But in the
Phinneys' spacious, light- and art-filled house in Boulder, the third-greatest
cyclist in his nation's history may not even be the most accomplished athlete
under his own roof. Connie Carpenter made the Olympic speedskating team in
1972, at age 14, finishing seventh in the 1,500 meters in Sapporo. A chronic
ankle injury forced her to abandon that sport shortly before the '76 Winter
Games. At the urging of speedskater-cyclist Sheila Young, Connie took a crack
at cycling. She would go on to win not just the 12 national titles but also
four world championship medals.
She met her future
husband on a training ride in Tucson in 1978. Just under 6-feet tall, she was
(and is) svelte, regal and—with that corona of ginger hair—easy to spot in a
crowd. He stood out as well. While most road racers have pipe cleaners coming
out of their shirtsleeves, Davis always had serious guns. "He didn't look
like an average cyclist," Connie concludes. They were married in 1983.
Connie had taken a
break from cycling in 1980 and enrolled at Cal, where she rowed on the Bears'
national champion four oars with cox. But upon learning that women's road
cycling had been added to the Olympics for the '84 Games, she came out of
retirement—spurred largely by Davis. "He told me I hadn't really ever lived
up to my potential in the sport. I didn't slap him," she says. "It
turned out he was right."
She placed third
in the road race at the 1981 world championships in Prague, losing by inches
because she lacked one of the basic tools of a sprinter: She didn't know how to
properly "throw" her bike across the line—thrusting it forward at the
last instant, head down, arms fully extended. So for an entire year Davis and
Connie practiced throwing their bikes every time they passed a CITY LIMITS sign
on training rides. Trailing fellow American Rebecca Twigg by three bike lengths
50 meters from the finish in the road race at the '84 Olympics, Connie
accelerated, threw her bike across the line and won by three inches.
was tearing a swath through the U.S. men's peloton. Between 1982 and '84 he won
in the neighborhood of 75 races. No American had ever won a road stage of the
Tour de France until the afternoon in July '86 when Phinney outsprinted a group
of breakaway riders to the finish in Liévin. Phinney won another stage on the
'87 Tour, and he was in superb form the following year—until he nearly bled to
death at a one-day race in Belgium called Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Hammering a
descent, he pitched through the rear windshield of a team car that had stopped,
inexcusably, on the course. It took some 160 stitches to close the lacerations
on his face; he also severed a tendon in his left arm and fractured a vertebra
in his neck. Astoundingly, he returned to competition 10 days later.
But in the years
that followed, Phinney wondered if that crash had served as a triggering event.
(Doctors say it is not likely that a single incident could be a significant
factor.) Even before he retired, in 1993, he had experienced a host of mystery
symptoms: leg cramps, aches, tingling, unexplained fatigue. "He was
tripping all the time," Connie recalls. In 2000, doctors finally determined
that Phinney had Parkinson's.
TWO YEARS later,
the family moved to Italy. For three years they lived in the small town of
Marostica, near Verona and Venice. While Davis came to terms with his
condition, the family received what Connie describes as one of the "quiet
gifts" of Parkinson's—they drew together as never before. The instant he'd
gotten out of racing, it seemed, Davis had dived into what he calls "a
lunatic binge" of TV gigs, speaking engagements, clinics and camps.
"Before Dad got Parkinson's," says Kelsey, "we never saw
They returned to
Boulder in 2005, a year after Davis started the Davis Phinney Foundation. Early
on, its main thrust was, not surprisingly, to find a cure for Parkinson's. As
the years went by and no cure was forthcoming, he tweaked his tactics. Waiting
around for good news proved too passive an approach for a sprinter who found
his greatest pleasure in attacking.
on a cure," he explains, "what you're really doing is waiting for
somebody to do something for you."
message: Work for a cure, raise money for research for a cure, hope like hell
for a cure, but in the meantime, Get out! Exercise. Meet some friends. If
you're experiencing a bit of tremoring or gyrating, and passersby feel inclined
to stare, whose problem is that?