Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Special Jersey

In my closet hangs a jersey that has always been near and dear to my heart. A friend, John Kovachi, was opening his bike shop and I offered to help setting up shop. As a token of appreciation I received one of his jerseys. Through the years that Kovachi jersey has always been one of my favorites and now with the passing of John it has become even more special to me.

John was, in my opinion, the best wheel builder in the nation. If you rode a Kovachi wheel, you never had to worry if it would stay in true or if it would make it through the season. They were solid as gold and true as the day is long.

This week the nation and cycling community lost a real treasure, but John did not leave this world without leaving an indelible mark. Wherever he went, his reputation preceded him.

In 1996 as Atlanta prepared for the Olympics, I was part of a group rehearsing for our part in the closing ceremonies. There was a young boy in my group with which I could never seem to break the ice. Often I would commute to the rehearsals by bike and one day I chose to wear my Kovachi jersey there. The bright colors made me visible to cars and I wanted to do everything possible to be seen by motorists.

I'll never forget the look on that boy's face when I showed up in a Kovachi jersey. His cold look melted and I overheard him say to someone else, "she really is a mountain biker." From that day on we were friendly and I earned credibility in his eyes. That's the John Kovachi reputation.

I count myself fortunate to have been a part of the Atlanta cycling community in its beginnings. Because the sport has grown exponentially in size over the past 3 decades, there is now a dizzying array of groups from which one can choose to be a part. Back then we all grew up in the sport together as one big happy family. When John found himself in need of a heart transplant, Rick Lang spearheaded a group ride to raise money for the medical expenses. Considering that was pre-email days, we still managed to get the word out and have a big turnout. I think we did the Silk Sheets route, parking at a Subway pkg lot right off Fulton Industrial.

Fast forward a decade and we were talking to John (with his new heart) at a friend's wedding. He recounted the stories of "living in the hospital" waiting for his transplant. They would tote wheels into the hospital room and do business from there. Nothing could keep him from is passion.

It had been a long while since seeing John as of late. A couple months ago I took him some wheels to work on for us. That visit weighed heavy on my heart and touched me in a way I can't really explain. When Roger came home that night, I told him about our visit and we talked about John, about his incredible talent, his struggles, and the 'good ole days'. As the weeks passed I found myself thinking about my brief time with John, and then Roger told me he was at Emory for kidney failure. My heart sank and I thought to myself, "I need to go pay him a visit."

It felt like the breath had been knocked out of me when I got the news the next day that John had passed away. I've pondered our visit and cherish that last chance to talk with him. It wasn't the empty chatter or pompous words that often come when chatting with someone in the business. We simply talked as friends relating to each other through recent challenges and struggles in life. There was a raw vulnerability to the moment.

What struck me the most was literally watching John as he held each wheel. It was as though the wheel became an extension of himself. He had a communication between the wheel that not many people possess. Just observing him you could see it, it was palpable. I am not embellishing or making him grander than he was, but he genuinely had a special gift and he used it.

John took that gift and passion and made it his life's work. Despite the tremendous hurdles life threw him, he did not allow them to stop him. A lesser man would have used these challenges as an excuse to not work. We as a cycling community are fortunate John chose to pursue his gift.

Often when we lose someone in our life and community, you think of the things you wish you had taken the time to share with them. You want that one more chance to say Thank You. I take comfort in the fact that I got that chance. Not thinking that was the last time I would see John, I simply wanted to voice my appreciation of his artistry.

John Kovachi's life was too short, but he left a mark that will not die. We were blessed to have had the world's best wheel builder right in here in our backyard. A cyclist, an artist, and a true master at his craft, Kovachi you will be missed. I have your jersey and will wear it with pride.

4 comments:

Chris, Brigette and Norah Dusack said...

Beautiful write up, thank you for sharing.

Brigette Dusack

Chris, Brigette and Norah Dusack said...

Beautiful write up, thank you for sharing.

brigette

Anonymous said...

nice

Anonymous said...

nice