Five years ago this weekend (or so) I met the woman to whom I am now married. We connected through the dating app Fitness-Singles.com but we could just as well have met on a local bike path. The FS website showed profiles of people all over the country, but it turned out that Sue and I lived four blocks apart.
She was recently divorced and I was recently widowed. Yet as our lives converged, we learned of so many mutual friends and acquaintances it was a surprise we had never met before.
Our first date was wine and appetizers at a riverside cafe. She arrived with her blonde wavy hair in full summer mode. We sat in the afternoon sun nibbling lightly at the artichoke dip and chips we’d ordered, and talked.
It felt so easy. We agreed to meet for a bike ride that next Tuesday. When she showed up looking great with her little black bike shorts and strong tan arms, I will admit to being a bit dizzy in the moment.
Google me baby
She’d already checked me out online. Googling Christopher Cudworth turns up quite a bit of information about me. Plus she’s a whiz at searching things anyway. That much I’ve learned in five years of being together.
Our first bike ride together was sweet and quick. She was fit and ready for a Half Ironman in Racine, Wisconsin. She was also somewhat between jobs. That gave her plenty of time to train. “I love being able to take a nap in the afternoon,” she said.
Anyone that has trained for an endurance event knows the value of extra sleep when you need it. But she had a question. “Does it bother you I’m unemployed right now?” she laughed.
It didn’t. Lord knows I’d been through enough job transition stuff in my own life. She seemed to be addressing the situation with relative calm and little drama. That was an attractive trait to me too. When a pair of job offers came along a couple weeks later, she went for a run and came home having made the decision in her head. I liked that too. I could relate to that.
Falling for her
There were so many things I liked about how she carried herself. How she looked in summer light with her naturally curly hair. Yet she straightened it on occasion for business. That was like a two-for-one deal to me. Ka-ching!
I also loved how she dressed, alternating between feminine flair and athletic practicality, neither of which took long to accomplish. And that hat she donned at Churchill Downs? Just for a moment’s fun.
She was practical and smart about so many things. Two weeks after our first meeting, I drove up to watch her race a Half Ironman in Racine, Wisconsin. After the race, she did one of those service station bathroom changes and freshened up without fanfare. What a breezy babe, I thought…
We chatted on the way back home until she finally got tired and rested her head on the seat back. She was tired from racing six hours in the summer heat. I admittedly kept glancing over at the sun shining on her tan thighs and thought to myself, “Yeah, this could work.”
Falling for new things
Sue also digs trying new things like riding Fat Tire bikes on cool fall days. We’ve also run and cycled through weather conditions that would make anyone else stop in their tracks. So she’s tough. A hard-headed woman, as Cat Stevens once sang.
She also once dressed up as freaking Catwoman for Halloween, and rocked it. That floored me cause I was like… Meee-owww. And that whip? Don’t worry, she didn’t use it on me. And I wouldn’t tell you even if she did. LOL.
Falling for her friends
I truly love the way she cherishes her friends, greeting them with a familiar “Hi Lovie!” and a big hug.
One can tell quite a bit about a person by the people they abide. One of her closest friends checked me out after our first few weeks of dating. She was a swimming buddy who later turned into an Ironman athlete, but we all agreed to do a relay together in the Naperville Sprint Triathlon. That meant there was time alone with her friend Lida while Sue was out doing the bike course. She didn’t grill me per se, but I sensed her curiosity as one woman looking out for another. Sue later told me that I passed the test. Plus we won the relay. Love you too, Lida! And all our friends. We love you all.
Falling with me
But the reason we were doing the relay in the first place was fallout from a bike accident that Sue had experienced while riding with me. On a slight downslope on a bike path through a moist woods, Sue’s front wheel on her tri-bike slipped on some wet debris.
Down she went in a heap and injured her shoulder badly, tearing her rotator cuff. We went to the hospital together and I realized with a sudden surge of emotion that I cared for her in a very real way.
