In the emotionally powerful words of DIRT Johnathan Freter, himself.
Life is hard. We all know this. What you want to do, where you want to go, who you want to be, life is full of these choices that we must decide the path we will take. I’ve known for years that I wanted to be a father. When I was trying to be a professional cyclist, I watched a few guys bounce between the amateur and professional pelotons. I saw it in two lights. One that giddy school boy excitement of let’s do epic shit, and the other knowing that I wanted more than glorified struggle as a poor domestic pro. The internal conflict is one that I struggle with to this day or any time that I find a reasonable level of fitness that triggers those “what if” thoughts. That’s a story for another time. It is the crazy story of how my dreams of being a father nearly got to take a second victory lap and those that helped me out of the void.
Babymoon, last trip as a family of 3 or just plain vacation, whatever you’d like to call it, that’s what we had decided to do before our second daughter was to be born. So in February, we found a cheap all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, DR, to enjoy those moments and bring in my 30th trip around the sun. I even got to bring my bike!
We flew down on Tuesday, March 8, and everyone was excited for time on the warm beach after a hard winter of pregnancy, illness, and three months of renovations on the house that we just bought with our expanding family in mind. To be honest, I don’t remember much about those early hours in the warmth, but I know that I was looking forward to exploring some new roads on my bike, beach time with the family, and all the free booze that I wanted to enjoy, with ample moderation of course.
Wednesday, things started well enough with a hotel breakfast, built the bike, Tarah and our little one went down to the beach, and I went out for a ride. Nothing special, but it was warm and sunny. After my ride, I met them down at the beach, which I believe was the first time that Tarah expressed concerns that she hadn’t felt Yellow (We hadn’t decided on her name yet, but our eldest had been calling her “Baby Yellow,” so she is affectionately known as Yellow)wiggling around. I tend to be a little optimistic at times, so I won’t say that I brushed her concern off, but I will say that I was very laid back in how I approached the situation. I don’t remember my exact words, but I’m sure it was something to the effect of “she’s probably fine.” I mean, what else would an expecting parent want to believe beyond their child(ren) being healthy and safe?
Thursday comes, and yes, another bike ride! I feel like Tarah expressed some more concern about not feeling Yellow, but again as an optimistic parent with basically no information on the situation than what Tarah had shared with me, I defaulted to thinking that everything was fine. Come back from my ride, meet them down at the beach, and everything is not okay. Emotions are running a bit hot, and still no movement from Yellow. Now it’s starting to worry Tarah and me. After some quick tests, such as drinking cold things or putting a cold can of soda on her belly, looking for a response from Yellow, we decided to go to the local hospital to make sure that everything was okay. At this point, I feel that it’s necessary to state that while I have learned enough Spanish or can use Google Translator well enough to navigate the airport and hotel, a hospital is an entirely different issue. Another fundamental note is that even though I typically scoff at extended warranties, insurance policies, etc., as I’ve realized how much of a profit-making tool they are, I decided to get the extra travel insurance through Expedia when we booked our trip.
There is an interesting thing about this hospital that I haven’t experienced elsewhere, even after crashing my bike in Rwanda. A security deposit was required for them to see Tarah in the ER. A 60,000 Dominican Peso (about $1,100) deposit to get her in the door. Okay, whatever, here’s the credit card, do what you need to do so we can make sure our baby is fine. Like any hospital you get in, you wait a bit, then you finally start to see some progress which is where our world completely falls apart. They take Tarah back for an ultrasound, to which we discover that we have lost our daughter at about 32 weeks into the pregnancy. Now we have to figure out how we can get back home to deliver and start the recovery process. So I called the travel insurance folks, explained the situation, and explained that even though it’s 10-11 pm, we will not wait here until tomorrow afternoon to fly back to the US. Our policy had coverage for up to $50,000 in medical transportation. In my mind, there was no reason why we couldn’t use that to get the first flight back to American soil. I “talked” with the hospital staff as best as I could, explaining that we needed to get back to the US and that we would not be admitting Tarah for further medical procedures. To which the lovely folks at the travel insurance company then told me that they wouldn’t fly her back without consent from a doctor. “FUCK!” Alright, I go back to the hospital staff and say that we are required to get permission for her to return home. It requires switching from the ER to being properly admitted. It meant settling the ER bill, another 1,047 Pesos, and an additional 360,000 Peso (~$6,500) deposit. At this point, it’s nearly 1 am, and we have to do what we have to do, including handing over Tarah’s passport.
Finally, in a hospital room, Madeleine falls asleep on the couch, Tarah in the hospital bed, and I don’t even recall where I ended up that night. Morning rolls around. I think we start seeing hospital staff around 9, get the verbal okay that Tarah can return to the US if we travel ASAP, and call the travel insurance people only to realize they are a total joke. We are better off doing it ourselves. We took a taxi back to the hotel to pack up my bike and all of our stuff and get a covid test at the hotel (thankfully, that was negative!). We get another taxi back to the hospital to get Tarah’s written permission to travel, settle what debts they forced us to pay, and get to the airport. Unfortunately, at this point, with all the extra unexpected travel, I’ve blown through all of our cash. After asking countless times, we get the letter for Tarah. I take Madeleine down to get a covid test and get another negative, VAMOS!
