Keeping the silent sports community informed and self propelled.
The following appears as the Editor's Letter in the January issue of Silent Sports.
I approached the funeral home doors thinking I knew the high school teacher who would be remembered that day. But then I saw the tandem recumbent bicycle parked out front and the two road bikes flanking the casket. The sight immediately made me wish I’d spent time with David Van Natta after he left my alma mater in 1998 at the young age of 43.
A closer look at his prized possessions revealed a custom-made singlespeed bike – a bike he built! – with his Horribly Hilly Hundreds jersey draped over the handlebars.
Friends testified he was a strong and competitive cyclist (one said he witnessed Van Natta, on a recumbent, chase down a much younger road biker) who took on the unforgiving and unglaciated landscape of western Dane County, Wisconsin, where he lived.
I must say I have my doubts he rode the HHH on that singlespeed. But who am I to know? The idea that Mr. Van Natta had a life outside the classroom, let alone had a passion for cycling that exceeded my own, was a revelation.
David Van Natta was the best teacher I never had. To clarify, as the advisor for the student newspaper at Mount Horeb High School, Mr. Van Natta set me on my 22-year path through newsrooms in college, overseas and in five states before leading me here to Silent Sports. Aside from serving as my first editor and mentoring me through a couple self-study projects, for 19 years he offered English and Shakespeare classes about which countless other students have raved but I regretfully never took.
Nonetheless, through the prism of adolescent journalism, Mr. Van Natta shared with me his love of language. I’ll always be grateful that at the school paper he allowed me to tackle the controversial subjects that interested me, so long as the stories I wrote were engaging and well sourced.
Many times over the years since, I’ve paused before sending a news story to an editor to ask myself "What would Mr. Van Natta think of this?" I could imagine him liking the story I’d written but gently coaxing me to make it better.
I now imagine him encouraging me to spend more time biking and biking better. He apparently kept riding until a year ago, when the cancer finally put its foot down. I did not see him struggling with the disease, but I heard it said he fought hard and did not complain. His wife, Heather, cared for him until the end. She has now lost her riding partner of 33 years, as the parked tandem sadly conveyed.
Cancer now plagues an elder statesman to this magazine, and serious illness has struck two other founding writers who have led lives enriched by physical exercise and a love of the outdoors. They, too, have mentored me over the past nearly eight years since Greg Marr left his editorship of Silent Sports on the ski trails. When Greg fell, it was sudden and he did not get up. Van Natta suffered long. Both were active men who died too soon at the age of 56.
As I wish my contributors/role models speedy recoveries, I would direct readers to the profiles of Marty Hall and Eugene Curnow in this issue. They, too, have suffered serious health setbacks. And they have survived, inspiring the rest of us to live fully and without regret.
Embrace the new year, my friends, and every year thereafter.
Each of us would be wise to insert our own names in the epitaph printed above Mr. Van Natta’s casket: "Ride on, Dave."