As happens, one thing led to another and a glance at the Tour website found that my employer had corporate teams riding in Virginia and Georgia. A spur-of-the-moment Sunday email to the COO soon had us off and running as the northern-most branch of Team NS Thoroughbreds and suddenly there was more to this than I originally bargained for.
We fumbled our way through the first year without much of a clue as to what we were doing but wound up having a ball and actually raising enough in donations to come in third in fundraising. A week later, I was planning for the next team.
Still, the real reason for it all remained a little hazy. I knew what we were doing was important in a distant sort of way but the ride and the team were the big focus. The disease and the goals stayed in the background of my thinking. Now it’s another year and now at last, it’s all starting to fall together, the how and more importantly, the why of Team Thoroughbreds and the Tour de Cure. I owe it to Leanne and Donnie.
Leanne is the daughter of my good friends Donnie and Sandy Cardone. ‘Cardie’ as I soon came to know him, was the first real live railroader I ever met when I was first kicking around the idea of taking up the profession. He pretty much talked me into it and has been my sounding board and advisor in a pinch for almost 14 years ever since. Luck had it that at one point, I could even hold an engineer spot on his job for a while. I learned more working with him than anywhere else since engine school and amazingly, we managed to have a good time doing it. Even after he retired and left ‘The Lakeshore Express’ for good, we kept in touch and got together once in a while to do what railroaders do best; drink coffee, gripe about the railroad and catch up on who’s doing what and where.
I knew Donnie had diabetes from watching his struggles when we worked that all-night local together and I knew Leanne had had it since she was young as well. I only actually met her once but felt like I knew her through her Dad. You find out just about everything when you spend 12 hours in a locomotive cab with someone night after night for months.
He told me in bits and pieces about Leanne’s long battle with diabetes; the hospital stays, endless tests, medications, late-night crisis’, setbacks and victories. All the while, he managed his own illness and worked a demanding job to maintain the medical coverage they both needed. I looked up to Donnie and often wondered if I could do as well.
A few days ago, I heard the sad news that Leanne had lost her fight and passed away suddenly at the young age of 41. The day before her memorial, I saddled up and rode over to see Cardie and Sandy. I can’t imagine losing one of my kids so I really didn’t know what I was going to say. I shouldn’t have worried. Donnie was just coming out the door when I rolled up and in his usual way; he smiled and shook my hand. He looked tired as well he should but through it all, he still had that smile. I knew right then why I’m doing this. It took a while but now I know.
It’s for Leanne, for Donnie and Sandy, for everyone who fights this thing every day and still manages somehow to smile. For everyone who’s had to say goodbye too soon. For everyone who’s said to me, “Hey, I have diabetes too” or “I know someone who has diabetes.”
For all of them and all of us.
I knew without a doubt right then that the Finger Lakes NS Thoroughbreds would be riding in memory of Leanne Cardone. When Donnie shook my hand, I knew that her struggle against diabetes would be our motivation.
Something good will come of this. When we head out as Team NS Thoroughbreds on the Tour de Cure this August, we’ll carry another name with us. When we ride, we’ll ride for someone we lost along the way. A friend most of us never knew and a family whose fight against diabetes is an inspiration. Cardie and Sandy are coming to see us off and I know he’ll still have that smile. When we ride, we’ll ride