Falling for romance
That’s how life works, you know. The romance side is wonderful, but it’s the times of trouble that really test your feelings. Both Sue and I had come through challenging times before we met. So she was honest and serious about our time together. In fact, early in our relationship, she made note that while the getting to know each other phase is great, it’s the commitment to each other that ultimately matters.
Yet that seemed to grow quickly between us. By autumn that year I knew my feelings for her were genuine. She needed surgery to repair the shoulder she’d banged up in the bike accident back in July, and I sat with her in the hospital that day. It is in moments like that, when people are stripped down to their basic vulnerability that you find out where the core of your love resides. And I loved her. A couple weeks later she wore a big old shoulder harness to the state football championship game in which her son’s team won.
Then came the holidays. We laughingly hung a plastic severed head that she owned for Halloween decorations and then gathered our families together for Thanksgiving and even some of Christmas. We were starting to knit our families together. Our respective sets of kids were slowly getting to know each other. Things were feeling good. The bond between us was growing.
And then she had the first of two affairs that I never saw coming.
It’s tough to compete when the Other Man is an Ironman. LOL.
Falling for Ironman
The finish line at Ironman Louisville
In 2015 she trained for Ironman Wisconsin and I was her Sherpa through a series of long training rides, runs and more. I couldn’t match her mileage all the time but being there through big chunks of it surely helped. It made me feel part of the effort. There were also a series of difficult events leading up to the event. These included a near-tragic bike slide for Sue when a huge white Escalade turned into her lane on a semi-country road and stopped cold. Sue had to ditch the bike and tumbled sideways across the road.
Her favorite Scott bike frame was cracked.
Making it work
That meant borrowing bikes while we figured out if insurance would cover repair or replacement. But those precious weeks leading up to Ironman are key in terms of bike training. Throw in the weighty challenges and collective fatigue of Ironman training and things were more than stressful for her. My heart ached watching her worry about it all.
It all came to a peak one day. We stopped and stood together during a run on a hot late summer day. She sobbed with fatigue and mental exhaustion at trying to overcome all the obstacles. I knew not to try to fix it all then and there.
Then along came a triathlete teammate running on the same trail. She stopped and gave Sue a big and welcome girl-power hug. Then another teammate found us, and she consulted warmly with Sue in the moment. I moved away to let that take place and hear an assurance there would be a way to find a new bike before the race. “It will all work out,” she told Sue.
As it worked out, Sue finished her first Ironman, a goal she’d set years before. As she ran down the last miles toward the Ironman finish in Wisconsin I called out to her in encouragement. She turned to me and said, “Well, it wasn’t the day I wanted. But I’m going to be an Ironman.”
I openly cried for her. In happiness.
Falling in love
But enough of this triathlon stuff. Let me tell you about how she dances. I feel like she makes the space she moves in come alive. On our wedding day a year ago, she absolutely owned the dress she wore and danced with friends and kids and me, and it was wonderful.
We’ve gone to many concerts together as well. Listening to live music makes her smile. She’ll turn to me with a big grin and flashing eyes, dancing in place as if no one else in the world exists except perhaps, for me. And that is lovely. That at many other things have made me fall in love with Sue.
This life’s journey is like falling backward through time. We can’t see what’s ahead of us but we keep on going. The photo above was taken in England, the first time either of us ventured overseas. We have stretched ourselves in many ways, and I’m grateful for the energy she brings to life. It has fostered my own children, and I believe my influence has helped hers as well. That’s what life is about. Making it work.
Looking back on the things we’ve experienced, we can sometimes see how they all make sense. That’s hard to figure out in advance, and the falling in love thing is the most unpredictable aspect of all. But it happened. It has happened that way for some of our friends as well.
Life is full of challenges ranging from money to work to family and friends. That juggle takes perspective, and it can really help to have someone you trust and love to help carry you through. It also helps if they happen to look great in bike shorts and hug you as if there’s no tomorrow.
Because there isn’t one, unless we make it.