Madeleine and I rescue Tarah’s passport from the inner depths of the sketchy “security” office, and we are finally off to the airport. Remember I mentioned I was out of cash from the extra taxi rides? Well, this guy was willing to give us a ride to the airport for the price of filling his gas tank. So hospital, gas station, and then finally to the Punta Cana Airport with no set plan on how to get home. I wrangled up some assistance with our luggage and a wheelchair for Tarah. These guys were the most help that we had in the last 24 hours. They rolled us straight up to the American Airlines desk and helped get us on the first flight back to the Cincinnati airport. Like most things in life, the brass tax comes next; time to pay for the flights and baggage. Just when you want a credit card to work, Tarah’s doesn’t. Awesome! So at this point, we’ve maxed out one credit card and still have to pay for who knows what.
These next hours are essentially a blur to me. What I do remember is planning with our family for when we land at the Cincinnati airport, lots of tears, the whisky that someone bought me at the airport restaurant, and the overwhelming feeling of my world getting flipped upside down, all while trying to keep our two year old happy.
Now, in the wee hours of Saturday, we land in CVG, meet my mom and my sister at baggage claim, grab the bags, wait for my oversized bike, notice the big hole ripped into the side of my bike box, start the claim process for missing goods to which I’ll have to finish later, hand Madeleine off to my mom, and take Tarah to St. Elizabeth hospital where her mom is waiting for us.
The worst room in the hospital:
It was just as nice as any other private hospital room on the LDR floor, but this room has been set aside for the worst cases, those like us that have lost their little one(s). Throughout the countless tears, hard conversations, awful paperwork, and forms that we had to fill out and sign, there was one highlight, our nurse Stacey who had experienced a similar loss in the same room about ten years prior. In the dreadful hours of the wait for what we knew had to come, we would learn about her son Blue, the not-for-profit that she’d set up, Raising Blue, eventually how it inspired her to become a nurse and how she would even pick up an extra shift so she could be there for Tarah and me during the delivery.
I had walked out of the hospital room to respond to a phone call from the township sheriff. My mom and sister had locked themselves out of the house the evening before and looked fishy enough that a neighbor called the cops. I got a Facebook message from another neighbor asking if everything was alright since the cops were outside our house. I quickly let them know what was going on and that my mom and sister would be at home with our daughter, so not to worry, but the sheriff still wanted to follow up and make sure the suspicious-looking characters weren’t up to anything nefarious. Coming back into the delivery room, I saw “The Box.” The memory box. The box of really thoughtful and painful things that trigger every emotion imaginable. The box says you’ve spent time, energy, and have plans and dreams, and now they’re gone, reduced to some keepsakes and reading material on dealing with your grief. I grabbed this beautiful box off the counter just outside the door and squeezed it. Sobbing, I fell to the floor just holding this box, knowing what it meant until a nurse eventually saw me and helped me regain some composure until I could go back into the room.
First hello and last goodbye
Born 3 pounds 1 ounce in the late afternoon of March 13th, we met Caroline Yellow for the first and last time. We got to spend an hour or so with her, hold her, cry with her, laugh at her lips that looked very much like mine, make a pressing of her tiny delicate feet and hands, dress her in the newborn onesie that Tarah had picked out, and eventually even feel the warmth leave from her, which meant it was time to say our final goodbye.
Enter DIRT, The DIRT Dad Fund, my IRL Texas Roadhouse team, and the rest of the community:
It’s no secret that Zwift and DIRT have been a large part of my cycling experience since I discovered what Arizona summers were like in 2018. I was one of the original members of IndoorSpecialist (now Saris-NoPinz) before becoming a father and an actual Dad Inside Riding Trainers, Tarah was added to the Saris-NoPinz roster shortly after she started smashing the community league before we found out that she was pregnant, even recently doing WTRL TTTs and upwards of two (2) ZRL races each week with the various DIRT squads. So naturally, I had to let my teammates, both on Zwift and IRL, know what was happening and that I would take a step back for a little bit. At this point, I had a couple of DIRT guys ask about starting a GoFundMe, applying for the DIRT Dad Fund aid, etc. Still, I couldn’t focus on the financial implications of having hospital bills from two countries and last-minute emergency flights for three people, yet the DIRT Dad fund was still there for us. As most condolences and checkups waned, Christopher and the DIRT family were still there for me and us. Eventually, as bills kept rolling in, now well into the 5-figure mark collectively, I swallowed my pride and took the DIRT Dad Fund up on their offer of assistance. I was overwhelmed when I saw that we got $1,000 for our bills. Tarah and I are thankful for the flowers, the artwork, the Panera dinners, and all of the empathy that our friends and family have bestowed upon us. When we are able, I look forward to giving back to the community that has helped us so much.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!