A Q&A with Samaritan House cyclist Tom Schwein before 2016 Ride the Rockies
2016 Ride the Rockies
What: A 6-day, 400-mile road-biking tour of Western and Central Colorado, with three stops in the Summit County area from
When: June 11-17
Where: Routes across Colorado
Cost: Registration full
All spots for the 2016 Ride the Rockies tour are currently full. Spots for the tour were selected through a random lottery in February. Needless to say, this event is in high demand. Spectators and fans are welcome to cheer cyclists on June 13-15, when teams come through Center Village at Copper Mountain. For more information, including a schedule of free events tied to the tour, see the website at www.ridetherockies.com.
Tom Schwein is first to admit he’s lucky to be alive and well.
In 2015, Schwein and his cycling team with Samaritan House of Denver were on the final leg of the six-day, 400-mile Ride the Rockies bike tour, an annual June tradition held on the most scenic byways in the Colorado Rockies. The Highlands Ranch resident was sore, tired and ready for a post-tour beer when the unexpected happened. Somehow — he’s still not exactly sure what happened — his front wheel got caught up as he was cruising at 30 miles per hour, tossing him with no warning directly into the pavement. He went unconscious and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found that he broke eight bones in his face.
But that was hardly the end of his cycling career. This week, Schwein returns with the 33-person Samaritan House crew to again raise money for homeless shelters and programs on the Front Range. He could have easily called it quits after the near-death accident, but, instead, it only inspired him to continue giving back the best way he knows how: by cycling.
This summer marks Schwein’s fifth season with the tour. Since 2011, when he joined to both raise money and get in shape before his eldest daughter’s wedding, he and the ever-growing Samaritan House team have raised a total of $250,000 (and counting) for the cause, from $12,000 that first year in 2011 — “We thought we hit a home run,” he laughs — to $115,000 in 2015.
Ride the Rockies passes through Summit County today and tomorrow for classic routes around Copper Mountain. A few weeks before the tour, the Summit Daily sports desk spoke with Schwein to hear more about the ride, the cause and why he’s hungrier than ever to be back on the bike — accident or no.
Summit Daily News: Talk about Ride the Rockies. What made you want to give it a try the first year you rode in the tour?
Tom Schwein: I had a bunch of friends who had done it before, people who told me it was a great experience, and I wanted the most bang for our buck. If you do a one-day ride you can raise some money, but if you’re out there for an entire week — if you really promote through Facebook and email and friends and everything — you can really get the most of it. And, I liked that it is a longer ride. I played college baseball for four years, then got into running marathons, so I guess you could call me a type A go-getter. I like to be in the best shape that I can and I like to challenge myself.
SDN: What was it like the first year? Was it harder than expected?
TS: We had a guy — one of my buddies on the team with us — (who) was training with us. He had done rides like the Triple Bypass before, but we really didn’t get started until late February or early March. That first day in 2011 was from Crested Butte to Buena Vista over cottonwood pass and I realized that I hadn’t trained hard enough. We knew we could do this — we just had to pace ourselves. We would ride together as a team, hydrate and then eat together at night, just eight or nine pizzas and salad and as much beer as we could drink. I’ve developed so many friends by participating in this tour for the past five years.
SDN: Now that you’re a tour veteran are you a little more prepared these days? Do you train all winter for this first bike ride of the summer?
TS: I train year-round these days. Last year I rode 4,300 miles and I really like to get out regularly, at least once or twice a week, even in winter. I like to stay shape, and, once you’re there, it’s great to keep it. I lost part of the weight I wanted for my daughter’s wedding. Even though I trained I wasn’t really on a healthy diet — less beer, no beef, less caffeine — and I lost about 50 pounds. I lost what I thought might be muscle, and that would make it harder on the bike, but it was the opposite. I was building muscle. Now, I’m down to 210 (pounds) from about 250 or 260.
SDN: You said that meeting new people and making friends is a highlight of the tour. What’s a favorite story or encounter from the road?
TS: I’ll tell you one, and this really has to do with one of my teammates. We try to be good Samaritans — stopping to help change a tire or help anything else — and one of our teammates, Tim Dae, pulled over to help a couple change their tire when he realized they had never changed a tire before in their life. They didn’t have a tube and he offered his, then they asked about his jersey, saw that it was Samaritan House, and the man wanted to give him $10 for the tube. He (Tim) said, “No, I can’t take it,” so the man told him it was his donation to the cause. That was very cool to have something like that just happen on the side of the road, and, now, people will donate the entire time. I had someone give me an envelope with $50 in it last year, which was great. You just need to find someplace to put an envelope with cash when you’re riding.
Another year, we found a man named Ollie — he was from Europe somewhere — riding solo. This was near Cortez. He was very perplexed, by his own, without a team, wondering why there were so many people riding in this who had heart attacks. He pointed to a group with Triple Bypass jerseys (and) we just had to laugh. It was really great to meet someone from a foreign country who was having a great time at the Ride the Rockies. It’s just been a truly unbelievable experience — meeting new people, shaking hands, everything. I’ve even made good friends through this, like a man I met four years ago, Pete Dempsey, and it’s amazing that you can meet so many people through just a handshake in Cortez, Colorado, on this tour.
SDN: Talk about your accident last year. How was the recovery? A face plant is serious business on a road bike.
TS: First of all, I’m blessed that I survived. I’ve seen the statistics that 95 percent of people who crash at 25 to 30 miles per hour and land on their face like I did either ended up in the morgue or with permanent brain damage, and I’m lucky that I didn’t. I broke eight bones in the left side of my face and was on morphine for a long time It was very painful.
I went to get CAT scans and the radiologist was telling me, “You see this? You missed the brain bleed by two millimeters.” I really realized I was spared — my time here and my mission here on earth wasn’t complete. I believe that was the start of my ministry to help the homeless. This year, we’ve grown the team and now have 33 people on the team. It’s catapulted my role as a captain into a whole new light, making sure everyone is taken care of. Our goal now is to raise $150,000 for the Samaritan House. We’ve already hit $60,000 and we hardly started fundraising.
SDN: As team captain, what’s it like to have so much momentum behind the cause after just five years?
TS: It’s truly a blessing. Last year we raised $115,000 in one year and that got us to a quarter million (dollars) over five years for the Samaritan House. A lot of us have good jobs and can donate directly, but, call it sweat equity, we want to give back in the best way we can to the homeless. This cause really is great. Samaritan House is like boot camp: within 90 days, anyone there has to prepare for the workforce. They have a 90 something percent success rate to get people back in the community. They don’t leave you homeless, living under a bridge for years.
SDN: What has you most excited for this year’s tour?
TS: Meeting new friends is the big one. The fact we’ve expanded this team to 33 people means we have very strong riders, riders in the middle and people who will finish at the end of the day, but we will all have matching jerseys and the same biking shorts. We’ll be a team and everyone will be out there riding together for the same cause. I’d say there are maybe 25 new people on the team. There are men and women both — the first year it was just six guys — and they’re training heavy right now to do this. You can’t expect to do Ride the Rockies without training. You just won’t finish.
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