remind us all of the sacrifice young men and women make every day when they put on the uniform.
It is only fitting that this event kicks off on Memorial Day weekend. I am humbled and honored by the men that have stood up to join me in this effort: David Nolletti, a mentor to both Chris and I, veteran, and accomplished cyclist, Stehpan Kincaid, a seasoned racer, pro, and TSE vet; Gunner Bergey, a TSE vet racer and former staffer and member of the Lees-McRae cycling team; and Mike Cushionberry, pro rider, Dirt Rag editor and current Stan’s NoTubes Transylvania Epic Team member.
I look forward to sharing my training and efforts leading up to TSE right here, and meeting everyone at the Seven Mountains Scout Camp May!